(Disclosure: All providers mentioned are clients of the author.)

This week I sat down with Stefan Engel, vice president and general manager of Lenovo's visual business, and we talked about where monitors should go and where to go. He got me thinking about why monitors are likely to become obsolete by the end of the decade, and the different approaches Dell, HP, and Lenovo are taking now.

Let me start with this last point.

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Dell, HP and Lenovo march to different monitor beaters

When it comes to setting up a monitor, most users are also interested in speakers and a webcam, especially in the video-centric world we work in now. Dell considers being monitored as entirely separate elements; cameras and speakers (with a few exceptions) are generally separate, though Dell tends to support charging and accessory connections, turning them into USB hubs.

HP generally prefers to integrate their speakers and cameras into their monitors. This approach leads to a cleaner desktop because you only have one cable to worry about, and the result looks less like something assembled from parts created by different designers. (You can also turn the camera on and off for complete privacy—employees often worry managers are spying on them, and cameras have been compromised in the past.)

Lenovo usually sits between Dell and HP, or will eventually. Provides a USB port at the top of the monitor for a camera or camera/speaker. It looks sleeker than the Dell configuration and offers more flexibility than the HP one, but it packs you in with a Lenovo camera and speaker. Still, it allows for future accessory upgrades if Lenovo produces specialized cameras and speakers for its monitors.

Dell's approach offers the most flexibility, HP's offers the cleanest look, and Lenovo offers a decent mix of both concepts.

future evolution

Professional and consumer monitors are diverging, and this divergence is about to accelerate. For those who primarily use a monitor for work at home or in the office, LCD monitors are giving way to mini-LCD monitors with higher resolutions. OLED monitors are coming, but because of the risk of burn-in and the tendency to use static images for work, OLED isn't big business. Consumers love OLED for its deep blacks and vivid colors, but for business users, static images can cause this expensive technology to fail prematurely. Until this theft issue is resolved, they are unlikely to be very popular with businesses.

USB hub technology has been adopted by all the major vendors and will likely improve over time as USB technology advances. The same goes for screen resolution: For monitor buyers upgrading from LCD to mini-LCD, the planned upgrade path includes 4K screens. Currently, there doesn't seem to be much demand for 8K displays (outside a few niches on the engineering and film animation side), but that could change as commercial 4K becomes more mainstream, likely after 2025.

The end of monitors as we know them

The next big thing for monitors will be head-mounted displays. Dell has largely strayed away from this trend at the moment, HP has a good commercial VR headset at a good price, and Lenovo has the first head-mounted monitor from a major OEM. (It also offers the first competitor Hololens from a major OEM.) As of this writing, the first Smart AR contact lenses have also started testing.

Once head-mounted displays reach maturity (allowing occlusion as needed and resolutions that deliver a 4K experience), the need for traditional displays may fall off a cliff. With monitors, you are limited by the size of the monitor. To fill your entire field of view, you need a very large one, or you need to sit very close to a smaller, higher-resolution monitor. A head-mounted display, since it can fill your field of vision, provides almost limitless virtual monitor space.

Plus, with head-mounted displays, you can reach extreme virtual sizes for mobile workers and even do things like provide heads-up capabilities while walking, scootering, or cycling. I can also envision a future where car displays are replaced with a head-mounted display where you can configure your virtual dashboard however you see fit. And then when the car drives autonomously, you can switch from the real world to games or movies for entertainment. All you would have to do is black out the windows, which is much cheaper than turning them into screens.

End the old, make way for the new

Monitors are nearing the end of their life cycle, but they are still the best way to visually interact with computers. The consumer and professional markets may diverge, but not for hybrid work where the same characteristics are valued at home and at the office. Consumers will eventually get OLED options and faster refresh rates for gaming, while the push for higher resolution 8K devices will likely stall due to a lack of compelling 8K content.

Monitors will eventually become head-mounted displays and things like AR contact lenses will become really viable alternatives. I think we will see the world online in a whole new way by the end of the decade.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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