ViewSonic details Windows wireless display

Display maker ViewSonic is to release specifications for a new class of wireless computer displays running a custom operating...

Display maker ViewSonic is to release specifications for a new class of wireless computer displays running a custom operating system from Microsoft that will allow home users to walk away from their desks and still have access to data on their PCs.

ViewSonic will release two versions of its wireless display in the first quarter of 2003, according to David Feldman, senior product manager for mobile and wireless at ViewSonic.

The ViewSonic V110 will be a 10-inch monitor weighing in at 2.5lbs and priced at $999 (£629). A 15-inch version called the ViewSonic V150 will weigh 8.8lbs and cost $1,299.

Both displays use built-in support for the IEEE 802.11b wireless LAN technology, also know as Wi Fi. A user wielding a stylus pen will be able to navigate the touch-screen displays to browse the Internet or access data such as e-mails and digital photos.

The so-called Smart Displays, previously codenamed Mira, run an operating system from Microsoft called Windows CE for Smart Displays. The system is based on the operating system that powers Pocket PC devices.

Microsoft is working with nearly a dozen hardware makers building reference designs or manufacturing products for sale in the US, Europe and Asia next year.

ViewSonic will be one of the first to release hardware based on the operating system. It will ship the displays with wireless access points that plug into a home PC via USB and transmit data to the Smart Display.

Each device also comes with an upgrade version of Windows XP Professional, which is required for PCs in order to use the wireless displays.

PCs running versions of Windows dating back to Windows 98 can upgrade to Windows XP Professional. That operating system includes a feature called remote desktop protocol, which enables data transfer between a PC and a Smart Display, according to Microsoft product manager Megan Kidd.

Each device from ViewSonic will run on a 400MHz XScale microprocessor from Intel and include a lithium ion battery pack that is designed to power a device for approximately four hours. Each device also will include a built-in microphone, a headphone jack and one USB port for attaching a keyboard or mouse.

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 Wi Fi, and as a user moves farther away from the wireless access point, the quality will decrease.

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

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 that the initial Smart Displays would 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 you'll see them more in the mass market. We really see this as the evolution of the monitor."

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