Review: LG's New Flatron Display Plays Well With USB

LG and DisplayLink have come up with a display that connects to your USB port but still offers great graphics.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

August 16, 2007

4 Min Read

They say that you cannot use a USB port to connect your display to your computer. It would be slow, it would look terrible, and everyone would hate it. Maybe "they" would change their mind if they tried the LG Flatron L206WU 20.1-inch widescreen LCD monitor.

No smoke or mirrors are involved. The LG contains a DisplayLink DL160 chip, which has a Hardware Rendering Engine (HRE). Once you've installed DisplayLink's Virtual Graphics Card (VGC) software on your Windows PC, the software processes the display information using the company’s proprietary lossless graphics protocol, and transmits it over a USB 2.0 connection to the HRE chip, which reconstructs the image on the display.

I was able to try out a preview unit; the LG Flatron L206WU will ship in September. (Exact pricing was unavailable but I was told it will be comparable to other 20-inch displays.)

The main question is: Does the Flatron work? The honest answer is that 97 percent of the time it’s amazing and 3 percent of the time it’s very frustrating. First and foremost, you need to understand that the LG display is offered as a secondary monitor. Your PC doesn’t recognize the L206WU until it goes through a good portion of its boot process and USB kicks in through Windows (XP or Vista). If something was to hang during the period between power-up and when the L206WU gets activated, you’d never know about it if you didn’t also have a primary display.

As a secondary display, though, the Flatron works quite well. Its resolution (a maximum of 1680 x 1050) can be set independently of your primary display. It has a 3000:1 contrast ratio and a 2ms response time.

I experienced no onscreen update lag either in video or gaming. Graphics were sharp, text was crisp, and color was good. The onscreen menus offer enough adjustability, either through fixed settings or user-controlled options, to suit every taste. There is no height adjustment in the pedestal but, with the panel sitting about four inches above the desk, the display should be at a good height for most viewers. And if 20.1 inches aren't enough display for your purposes, you can daisy-chain up to five additional monitors through the Flatron's USB hub for a panoramic view of your desktop such as you’ve probably never seen before.

There’s an 8MB flash drive tucked inside the monitor to hold its setup firmware, but at the time I reviewed the unit, it wasn’t quite ready for prime time yet. Windows XP recognized the L206WU’s USB hub but had no idea what the display itself was. The problem was solved by using drivers provided on disc by DisplayLink; I was assured that the drivers would be installed in firmware on all units when they’re released in September. (The exception is support for Vista Aero, which won’t arrive until October.)

Speaking of Microsoft -- expect to have some difficulties with software burdened with Digital Rights Management (DRM). While third-party software that didn't care about rights management transitioned over to the LG display easily, I couldn't get Media Player, or anything else that follows Microsoft’s grand nanny plan, to do so.

I got around the problem by setting the LG display as my primary monitor through Windows' Display Properties Settings. After that, everything showed up on the Flatron first; I dragged application windows that I didn’t want on the LG monitor over to my original display. According to DisplayLink, there’s a remedy for the situation coming from Microsoft.

The final verdict? I'll be sorry to part with LG’s Flatron L206WU USB LCD. Having a secondary display can easily become addicting for its absolute convenience; the ability to easily add several more is pleasing as well. In short, while not quite a "must have" item, the Flatron certainly falls into the "darn nice to have" category.

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