ViewSonic sets UK launch for Smart Displays

The 'Mira' devices will begin to hit the UK soon, with a high price to match the hype

The first gadgets based on Microsoft's "Smart Displays" concept are arriving in the UK, but their price tags may cause some potential buyers to hesitate.

Smart Displays can function as a flat-screen monitor or a wireless tablet that controls a base PC from around the home or office. ViewSonic, the first Smart Display manufacturer to have its devices on the market in Europe, is planning a launch event for 20 February, and said that its first two displays would be available for preorder on Amazon's e-commerce site. The devices are expected to be available in UK retail outlets in March, during the CeBIT trade show in Germany.

Viewsonic said the Airpanel V110 and V150, measuring 10 and 15 inches respectively, will cost £999 and £1,299 inc. VAT in the UK. The price includes an upgrade to Windows XP Professional, which is necessary for the Remote Desktop Protocol used by the displays, and the Wi-Fi gear needed for the wireless connection.

In the second quarter, a lower-priced version will be available for customers who already have the needed wireless hardware and Windows software.

Consumers may find the price tag a bit steep for devices that cannot be used independently of a PC. The V110 can only be used remotely while the V150 doubles as a monitor, but neither can be used as a stand-alone computer, unlike laptops and tablet PCs available in a similar price range.

A new review conducted by ZDNet Labs concluded that the US pricing for the two Airpanel devices was already steep at $999 and $1,299, or about £609 and £792. The higher UK pricing is partly due to VAT (not included in the US price) and partly to higher margins demanded by UK retailers, according to a ViewSonic spokeswoman.

Microsoft product manager Megan Kidd previously told ZDNet UK that prices are probably too high for mainstream adopters at the moment, but said that they would come down along with the prices of other LCD components. Microsoft expects that only early-adopters and the wealthy will purchase the initial devices, she said.

However, this base price doesn't include the screen's docking station, necessary for using the unit as a primary monitor, and this costs an extra $149 in the US. If this add-on is sold for £149 in the UK (ViewSonic hasn't yet confirmed this), it will mean a significant extra expense. In comparison, a regular 15-inch LCD screen can cost as little as £250, and some notebooks offer integrated wireless for around £750.

ZDNet Labs found that aside from the price, the device was appealing, with a strong wireless connection, easy-to-use interface and fast Web browsing.

Another limitation of the displays is that Another limitation of the displays is that the base PC is "locked" while a Smart Display is controlling it, so two people cannot use the PC at the same time. Industry observers have noted that this limitation might make Smart Displays less attractive than wireless-equipped notebooks or tablet PCs.

Some versions of Windows support multi-user configurations, but this feature was removed from desktop Windows operating systems for licensing reasons, according to Microsoft.

The devices have a battery that lasts up to four hours, run on a 400MHz Intel Xscale processor, and include 32MB of ROM and 64MB of SDRAM.

The displays were first shown at Comdex last autumn, and Bill Gates highlighted Viewsonic's models in a keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show last month.

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