- Editor's Rating
- Adds another video port, regardless of your GPU
- Fast, fluid responses
- Easy-ish setup
- Doesn't (currently) work with OS X or Windows 8
- Limited to 1080p @ 60Hz
If you have a USB 3.0 port, and need another display, it's hard to go wrong with Cirago's USB-to-HDMI adapter.
DisplayLink, for those unfamiliar with the concept, is a company that has turned USB into another video connection – run entirely in software. We’ve seen several iterations of USB displays over the years, including some – like the excellent model from Lenovo – that have both electricity and video requirements supplied by just one or two USB ports.
It’s an elegant way to add another display to a computer, such as a laptop, or a desktop with a single video-out port, that is already powering its maximum number.
As I said, we’ve seen a number of these displays, at trade shows and in person, and they seem to work well enough. At least, they work well enough if your needs aren’t too substantial. You see, video connections, such as VGA, DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort, they all have a lot of bandwidth available to transfer a video signal. There’s a lot to a video signal, too! For most displays, each pixel is comprised of three subpixels, each one either red, green, or blue. Multiply that by a specific resolution and it all adds up to a lot of data that gets pushed to the display, multiple times per second.
DisplayPort is pretty advanced – take this fact on DP bandwidth, from Wikipedia:
|1.62, 2.7, or 5.4 Gbit/s data rate per lane; 1, 2, or 4 lanes; (effective total 5.184, 8.64, or 17.28 Gbit/s for 4-lane link); 1 Mbit/s or 720 Mbit/s for the auxiliary channel.|
Even a single-link DVI cable can push through almost 4 gigabits per second. Compare this to a USB 2.0 link, which has a theoretical maximum of 480 Mbps, or 0.480 Gbps – pretty low, in comparison. The result was a picture sufficient for basic tasks such as browsing the web, sending emails, stalking on Facebook…you get the idea. Videos were mediocre at best on most of these displays, even with the heavy compression that the software developers implemented in order to speed things up a bit. YouTube, especially at full screen, wasn’t exactly fun.
And a USB 1, and a USB 2, and a USB 3.0…
USB 3.0, on the other hand, really changes things. It bumps the half gigabit limit of USB 2.0 all the way to 5 Gbps, which is more than a match for some of the more traditional video-oriented interconnects. When we saw USB 3.0 devices start to trickle onto the scene, one of the things I was most excited for, aside from speedy flash devices, was to see how well the DisplayLink devices would work with the additional bandwidth.
Having said all of that, this Cirago UDA-3000 device is the perfect opportunity to see how well things have matured, and as it turns out, matured they have.
One of the best parts of devices like these is their universal appeal and compatibility. If you have a remotely recent computer and a free USB port, boom – things should work. For notebook users, it’s an easy enough solution to carry in your bag and guarantee access to any recent HDTV or external display. Not every notebook has DVI or HDMI out, and even if yours does, the UDA-3000 can be used to connect a second external display, even if you’ve only got integrated graphics.
To hook it up, all you need to do is download the DisplayLink drivers, available from DisplayLink.com (these are always the most recent). You’ll need a micro-USB 3.0 cable to attach to the device, which Cirago thankfully includes:
Does USB 3.0 really make a difference?
When you hook it up to the computer, the OS will usually install another driver, and a screen pops up that updates your USB-HDMI adapter. Then all you have to do is plug your display into the other side of the adapter with an HDMI cable. Since HDMI and DVI are electrically compatible (i.e., they both use the same video signal – HDMI is generally thought of as DVI + audio), you can also plug an adapter into the port, and use a DVI cable, or even use a specialized DVI-HDMI cable.
So while I was excited to see how well an external display worked with the new standard, I wasn’t holding my breath. Previous USB links had been useful, if generally underwhelming.
Fortunately, Cirago’s UDA-3000 was a real surprise. The picture was fluid and responsive, and if I wasn’t certain that the display was being driven by a single USB cable, I would have been hard pressed to discern it on my own.
Scrolling up and down webpages was both smooth and clear, and video – a nemesis of the USB link – worked flawlessly. Even high-definition Flash videos, like those found on YouTube, Hulu, and the rest – worked well. While the UDA-3000 is compatible with slower USB 2.0 ports on your computer, you’ll have to deal with the mediocre experience described at the top of this post.
At $79.99, Cirago’s UDA-3000 USB-to-HDMI adapter is in that middle of the road price range between instant buy and too expensive. As these things go, it works well – and USB 3.0 is still new and expensive, so you expect that price to drop over time. Moreover, if you really need to add another display to your computer, and you have a USB 3.0 port available, it’s hard to recommend anything else.
There are a few caveats, however. Windows 8 is right around the corner, and despite having a Win8 driver available on the DisplayLink group’s website, the UDA-3000 simply wouldn’t work for us. The same goes for computers running Mac OS X – all flavors. Part of that latter is because USB 3.0 was only very recently introduced into the OS X ecosystem, and it’s going to take a while for the drivers to play catch-up. Windows 8’s introduction is right around the corner, however, so that particular incompatibility needs to fixed post-haste.
Despite those issues (over 99% of you are running Windows 7 right now, so it’s not a huge concern yet), we can easily recommend Cirago’s solution to anyone who needs to fill this particular niche.