Review: AOC e1649Fwu

AOC's e1649Fwu is an LED-backlit LCD monitor with a difference. Instead of connecting to your PC's video card via DVI, HDMI, VGA, DisplayPort or any other conventional standard, it connects via utterly ubiquitous USB 2.0.

Name15.6-inch LCD USB monitor: AOC e1649Fwu
At a glance:15.6-inch, 1366 x 768-pixel display,LED-backlit LCD panel,USB powered (no external adapter),Slow response time, limited colour gamut
Summary:Limited visual quality is balanced by portability, USB-power and a great price.

AOC’s e1649Fwu is an LED-backlit LCD monitor with a difference. Instead of connecting to your PC’s video card via DVI, HDMI, VGA, DisplayPort or any other conventional standard, it connects via utterly ubiquitous USB 2.0.

I’ve seen USB-connected monitors advertised before, and I’ve even glimpsed a few in action. However, this new offering from AOC is the first I’ve actually had my hands on for a thorough PC World lab test.

Straight out of the box, it closely resembles a large digital photo frame, simplified to the extreme. There’s not a single button, no power LED, and just a single 5-pin Mini USB connector on the back. The only moving part is the built-in rotating picture-frame stand, which gives you either landscape or portrait orientation with a few degrees of vertical adjustment.

Power is provided via the USB cable as well as the video signal – there’s no external power adapter, and no batteries. It just takes a single USB port (older laptops may require two USB ports using the included twin-plug cable, but we didn’t need this on any of our test machines).

Connecting it up is ludicrously simple. Install the drivers from the included CD, or if (like our Ultrabook test machine) you have no CD drive, it’s a quick and easy 17MB download. Then, plug in the monitor. That’s it. On any Windows 7 and Mac OS X machine we tested, it worked just fine.

Contrast is very good with clear, even gradation across the colour and brightness ranges. Gamma isn’t perfect, but close to the ideal under the sRGB standard. This is fortunate, because the button-less screen offers no kind of brightness, contrast or gamma adjustment.

The 18-bit LCD panel limits the screen to just 262,000 colours, as opposed to the millions of colours provided by a 24-bit ‘true colour’ display. This means clearly visible ‘banding’, where gradients instead appear as a series of steps. It’s a trade-off for the low price, that some users will tolerate better than others.

A less forgiveable downside is the very narrow vertical viewing angle in landscape. When in portrait, this translates to a very narrow horizontal viewing angle, which is even worse.

Owing to a combination of the low-cost panel and the USB interface, the response time is a slow 16ms – this is really not a monitor you’d use for fast-paced video or gaming.

Furthermore, trying to play full-screen video clearly saturates the available USB bandwidth, causing the monitor to (quite smartly) scale down the quality – this is clearly illustrated by a blurring-out of YouTube’s playback controls, which would never occur on a monitor directly connected to your video card. Pausing the video sharpens everything up, confirming the problem’s cause.

Watching windowed, YouTube-sized video doesn’t trigger this drop in quality, but the monitor’s slow response time and limited colour gamut do still make it a less-than-perfect experience.

The colour limitations also make this unsuitable as an extra monitor for image editing. Even as extra space to store your colour swatches and layer thumbnails, it’s not going to fly.

Where it really is useful is relatively static web content – great for writing up research, working on a presentation and notes at the same time, or keeping an eye on Twitter and Facebook as you spend a few hours in your favourite game. It’s also a brilliant tool for business roundtables and small presentations, as you can pop one opposite your laptop screen and present to both sides of the table without a bulky projector.

The monitor is relatively lightweight at just under 1.1kg, and could be slipped easily into a larger laptop bag or backpack. It’s not the sort of thing you’d want to carry around with you everywhere ‘just in case’, but it’s easily cartable from meeting-to-meeting, or along with your gaming laptop to a LAN.

AOC’s e16f9Fwu USB monitor is a niche item, but it’s a niche that really does exist. It doesn’t offer nearly the same visual quality or performance you’d get from a conventional monitor, but the added portability, the ability to run straight from your laptop’s battery and the very reasonable price provide a solid silver lining.

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Harley Ogier

Harley Ogier

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