Monitors that do more than just display stuff

The scoop: Passport 1912nm Internet Monitor, by HP, about $200.

What is it? The 1912nm is an 18.5-inch monitor with a very basic, non-PC operating system built into the back of the monitor, that lets users connect to the Internet via a Web browser (a basic version of Firefox), as well as view photos or videos or listen to music (via attached SD cards or USB flash drives).

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The goal here is to provide companies with a Web experience for users without needing to go and use a full PC -- think of locations like a hotel lobby, office reception area, Internet cafe or airport. The business can provide Internet access via the browser as well as the other basic entertainment options -- music, video, photos. The system comes with a USB wired keyboard and mouse, and three additional USB ports (for access to USB-attached storage devices for file access).

Why it's cool: The $200 price tag should appeal to businesses that want to provide basic browser access to customers/guests/users without having to go out and purchase an entire PC, whether the PC is an all-in-one system or not.

Some caveats: There's not much in terms of configuration or tweaking -- settings changes are minimal. You get what you see -- browser access, videos, music and photos. If you want to add software to this, no such luck. If you want to change the resolution, you can't -- you're at 1366 by 768 pixels (which seems off when using the browser). Also, it seems odd that the system requires an Ethernet connection -- this potentially limits places where you can place the unit. While I could visit any website through the browser, I couldn't stream Netflix instant content, which requires an OS to run on it.

Grade: 3 stars (out of five)

The scoop: Portable USB Monitor (model E1649FWU), by AOC, about $100.

What is it? The name says it all -- it's an additional monitor that you can attach to an existing PC or Mac to provide some extra screen real estate. The 16-inch monitor connects to your system via USB cable only -- no extra power cables are needed to run the monitor (the cable provided has two dongles if you use this on older systems). A swivel kickstand on the back of the unit lets you run the monitor in horizontal (landscape) or vertical (portrait) mode. The monitor has a 16:9 aspect ratio, 16ms response time and 1366-by-768-pixel resolution (the same as the HP monitor, but this one looked a lot better).

Why it's cool: The monitor is extremely portable -- at 2.3 pounds, it feels lighter than my iPad. For business travelers who want to take along an extra screen for presentations (or if they just want to extend their existing notebook screen), this is a very lightweight option for a very reasonable price. I've seen several USB monitors that can extend a user's display -- this one, by far, is the lightest and most impressive.

Some caveats: There's no sleeve or protection for the monitor if you want to travel with it -- you may have to look at buying a separate 17-inch notebook sleeve to try and protect the screen surface. In addition, you can't adjust the brightness on the display, and Mac owners need to download a separate DisplayLink driver (the provided CD only gives a Windows driver), which could cause some confusion. Also, Mac users can't get the pivot feature, which lets you display the monitor in portrait mode.

Grade: 4.5 stars (out of five)

Shaw can be reached at kshaw@nww.com. Follow him on Twitter: @shawkeith

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