Wacom’s tablets have long been a staple in artistic environments and for some, a carpal tunnel prevention substitute for the common mouse. The larger tablets have found their way into computer-aided design (CAD) and engineering venues where precise screen positioning, or scale measurement, is essential.
When the Cintiq line appeared, having combined both input and display, working on a computer got a productivity boost for artists, drafters, and engineers alike. Working with a wireless pen, puck or mouse directly on the display itself made many precision-pointing operations faster, and easier to perform.
Wacom’s Interactive Displays appear at first glance to be Cintiqs without the side-mounted buttons and scroll controls. But, in reviewing the Wacom “data transfer unit-1631 (DTU) Interactive Display, I found other differences that appear to be designed to serve live presentation, video conferencing, and collaborative design sessions.
Aside from the missing buttons found on Cintiqs and Intuos tablets, the Interactive Displays do not ship with a mouse. They are designed to work only with the accompanying pen. The universal serial bus (USB) data connection is the same, but there is a video pass-through connector in addition to the computer display input connection. Both are digital visual interface (DVI) connectors, but there is a slide switch that sets them to operate in analog video graphics array (VGA) or digital (DVI-D) mode. The DTUs ship with both DVI-D (DVI-digital) and DVI to VGA cables to connect to the source computer.
The pen is the same Wacom pen as that which ships with Intuos and Cintiq tablets. The eraser end and tip are active, pressure sensitive inputs, and the programmable “DuoSwitch”— conveniently mounted for index finger or thumb access—will handle two functions, one for a depression of the lower end, and a different function when the upper end is pressed. Unlike Wacom’s other tablets, however, there is no separate pen caddy. The pen snaps into a pocket on the backside of the tablet when not in use, and the pen’s eraser tip has a hole through it to which the Wacom-supplied lanyard can be attached.
Wacom provides a very stable, table-top stand integrated onto the back of the DTU Interactive Display. It incorporates a quick-release lever that allows easy tilt adjustment from 19 degrees to 72 degrees. Wacom also provides cable ties you can use to hold the cables (USB, display[s] and power) out of the stand’s way.
Display settings for the Interactive Display tablet can be controlled by the Wacom control panel applet or by using the Menu, +,-, and Enter buttons on the top left of the tablet. The menu button invokes a small button bar on the display with options for display adjustments including aspect ratio, screen positioning, red, green and blue (RGB) color adjustment, phase (to help eliminate moiré patterning) and a prominent factory default reset option. Some, but not all of these adjustments can also be found in the operating system’s display controls.
Installation involves two simple steps. Hook the display cables to the source computer, connect the power, turn on the Interactive Display and the computer. Once the operating system completes its display driver install for the tablet, connect the USB cable between the tablet and computer and install the Wacom control panel software. At that point, the user can choose to run the display function of the tablet as the primary, secondary or desktop extension display and set the pen coverage to just the tablet or both displays and change the default pen DuoSwitch functions to suit your needs.
In practical terms, the DTU tablets can be designated as the only display for your system. The 21-inch DTU-2231 provides a native 1920 x 1080 resolution, while the 16-inch DTU-1631 that I reviewed has a respectable 1366 x 768. Both of those resolutions scale nicely to the ubiquitous widescreen flat panels found in most work environments these days. Users who are stuck with older 4:3 aspect ration displays but who want an Interactive Display, the Wacom DTF-720 (16” display) might be a better choice for you.
Compared to the Cintiq line, the interactive displays have fewer levels of pressure sensitivity and pen-on-tablet drawing resolution. Despite these differences, I found the DTU-1631 adequate for general use with Lightwave 3D, Adobe Photoshop Extended Analysis add-on, and handwriting in Adobe PDF documents as well as the Windows 7 pen input tool. Having been a long-time Wacom tablet user, I was comfortable using the pen for all normal mouse tasks, and found no noticeable difference in the feel or action compared to my Intuos 4 tablet. So why would one choose the DTU Interactive Display over a Cintiq?
The pass-through display, extra USB port and sturdy adjustable stand make the DTUs more suited to acting as the primary, or only, display. Users who do not like people looking over their shoulders can connect another display to the DTU pass-through for “show and tell,” or live presentations. Hook it to an encoder for streaming, or for video conferencing collaborations. Users who choose to use the DTU as a secondary display with the desktop extended to it, you can fill the DTU and passthrough screens with your presentation and keep notes or access to other applications available on the primary display.
I looked at the DTU-1631 as a potential portable unit for the quintessential road-worrier for whom a tablet PC just doesn’t do the job. Functionally it would work great in that capacity supporting both live and electronically hosted presentations or collaboration sessions. But at 10 pounds (and 16 pounds for the DTU-2231) these units make more sense in “fixed installation” presentation/collaboration venues. Compatible with Windows XP or later and Mac OS X 10.4 or later, Wacom’s Interactive Displays can fit into almost any operation. Working directly on the display, particularly for collaborative hand-annotation sessions, is the best way to maintain the workflow and communication without technology getting in the way. The DTU Interactive Displays are an excellent choice to support such a workflow while allowing you to have simultaneous access to the full functionality of an able laptop or powerful workstation.