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Displays Software Toys Linux

Inexpensive USB LCD With Linux Drivers For LCDproc 121

An anonymous reader writes "The Windows Vista SideShow technology shows some promise. But what about Linux devices that can present snippets of information independent of the main display? Here's a review of the picoLCD-4x20, a relatively inexpensive USB device ($50) that supports both SideShow on Vista and LCDproc on Linux."
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Inexpensive USB LCD With Linux Drivers For LCDproc

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  • Homebrew angle. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2008 @06:38PM (#24993979)

    If you are interested in doing this yourself, look into "character LCDs" using the "HD44780" microcontroller. These are easily attached via the serial port...

    Some example character lcd's and pricing [shopeio.com]

    Instructable on doing a character lcd [instructables.com]

    and for the lazy among you,

    Google search for "character lcd hd44780" [google.com]

    Grab your soldering irons and have some homebrew fun! It isn't that hard at all!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2008 @06:49PM (#24994063)

      What's a "serial port"?

    • These are easily attached via the serial port..

      Bad news, I'm already using one serial port for my IR receiver, and the other to set the channel on my Tivax STB-9 Digital TV converter for recording with my PVR.

      So I guess I'm just too geeky for the HD44780 microcontroller. Wow.

      (But seriously, do these work with USB to Serial converters?)

      • by ajlitt ( 19055 )

        Got a parallel port? It's even easier. A 44780 based display won't work with a serial port unless you have a separate micro to do translation.

    • also try Futaba VFD [wikipedia.org] they are damn bright [johannes-schauer.de] and sold by various resellers on ebay for not many $$. depending on the device those can be programmed via serial or parallel. all one has to do is a little wiring. i bought myself a 2x40 character display [johannes-schauer.de] and after figuring out [johannes-schauer.de] how it [johannes-schauer.de] works [johannes-schauer.de] it's just plain fun.
    • There's also crystalfontz http://www.crystalfontz.com/ [crystalfontz.com]

      there's some more colours available but I think the price tag is a bit more
    • Sure, first LCD project I did was with an hd44780. But my god, you know how many CHEAP graphic displays are out there? Easy 2-3 wire interfaces. Heck even most still have the hd44780 data buss interface. How about those bulk rate cell phone LCD's that you can get under 10 bucks a pop? Takes a bit to find the pdf for them but much more satisfying putting a picture instead of "hello world":P

      That being said, I would still consider this device. While its still just 2 lines, people seem to ignore the but
  • What Linux Device? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kawahee ( 901497 ) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @06:40PM (#24993995) Homepage Journal

    what about Linux devices that can

    What about them? How is this a Linux "device"? It doesn't run Linux, it comes with drivers that make it compatible with LCDproc.

    Somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but if we're going to set the bar that low I'm going to go out and tell my friends that my Microsoft mouse is a "Linux device" because there's driver support for it on that platform.

  • by compumike ( 454538 ) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @06:40PM (#24994001) Homepage

    It may seem a bit "retro" to be using a character LCD for information display, but from a user interface perspective, there's lots of data that is still textual (e-mail subjects, news, etc) that is nice to have outside of the main work area of our primary monitor displays. Even as resolutions have increased particularly for desktop monitors, the idea that there's a separate device dedicated for a separate stream of information can be a useful notion because it's a "zero-click" way of getting to that knowledge, without dedicating primary monitor real estate there or making annoying popups.

    There's really just a lot of information streams that don't deserve sexy RGB pixels on one's display, and the mental association of looking at a specific gadget to get a specific stream of information is a strong one. Until we have ultra-cheap projectors everywhere and make better use of display surfaces, this is a step in that direction.

    Electronics kits for the digital generation! Microcontroller, LCD, gcc compiler, and more. [nerdkits.com]

    • by jav1231 ( 539129 )
      I could see this in a workplace environment. We use leaderboards to stream data about things like queue information for callers. A manager could have this on their desk and get the same information.
    • by perlchild ( 582235 ) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @06:54PM (#24994099)

      I just wish we'd go back to a bios-based LCD, for when the screen won't work, the ram won't load in, or something similar. A way to indicate a crash without using beeps... Some environments are so noisy it's just not possible to distiguish some combinations.

      • at my former emplyer, we used tyan motherboards in our racks (99% sure it was the S2891), they have a 2-character LED display that shows a hex code during the boot process, which corresponds to a table in the user manual.

        they are dual-socket opteron hardware designed for servers but the technology is still out there..

  • Does anyone out there actually HAVE one of these?

