Plug-and-play graphics to rule one day

We are rapidly moving into an era when what’s inside your desktop box is often less important than what you can connect into it. That’s particularly true in the realm of audio and video, which is often dependent on a computer’s sound or video card to deliver high-quality multimedia signals.

Accell UltraVideo USB 2.0 to DVI-I Adapter from Accell changes the game around. Although it's far from perfect, it does show what the future might hold for quality sound and video, which can get misplaced as desktops beget tablets that beget smart phones, and multimedia takes the hindmost.

It seems as though innovations in multimedia start with sound and eventually move to video, and the field of components-on-cables is no exception. Almost every high-end headset these days comes with its own sound card. The card is contained within the cable itself and can usually be located in the little plastic lump along the line somewhere.

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For audio, a card on a cable adapter is pretty much a perfect solution, offering crystal-clear sound to anyone with a USB port. Simply plug your headset into a USB port and you’ve got sound. It doesn’t matter whether your internal sound card is good or not, or even whether your computer natively has sound at all. Everything you need is right there with the headset.

Now, sound is one thing and graphics are another. The inner workings of graphics cards are much more complex, and the applications that rely on them are much more demanding than with sound.

So it was great to see Accell and its UltraVideo USB 2.0 to DVI-I Adapter taking the first steps into this area. Once it's up and running, the UltraVideo can enhance the graphics of a subpar computer, which is remarkable considering the $89.99 price. Once it's working, the UltraVideo supports video up to 1920 x 1200 resolution on a 4 x 3 screen or 2048 x 1152 on widescreens. You can even use it with a system that already has a monitor, such as a notebook, to extend your current display or add multiple new ones.

We could not test this because we only had one unit, but Accell says you can add up to six monitors this way. It just requires six different units and six USB ports.

The graphical muscle of the UltraVideo is a DisplayLink DL-195 USB video processor. We ran a few games through the cable from a system with integrated Intel graphics, and the quality of the display was greatly improved. In one case, a game was too advanced to run on the test system natively but worked fairly well when the UltraVideo cable was attached. Although the UltraVideo can’t hang with the latest nVidia monster graphics cards, it is a fair bit better than integrated graphics. And at $89, you can’t really beat that.

Video challenges

Unfortunately, based on our experiences with the UltraVideo USB 2.0 to DVI-I Adapter (there is also a USB to HDMI model), we can tell you that the video side of the component-on-cable industry is not quite as advanced as with sound cards. With headsets, you can pretty much get the best quality sound from headphone-based sound cards, which are plug-an- play. But there are still some hurdles that users of video cards like this one need to jump through.

For one thing, despite the USB component, the UltraVideo isn’t plug-and-play. It comes with a little mini-CD with drivers that need to be installed before the cable can provide graphics. That could be a bit of a problem for netbooks without optical drives. The video card is a pretty large block, two inches long and almost as wide, so you would think the drivers could be put on there somehow, but apparently they aren’t.

Secondly, the cable itself is way too short. It’s just 22 inches long. In our lab, the test machines are in a rack close to the floor and they need to connect to KVM switches up on tables. The distance was simply too great without first moving the computer close to a monitor. If you are trying to stream content from your laptop to, say a large TV, you will need to sit your system very close to the display, which can be very inconvenient. The video-on-cable cards need to take a page from headsets and provide much longer cables.

So while the UltraVideo USB 2.0 to DVI-I Adapter isn’t perfect, it does work very well once you get it set up, especially considering the price. And its flaws are more or less easily corrected. For being a pioneer into a much-needed area, the UltraVideo USB 2.0 to DVI-I Adapter earns the Product of the Month designation for January.


About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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