Displays and Input Devices

Viewing the Future of Monitors for CAD

7 Feb, 2015 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

Will new technologies replace the familiar hardware on your desktop? Monitor makers share their predictions.

The desktop monitor is an indispensable part of most CAD workflows. After all, even the most sophisticated software and the most powerful workstation won't do you any good if you can't see what you're working on.

Over the years, monitors have evolved to offer slimmer profiles, higher resolutions, and larger displays. Today, more dramatic changes are under way, as evidenced by HP's recent launch of ultrahigh-definition (UHD), virtual reality (VR), and curved models.

Are these monitors useful only for niche applications, or will they come to dominate the market? We asked several hardware developers to share their perspectives, and give us some insight about which types of products they're focusing on.

Niche vs. Mainstream

Monitors based on these technologies are generally more expensive than their traditional counterparts, and may require additional equipment, such as 3D glasses or special styli for VR models. Will they move into mainstream use despite these factors?

"These new technologies enable deeply immersive workflows," said Sean Young, HP's worldwide segment manager for AEC and product development. "We will see them used to solve specific problems at first, and gain broader adoption in more general workflows over time. In particular, I believe that UHD will be the first of these technologies to see broader adoption."

Melvin Teo, director of visuals marketing for Lenovo, agrees that UHD will be the first of these technologies to be adopted by CAD users, as engineering and modeling professionals will want UHD displays for product design and simulation. "Lenovo believes UHD will be widely supported, and for single-user applications there is an opportunity for curved displays," Teo explained. "Curved, especially [with a 21:9 aspect ratio], may have an opportunity if the cost premium over flat comes down to an acceptable level to drive widespread use. For now, virtual reality technologies will be best suited for some niche markets, such as gaming and training. If technology advancements in VR meet professional user needs (with zSpace in mind), we will start to see adoption in that part of the market."

Bob Wudeck, associate vice-president of strategy and business development at BenQ America, expects wide adoption of UHD and curved displays in particular. "The transition to 4K displays will happen faster than many expect — even in smaller-sized displays," he said. "Curved displays represent a natural, organic design element that is both engaging and beautiful to look at."

Another perspective came from Art Marshall, product manager for professional desktop and medical displays at NEC Display Solutions. "We are already seeing good adoption of UHD displays, though limited support from operating systems and applications for good user interface scaling is slowing adoption," he noted. "Eventually, I could see ultra-high definition displays on most traditional CAD users' desks as more sizes become available and prices continue to drop, which is happening quickly as more users adopt UHD displays.

"Virtual reality and curved displays both have interesting applications, but due to the practical considerations of each, I expect that adoption will remain limited," Marshall continued. "For example, curved displays are not well-suited for multiple-monitor configurations, which we continue to see growth in."

A Better User Experience?

Since all monitors ultimately do the same thing — display digital data in an eyeball-friendly format — newer technologies must improve user efficiency or comfort to justify their higher prices. And that is, of course, exactly what they claim to do. But which types of users are most likely to benefit, and how?

"These new display technologies are going to greatly improve the design review process," said Young. "A UHD display captivates audiences with amazing detail and the ability to digitally review large datasets. The [HP] Zvr enables viewers to deeply immerse themselves in the design, both visually — through the 3D stereoscopic display, and physically — by interacting with the model in 3D space. Our curved display, with its wide viewing angles, is a nice option for enabling a broad field of vision on a boardroom table or for replacing two desktop displays."

"Designers who have the need to see both wireframe and rendered images will most likely be the early adopters," Wudeck noted. "The ability to save time with higher resolutions combined with color-specific viewing modes will enhance efficiency — and these displays will become more and more affordable moving forward."

Marshall expects UHD displays to be adopted first by CAD users that are focused on finely detailed or visually complex products. "The level of detail and the sheer amount of pixels offered by UHD displays will be an asset to applications where clarity, precision, and large scale are required," he explained.

"Virtual reality applications are still fairly low resolution, and while they are useful for evaluation of designs, they are not quite ready for design creation," said Marshall. "I also expect some adoption of curved displays by single-monitor users, but I expect more multiple-monitor adopters to stay with flat desktop displays."

Improved or Replaced

If enough users embrace these benefits, will traditional displays be replaced by newer technologies, or will they continue to have a place on the desktop?

"In the beginning, these technologies will augment current workflows," said Young. "However, in the future we might see some of these technologies merge, along with other technologies that are still on the drawing board, to enable new workflows and enhanced productivity with CAD software." Young also noted that the resolution of standard CAD displays will continue to increase.

Teo predicts that traditional displays won't be pushed out of the market: "For the immediate future, the majority of the market will be conventional displays (around 80%) and 20% will be the newer technologies, with the majority of that being 4K displays."

An Eye to What's Next

Naturally, every hardware developer has its own vision of which technologies to pursue moving forward. For example, Marshall expects NEC to continue to focus primarily on high-resolution displays, because that is where the company sees the highest adoption rates. "We will see more sizes and more options in each size as well," he noted.

At Lenovo, "there will be continued development and improvement of TFT [thin-film transistor] technology and migration of some products to OLED [organic light-emitting diode] once it becomes affordable," said Teo. "We will continue to drive green [power and sustainability technologies] and better connectivity with smart connected devices, and VoIP."

Wudeck said, "We continue to look at how to make a display more effective and many of these solutions are not necessarily revolutionary breakthroughs but can be just as impactful. ... By reducing blue light coming from the screen, and dynamically adjusting the brightness to adapt to the light in the users environment, users can experience greater comfort and less eyestrain, leading to longer work sessions and greater productivity."

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