Serve the multi-monitor market better with thin or removable bezels

A serious proportion of the computer users I know these days have gone multi-monitor. While I strongly recommend the 30” monitor (Dell 3007WFP and cousins or Apple) which I have to everybody, at $1000 it’s not the most cost effective way to get a lot of screen real estate. Today 24” 1080p monitors are down to $200, and flat panels don’t take so much space, so it makes a lot of sense to have two monitors or more.

Except there’s a big gap between them. And while there are a few monitors that advertise being thin bezel, even these have at least half an inch, so two monitors together will still have an inch of (usually black) between them.

I’m quite interested in building a panoramic photo wall with this new generation of cheap panels, but the 1” bars will be annoying, though tolerable from a distance. But does it have to be?

There are 1/4” bezel monitors made for the video wall industry, but it’s all very high end, and in fact it’s hard to find these monitors for sale on the regular market from what I have seen. If they are, they no doubt cost 2-3x as much as “specialty” market monitors. I really think it’s time to push multi-monitor as more than a specialty market.

I accept that you need to have something strong supporting and protecting the edge of your delicate LCD panel. But we all know from laptops it doesn’t have to be that wide. So what might we see?

  • Design the edges of the monitor to interlock, and have the supporting substrate further back on the left and further forward on the right. Thus let the two panels get closer together. Alternately let one monitor go behind the other and try to keep the distance to a minimum.
  • Design monitors that can be connected together by removing the bezel and protection/mounting hardware and carefully inserting a joiner unit which protects the edges of both panels but gets them as close together as it can, and firmly joins the two backs for strength. May not work as well for 2x2 grids without special joiners.
  • Just sell a monitor that has 2, 3 or 4 panels in it, mounted as close as possible. I think people would buy these, allowing them to be priced even better than two monitors. Offer rows of 1, 2 or 3 and a 2x2 grid. I will admit that a row of 4, which is what I want, is not likely to be as big a market.
  • Sell components to let VARs easily build such multi-panel monitors.

When it comes to multi-panel, I don’t know how close you could get the panels but I suspect it could be quite close. So what do you put in the gap? Well, it could be a black strip or a neutral strip. It could also be a translucent one that deliberately covers one or two pixels on each side, and thus shines and blends their colours. It might be interesting to see how much you could reduce visual effect of the gap. The eye has no problem looking through grid windows at a scene and not seeing the bars, so it may be that bars remain the right answer.

It might even be possible to cover the gap with a small thin LCD display strip. Such a strip, designed to have a very sharp edge, would probably go slightly in front of the panels, and appear as a bump in the screen — but a bump with pixels. From a distance this might look like a video wall with very obscured seams.

For big video walls, projection is still a popular choice, other than the fact that such walls must be very deep. With projection, you barely need the bezel at all, and in fact you can overlap projectors and use special software to blend them for a completely seamless display. However, projectors need expensive bulbs that burn out fairly quickly in constant use, so they have a number of downsides. LCD panel walls have enough upsides that people would tolerate the gaps if they can be made small using techniques above.

Anybody know how the Barco wall at the Comcast center is done? Even in the video from people’s camcorders, it looks very impressive.

If you see LCD panels larger than 24” with thin bezels (3/8 inch or less) at a good price (under $250) and with a good quality panel (doesn’t change colour as you move your head up and down) let me know. The Samsung 2443 looked good until I learned that it, and many others in this size, have serious view angle problems.

"No market"

Seamless panels are like colour management. Everyone says it's too specialised and there's no market demand but like discovering planets once someone finds a way everyone does it. I put this down to the usual risk averse group-think that kills innovation in favour of easy profits. If anything screams leaving money on the table seamlessly joined displays are it. But leave it on the table they will. Until they don't.

They are of course getting some of the money

Since any time you go into an office and see everybody has two monitors, they did sell two monitors.

It doesn’t have to be seamless even. Just something nice that’s not a 1.5 inch black gap. Even neutral tone bezels might be better.

But at some point somebody will do a survey and it will report, “30 million people use multi monitor” and they will realize, “hey, that’s a market.”

Engineering versus marketing

To some degree I can understand the design and manufacturing problems and let's not forget that multiple flat panel displays are a victim of their own success. That's just where we're at right now. Manufacturers rarely got the ergonomics of eyestrain and CRT surrounds right so I'm not expecting a big or consistent move on flat panel size or colour. However, things have moved on so this is an opportunity to take the initiative. Part of that is framing the issues and presenting a vision. Your opinion helps put that on the table. I suspect, the marketing (like now) won't be used to lead the issue but justify it.

My ISP is braindead and more concerned about flogging its brand than anything else. On the issue of upstream bandwidth I've read claims from a prominent middle-manager that he is "not aware of any demand". However, when this issue has been raised he's been remarkably absent from the discussion and always professes surprise when anyone does spring this on him from nowhere. This performance has been kept up for years and I see no end in sight. I'd like to think most display manufacturers aren't this braindead or out of touch, and if they are then senior management need to start asking questions and customers need to start kicking up a fuss.

This whole issue may just boil down to politics of engineering versus marketing. While some players may be cautious for understandable reasons this whole issue may be dictated to by some bonehead in one major company.

With ATI's Eyefinity, thin bezels will be in more demand

I hear that monitor companies are looking into thinner bezels now that ATI has come out with their new video cards with Eyefinity. This may also push them to come out with more display port support as well.

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