Hippo Manchester
September 22, 2005


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In touch with the future

Touchscreen puts Star Trek technology with in your reach

By John “jaQ” Andrews 

All the cool people have them. Science museums. Friendly’s waitresses. Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

Touchscreen monitors.

They give you direct control over your computer, with no mucking about with mice or keyboard commands. You can regress back to kindergarten — just point, and bink, your wish is granted.

This setup is especially useful if you have more than one monitor. Your second monitor can be outfitted with a touchscreen to make it simple to control music or other media applications.

As with anything, though, the big limiting factor in being cool yourself is cash. While a normal 17-inch computer monitor might set you back one or two hundred dollars, a touchscreen can easily be five times more.

There is a cheaper way.

Magic Touch (www.magictouch.com) and EarthLCD (www.earthlcd.com) make touchscreen monitors, but they also make add-on kits for turning any monitor into a sweet, sweet touchscreen. All it takes is a transparent overlay on the screen, a USB or serial connection and some software. And it’s about $200, if you buy them new.

Installing the kit is a pretty simple process. Different models are made for different size screens; some even fit laptop screens, so you can open the lid on your laptop and slip the unit on. For a more permanent installation on a desktop monitor, both velcro and clip-style hangers are included. The hangers are the only things permanently attached to the monitor, so you can remove and replace the touch-sensitive overlay whenever you want.

Plug the attached cable into your USB or serial port and install the software. You’ll then have to touch a few places on the screen to calibrate the overlay. After that you’re ready to computer with one finger.

The touchscreen overlay works like many regular touchscreens, using what’s called resistive technology. You never actually touch your computer screen, but instead touch a membrane suspended a fraction of an inch above a clear panel. That panel has an electrically resistive coating, and when your finger presses the membrane onto the panel, the overlay registers an electrical contact at that point. The software driver then translates that into a mouse click.

Technically, you don’t even have to have the overlay on your monitor. It doesn’t care about the picture on the screen, only about the coordinates you touch. If you put the overlay flat on your desk and touch its center, it’ll still register a mouse click in the center of your monitor.