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Smart screens on show

Viewsonic unveils Windows wireless display

Viewsonic has released the first wireless tablet Microsoft Windows-powered Smart Displays. Using the devices users will be able to access data held on their desktop PC from anywhere in the home.

Viewsonic plans to release two versions of its wireless display to US consumers in the first quarter of 2003, according to David Feldman, senior product manager for mobile and wireless at Viewsonic in the States. The Viewsonic V110 will be a 10in monitor weighing 1.13kg and priced $999 (£628). A second, 15in version called the ViewSonic V150 (pictured) will weigh 4kg and cost $1,299 (£817).

UK pricing and availability have yet to be announced, but a Viewsonic spokesperson assured us that the devices are "on the roadmap" for the UK.

Both displays use built-in support for the IEEE 802.11b wireless LAN technology, also known as WiFi. A user wielding a stylus pen will be able to navigate the touchscreen displays to browse the web or access data such as emails and digital photos.

The Smart Displays, previously codenamed Mira, run a new version of the Pocket PC used to power PDAs (personal digital organisers). The new system, known as Windows CE for Smart Displays, will the basis for nearly a dozen products currently being designed or manufactured and that are set to go on sale in the US, Europe and Asia early next year.

Viewsonic says it will be one of the first to release hardware based on the operating system. Viewsonic will supply USB wireless access points with its Smart Display products. These can be plugged into a USB port on a home PC enabling the Smart Display to receive data and instructions. Each device also comes with an upgrade version of Windows XP Professional, which is required for PCs in order to use the wireless displays.

As long as your PC runs Windows 98 or a newer OS, you’ll be able to upgrade to XP Pro and use a Smart Display. Versions of Windows from 98 onwards contain a feature called remote desktop protocol. This enables data transfer between a PC and a Smart Display, according to Megan Kidd, a Microsoft product manager.

Viewsonic says each of its devices will run on a 400MHz XScale processor and include a lithium-ion battery pack designed to provide power for approximately four hours. A built-in microphone, headphone jack and a USB port for attaching a keyboard or mouse will also be provided.

One downside to the first devices being released by Microsoft's hardware partners is that users will not be able to use them to watch video from a PC, such as a DVD or streaming media. That is because large video files cannot adequately be sent over WiFi and, as a user moves farther away from the wireless access point, the quality will decrease, Feldman said.

Like the batch of pen-based Tablet PC devices released last week by Microsoft's hardware partners, Smart Displays will feature an onscreen keyboard and handwriting recognition capabilities.

As with the Tablet PC, Smart Displays are expected to reach only a select audience at first, according to Frank Gillett, principal analyst at Forrester Research. "The way I see it, these are experiments," he said. "They're trying to learn what's going to work."

Microsoft acknowledged the initial Smart Displays will appeal to a select group of consumers, specifically those who are keen on buying new wireless technology. "We do have realistic expectations with this first version," Kidd said. "As prices come down a bit you'll see them more in the mass market. We really see this as the evolution of the monitor."


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