    I wrote them on Friday but they haven't responded yet (which isn't too surprising). I'd love to have one, but the computer I want to use it with uses XP, not Vista or Linux. I've used LCDProc before, but there is no Windows port. I looked at the driver for this thing but it looks like it sends direct USB command (i.e. it doesn't just appear as a serial port). I spend my time in Java (due to my job) so that's what I'd like to program it in, but the main Java-

    • I spend my time in Java (due to my job) so that's what I'd like to program it in, but the main Java->USB API for Windows (jUSB) hasn't updated their page since 2003.

      According to their site, jUSB, despite being dead, never worked on Windows. Have you tried libusbjava [sourceforge.net]? I'm neither a Java nor Windows developer, so this is a suggestion and not a recommendation. I can vouch for libusb on Unix though.

  • !cheap (Score:3, Informative)

    by bradgoodman ( 964302 ) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @06:54PM (#24994095) Homepage
    $50 for a 4x20 Text LCD is not cheap!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aliquis ( 678370 )

      What I wanted to say as well, $50 at this date for something that shitty is expensive as hell, you get a replacement touchscreen LCD for the DS for like 3.5 dollar or something, and that one is 18 bit 256x192. Who cares about text on LCDs of today? You can probably get that Logitech keyboard with display for that price and use that instead ...

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by advid.net ( 595837 )
      Yep! Generic 17" LCD => $75

      This LCD has 4x20x8x5 = 3200 pixels
      That's over $15 per 1k pixels

      Standard color LCD 1024*800 = 819200 pixels
      That's less than $0.1 per 1k pixels

      So you pay x150 more for those pixels without color just to have a few buttons ?

      Not cheap enough for sure !

    • by radish ( 98371 )

      Well, actually, yes it is. Please point me to somewhere where you can get a USB connected standalone 20x4 backlit display, with control buttons, for anywhere near that price.

      For example, crystalfontz are one of the better/cheaper suppliers of this kind of thing typically and their closest equivalent is this [crystalfontz.com] which is $133!. Just the display, without any controls or a case [crystalfontz.com] is $70. MatrixOrbital, the other big supplier, cost even more.

      So please stop comparing this to a monitor or a keyboard, it's not one of th

  • too little, too much (Score:5, Informative)

    by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @06:56PM (#24994113)
    As far as I can tell, this device is only alpha numeric, no real graphics capabilities.

    While I'm sure that a very small number of people will buy into this, I find it very disappointing and very limited, and pretty damn expensive for what you get. I compare this to my Logictech G15 LCD graphic display device. I paid $60 for mine a little over a year ago, it runs on USB, has similar input buttons near the display, but it does full graphics, and a number of nice aplets are already written for it (although far too few). Oh yea, it also happens to include a full illuminated keyboard, multimedia volume knob and mute button, and 18 user definable macro keys (expandable to 54 or more using the 3 "bank" buttons - but unfortnately the newer version of the Logitech G15 reduces this to just 6 user definable buttons). And they throw in a few extra USB ports too. While some people might not want to use a keyboard with their computer, I kind of suspect that most do, and that mounting a full graphic capable similar sized LCD on a Luminated keyboard is a far better way to go for the vast majority of users, and that a $50 price for just an alpha-numeric display is a bit expensive. Too bad they didn't make it Logitech G15 [wikipedia.org] compatible and put it out at a lower price, but I don't see a likely broad use for this gimic when the G15 is still available, even with it's reduced number of fumction keys in the new version.

    • How's that keyboard work velcroed to a server rack so you can read CPU frequency and server load without firing up a monitor?

      Devices like this are kind of like the Eee PC. If you get it, it's great. If you don't, it makes no sense whatsoever.

      • While you may have identified a very small niche market for this thing, I would suggest that if you have a server farm, there are far better ways to monitor such information remotely from a central point that greatly beat out buying one of these gimmicks for each server. And you should be doing that before playing with this toy. If you actually have to walk up to the server, you very likely do want to be able to see a real monitor (likely a smallish LCM monitor that may not cost much more than this box if
        • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

          If you have a rack full of servers, you really should buy proper server grade equipment and not hack your own homebrew machines together...
          And you really should never need to enter the server room except to replace hardware.
          Any decent server will have a serial port or virtual serial over ethernet, through which you can power the hardware up and down, and interact with the system firmware regardless of the state of the OS.

          I was able to fix a server that wasn't booting properly yesterday by sshing from my pho

          • Amen to that.

