Get More Screen Space for Editing in the Field with this Lightweight, USB-Powered Display

Pretty much everyone in video production and post-production has spent a good part of their lives in edit bays powered by large, high-powered workstations. I have two edit bays, one using an HP Z820 with a 32-inch computer monitor and 24-inch HD video monitor and the other using a HP Z800 with a 24-inch computer monitor and a 15-inch HD video monitor, and a SD digitizing bay utilizing an HP xw8400 with a 19-inch computer monitor and 13-inch CRT. The dual-screen set-ups give me lots of room to lay out sequences and view my edits. Today, however, editors are expected to be more mobile, and clients want you editing on location, out of the edit bay. Ten years ago I worked on a documentary at the client's house using my 15-inch HP Pavilion Pentium laptop. It was an arduous task, especially when doing some effects sequences with 25 layers. 

The edit bay has two big advantages over mobile workstations: more CPU power and more screen real estate. While some modern, mobile workstations can drive multiple screens, the screens themselves haven't been very mobile until now. 

I first saw the HP EliteDisplay S140u 14-inch USB portable monitor at HP's workstation product launch event in September. It allows you to easily add a second screen to a Windows-based notebook in the field for post-production applications. Not only is it lightweight, but it takes little more than a USB 3 cable to get it going. Most LCD monitors have an internal AC or external DC power supply. The former adds weight to the unit, while the latter is an extra brick you need to carry from place to place. Normal monitors also need a bulky DVI, HDMI, or VGA cable for the video signal. With the S140u display, both the power and video signal come over a single USB 3 cable. If your notebook has only USB 2, it works fine when the included USB Y cable is connected to two USB 2 ports.

In the box you get the S140u, USB 3 cable, driver CD, and a magnetic case that protects the LCD screen when being transported and folds into a monitor stand when the S140u is in use.

One would think set-up would be fairly easy, but on the bleeding edge of technology it never is. I set up the S140u with my three-year-old HP 8760w mobile workstation, which is equipped with a 2.3 GHz Core i7 Quad core CPU, 16 GB RAM, an Nvidia Quadro 4000M GPU, and a DreamColor display. At first it seemed to work, but any time I put video on the S140u, it would go into what I called “LSD mode,” making it completely useless. I tried a different unit, and went back and forth with product managers at HP before we determined that in the Windows 7 graphics set up, “Aero” mode must be enabled. I had turned the Aero interface off so more GPU power could be directed to my video apps. Switching it back on got rid of the glitchy LSD mode, and I did not see any drop in performance. Now it was useful. Very useful.

Every time I take it out, people ask me if it is a giant tablet. The first time I hooked it up to my to my EliteBook 8760w on a location shoot, we plugged in the S140 and stretched Premiere Pro across the two screens, eliciting lots of oohs and aahs from the DP/editor and producer. Even the recording artist whose music video we were shooting liked it. While the S140's resolution is just 1600 x 900, not the full 1920 x 1080 most of us work with, it is good enough for editing in the field. Most users who start editorial in the field will go on to master their important projects in an edit bay with a higher quality pixel-for-pixel display. If I wanted to get a pixel-for-pixel view on the S140u, it is possible by make the S140 the main editorial display, thus putting the program view on the notebook's built-in monitor, but those ergonomics are a bit awkward.

HP EliteDisplay S140u in action

Behold the HP EliteDisplay S140u in the field. Note the serious color shift in the program view compared to the DreamColor monitor on the HP EliteBook. 

One cautionary note has to do with the image quality. If you have an HP Elitebook equipped with a DreamColor screen, the s140 just isn't in the same ballpark. Its not that the s140 is a bad monitor. It's not. The DreamColor is just so good. The option for including it on the EliteBook was four or five times the cost of the S140 by itself. And the one serious fault I could find with the S140u was the inability to adjust the color brightness, etc, independent of the main noteboook screen. I really found myself wanting to try to adjust the hue and make the colors a little richer. One graphic a client gave me was purple on the DreamColor display and almost blue on the S140u. The inability to make any compensation for that color discrepancy is my only real issue with this product. For $169, I can live with that.

If you try using it on a non-HP notebook running Windows 7 or 8, it should work after you manually install the drivers from HP's support websiteFor all of you Mac users, the picture is murkier. During one of my meetings, a friend was working on his 15-inch Macbook Air. We decided to go wild and try using the S140 with it. Not surprisingly, it didn't work. While HP doesn't support it, the company told me that DisplayLink offers a USB graphics driver for the Mac that should drive any USB graphics device that uses their chipset, including the S140u.

Overall, I liked the EliteDisplay S140u a lot. More and more often, editors are going to be expected to start working on location, and the extra display space that the S140u provides will be a huge help. The easy set-up, once the drivers are installed, involves simply connecting the monitor to an open USB port on the computer. The monitor is lightweight — 3.3 lbs. with its magnetic cover — and at 13.6 inches by 8.6 inches, it fits easily into my laptop case along with the computer itself. It's a great, inexpensive tool for expanding your portable editing desktop, as long as you can live with the limitations of color and resolution. If you need extra screen space on location, I highly recommend the EliteDisplay.