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Real-Life Experience: Using A Touch-Screen LCD With An HTPC case

HTPC Cases With LCD Screens: Bringing Bling
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Using the Touch-Screen LCD

We've talked enough about getting everything to work. So now that it's running, what can the touch screen do?

When media is not being played, the Frontview application will display a lot of customizable information on the touch screen. Things like local weather, temperature, time, and news will be displayed. In addition, the screen will show information about the HTPC itself, such as data about the CPU, hard drive, and network usage.

The display really comes to life when playing music or video with either the iMedian HD or Vista Windows Media Center. Playing music or video with these applications will switch the LCD into media-information mode and will display information like file type, codec, length, and more. However, the graphical equalizer that shows you what you are hearing is more fun.

Video on the LCD touchscreenVideo on the LCD touchscreen

The display can also be used as an interface to media even when the main display is off or being used for something else. The Frontview Media Player can be controlled from the touch screen directly and used to launch music or video to view on the 7" LCD display. After launch, the LCD can still control volume and change media, even while playing video in the background.

Real-World Benefits of the Touch-Screen LCD

Let’s face it: the touch screens are really the core feature of these three HTPC cases. This is why their price is relatively high and it is what differentiates them from the competition. The touch screens certainly look very impressive and they add a notable amount of bling factor to the home-theater room.

However, in real-world use we didn’t find them to be especially practical in most situations. Why get off the couch to use the touch screen if you have a remote control? In this sense, the touch screen is a definite step backward as far as a user interface tool goes. It’s certainly no killer app in this respect.

What about the visual component? The screen itself is nice, but how useful is it? Yes, it can display a movie, but why would you choose to watch a movie on a 7" screen when it is attached to your HDTV? Sure, the graphic equalizer is nice to have when playing music or a movie, but once again that’s firmly in the bling category and doesn’t offer any tangible utility.

The best practical use for the touch screen I can think of is for audio. In many cases, an HTPC might be connected to a large display such as a digital projector that the user wouldn’t want to turn on except when watching a movie. In this situation, the touch screen is perfect as a convenient interface to access your music library without wasting the projector bulb’s limited life. Or perhaps a user might want to leave the main LCD or plasma display off when playing music to save energy. Regardless, the ability to access music without having to turn on the main display is the most compelling functionality that the LCD touch screen offers.

Of course, while we have downplayed its usefulness, we can't ignore how the bling factor alone will attract many to invest in one of these cases. The LCD touch screens are certainly attractive and they'll definitely get noticed by your guests.

LCD Panel Comparison

Two of the three cases used identical LCD panels. The Thermaltake DH102 and Moneual 972 both used Soundgraph's 7" iMon OEM touch LCD, which is based on a Samsung 7" TFT LCD panel. Silverstone's CW03 used a Hitachi C100 7" LCD panel with similar specifications and an identical native resolution but it had a much higher maximum interpolated resolution:

Screen:
Hitachi C100 7" LCD
Samsung 7" TFT LCD
Native Resolution
800 x 480
800 x 480
Maximum Resolution
1920 x 1200
1024 x 768
Brightness
300 cd/mm
350 cd/mm
Viewing Angle (L/R/U/D)
65/65/45/61
65/65/50/60
Response Time
30 ms
25 ms


As you can see, the only difference of real note is the maximum interpolated resolution, and we can't think of a good reason to run the small 7" screen at 1920x1200 unless you wanted to interpolate the text down so small it would be completely unreadable. With everything else being so close to equal, we don't think the difference in LCD-screen quality is a factor worth considering when choosing between these three units.  

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