            Staying out of the server room can also significantly reduce the chance of human error that can be caused by stupid or clumsy hands and feet.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Zerth ( 26112 )

      Or you could just get one of those LCD picture keychains that has something like a 65c02 with a usb interface. 1 or 2 inch graphic lcd that does 20-30 frames per second.

      And you can get them for under $30. Some as low as $15.

      http://spritesmods.com/?art=picframe&page=3&showall=true [spritesmods.com]

      Although last time I checked the software was linux only.

    • You got a good deal on that keyboard. I can't find one on-line for less than $80 right now.

      • The good deal was that it was the first version. The first version is extremely hard to find now, I can't find it for anywhere near that price now (I don't deal with the Evil Bay of Thieves). The newer version can be easily found around $70 with some simple searching, at east it could about a week ago when I last looked). For $20 more than the 4 line text gimmic, I think the illuminated keyboard, graphical LCD display, 2 extra usb ports, and even just 6 extra function keys (and a really handy place to mount
    • I compare this to my Logictech G15 LCD graphic display device.

      I'm having trouble Googling for this device from Logictech, where did you purchase this?

      • I'm not going to hype the place that I bought it, but I'm hard pressed to believe that you are having any trouble Googling it. I even provided a link in my original post to the wikipedia article on both versions.
        • Some people wouldn't know a joke if it slapped them in the face and then stole their wife. Oh wait, /. so no wives.... ok

          Some people wouldn't know a joke if it slapped them in the face and then stole their beowulf cluster!

  • While I have been looking for such a device for quite some time, I could build one for $50. For $50, the screen needs to have a higher resolution, and be a bit bigger.
  • There are tons of DYI's for this stuff out there. But what would be interesting, is taking a dead laptop display, and being able to rig it up to my pc, maybe hanging off the wall near the base, being able to display pictures, or data, not like being a second monitor which I have, but as a display of information like weather from my local station, or remote, or pictures or whatever.

    Now that would be interesting...

  • by hack slash ( 1064002 ) on Saturday September 13, 2008 @08:16PM (#24994517)
    ...4x20 was the screensize of your LAPTOP! [oldcomputers.net]

    I got a working one of those kicking about in my shed, any ideas what I could do with it? besides trying to find replacement rechargable batteries.
  • Logitech G15 anyone? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lattyware ( 934246 ) <gareth@lattyware.co.uk> on Saturday September 13, 2008 @08:39PM (#24994669) Homepage Journal
    For that price, just buy a Logitech G15. I have one and there are drivers [g15tools.com] and a variety of software [lattyware.co.uk].
  • Of reading /. eighty characters at a time intriguing...
  • Save the planet with diskless installation. The device doesn't come with a driver CD, instead when the picoLCD is first connected (self powered USB device) it convinently displays an URL where you can download the latest picoLCD driver!

    Why doesn't every USB device come with its drivers embedded in the device itself, accessible out of the box over the basic USB driver that any OS should come with, which just retrieves the real device driver across the USB, installs it, and then uses it to access the real dev

    • Probably because flash still costs money. Not gigantic amounts, to be sure; but moving up from 8 or 16k embedded in some tichy little controller to 32-64 megs hanging off an expansion bus costs enough that it just isn't really worth it when you can get CDs pressed for approximately nothing in quantity.

      There are also the security issues. Does the world really need even more things that execute blobs of mystery code when you connect them?
      • I don't think these drivers are going to take more than a 64MB Flash ROM, which can't cost more than $1 wholesale. If every USB client chip had "driver Flash" in it, the whole cost couldn't go up much. And saving on the entire process of burning and including a CD would cut into that extra expense, while lowering support costs. USB is more expensive than RS-232, but has taken over because of those kinds of savings and marketable benefits.

        The security issues are exactly the same with the driver embedded in t

        • Of course then we have to decide what kind of driver to put onto the machine. Do we use regular OS-specific drivers? For which OSes? Will there be a convenient way for people to obtain the driver wthout using this feature? Or do we use drivers in some kind of common format? Will drivers using that compatibility layer be performant enough? Which format will we use? Will that format be open? After all, Microsoft is going to invest a lot of money to have the Vista driver model be the standard because that mean
          • We put drivers for the version of Windows, Mac and Linux on the device, if we think those markets justify the cost.

            Why would we need any other way than embedding and a website to get the drivers?

            The only part of the driver model that needs to be standard is the one that gets the real driver off the USB device.

            This problem isn't nearly as complex or hard as you make it out.

          • by RulerOf ( 975607 )
            Expose 3 partitions to the host OS via USB mass storage. One NTFS, one ext2, one hfs.

            Throw an autoplay compatible script in there that takes care of the rest.

            No extra formats. No DRM wars. Just hardware "working."
            • Partition formats aren't the issue. Everyone and their dog can read FAT32 and you don't really need a journaling filesystem with multiple datastreams for a read-only 64 meg chip containing some files.

              I think however, that we're not likely to see wide support for this stuff. Most people will probably only add the Windows driver (to flash size and thus keep cost down) and have the update URL point to a part of their website that gets reorganized (and thus invalid) six months later. Most corporations don't g
              • by RulerOf ( 975607 )
                True... I'm just thinking along the lines of something that I know could work based off of already existing technology in every copy of current OS's (like USB mass storage and Autoplay functionality in Windows). The idea I was getting at was to drive something that would truly be plug and play on existing computers without requiring a software update first and leverages existing standards.

                Of course though, a *new* technology could be produced that would undoubtedly cost less to implement.
              • Uhhh..., ever heard of EFI?
                • Yes. For OS X and Linux that might work well. Unfortunately, on the Windows side EFI is only supported by Vista SP1 and later*, so it's going to take quite a bit of time (especially seeing that many XP users are waiting for Windows 7 to upgrade) until EFI drivers become feasible. I'd say that we see widespread adoption of EFI for Windows-based computers not before the Windows 7 release.

                  * And Windows Server 2008 and some versions of Windows for an obscure dead architecture, but neither of those are going
        • by ajlitt ( 19055 )

          I agree that driver installation is an unnecessary evil, but I don't see that going away any time soon. Standards bodies for interfaces like USB can only come up with so many standard device classes, so inevitably some new and innovative (or old and unpopular as in this example) product will come out that won't fit into one.

          But I don't think companies will find it practical to use your method. Once you've paid for a flash chip, a micro with enough oomph and extra I/Os to run USB mass-storage and talk to a

          • I don't think you understand how this works. There doesn't need to be standard USB drivers or interfaces for all classes. Only one: the USB transfer of the stored data that is the device's unique (and arbitrary) driver itself. That driver and storage/IO HW and its programming would be exactly the same (or with just a few simple and standard variations) for every USB client chip in the world. In the hundreds of millions of USB chips sold each year, that cost per item would probably be $0.25 or less. And have

            • by ajlitt ( 19055 )

              The USB standard for transferring driver code from device to host is not the issue. That already exists in the USB mass storage class. The trouble is that it takes both design resources and additional hardware cost to distribute what are usually out of date drivers.

              What I could see happen in the future is the use of an existing class (say, usb comm) to transfer some XML data to the host that would direct the host's USB driver stack to a URL to download compatible drivers. Hardware vendors, be it the fini

              • If the driver transfer HW is in every USB client driver chip, the design resources and extra HW are tiny at the huge scales of every USB device.

                The "out of date drivers" problem is no less with CDs than with USB ROMs. But with CDs, you have to throw out the obsolete CDs, while the USB ROMs just need to get reflashed. Obvious economic benefits, especially since flashing USB is a cheaper, faster operation that can be scaled with a bunch of USB hubs much cheaper than a bunch of CD-R drives.

            • by cdrguru ( 88047 )

              What you clearly do not understand is let's say the ROM with the driver added only $0.10 to the cost of the device. Fine. The company that is making 100,000 consumer devices has a decision - CD at $0 additional cost or embedded storage at $10,000.

              See, the marginal cost per unit needs to be pushed down as far as possible when you are making consumer hardware. Every nickle that is added is $50,000 if you are making a million units. That is a whole additional engineer in the US or EU and it is 10 people in

              • CDs don't cost $0 each. And supporting the device with CDs, that require user intervention, is expensive (and unpredictably so).

                As I detailed, the economics favor embedding the drivers into every USB client controller, so the cost is spread across every of the millions of USB devices sold every month.

                But somehow, even though I explained that all in detail, you clearly don't get it. And you're unclear on what I get.

          • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

            More and more systems are coming out without optical media drives...
            CD/DVD drives are large and clunky these days, and entirely impractical on a small laptop.

  • Thousands of old cellphones end up in landfills every year. At this point, most cellphones have USB sync/charge cords and/or Bluetooth. There is no reason why these devices couldn't be given a second life as a display widget. All they'd have to do is open up the protocols for flashing the firmware and drawing the display. All the rest of the stuff like the cell radio can stay closed.

    I'd love to see the Go Green crowd get behind "tech rescue" schemes like this.

The Macintosh is Xerox technology at its best.