VT Book CardBus Graphics Card for Notebook Multi-Display Output Review

VT Book CardBus Graphics Card for Notebook Multi-Display Output Review

How many notebooks have I reviewed that did not come with DVI? I have lost count. Despite the ease and low cost of equipping a notebook with a DVI port plus DVI to VGA adapter, most low-end and many mid-range notebooks are not equipped with a digital video output.

Analog video output is by no means useless, but it is slowly going away. And unlike DVI, VGA is a lot harder to convert into something that can be plugged into a DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort. Technologies that accomplish this exist, but they are not common-place and that generally makes them more expensive.

And chances are good that many people are going to want to experiment with their new high resolution TV sets – many of which stop at Component in regards to analog inputs. Whether it is to view a digital photo collection, movies or larger than life web-surfing extending your notebook onto more screens is a great way to be more productive. That isn’t even taking into consideration the day-traders and other multi-monitor fiends out there that can not possibly live with only a couple of monitors. Now they too can be mobile.

So where does that leave the large number of people that would like to connect their notebooks to HDTV sets but do not have DVI?

Village Tronics has an answer; the VTBook. This is essentially a $250 USD Cardbus-based video card that supports Windows XP, 2000, MacOS (OSX and Classic) as well as Linux. Simply insert the card into your notebook’s Cardbus slot and you have a DVI-I port. Attach the optional DVI splitter and you have a DVI and VGA port.

The VTBook packaging includes quick start guides for Windows and OSX as well as signatures from the people that worked on the card and very useful carry case. This case is worth talking about. It is similar to what you get with decent sunglasses and hold the card and the included DVI-VGA adapter.


At the core of the card, VTBook uses a Trident XP2 video chip. This chip is low power in every regard – both in terms of power draw and pixel pushing power. It has its own 32 MB frame buffer that is clocked between 200 and 266 MHz. For people using Windows-based notebooks, you get DirectX 8.1 and OpenGL drivers. MPEG2 acceleration is in memory which suggests that the XP2 is doing some of the work. VTBook supports hot-plugging, but not hot-unplugging. I don’t see this being an issue for its intended use.

Mac users get pseudo Quartz Extreme 2D acceleration and OpenGL. I say pseudo because in the Village Tronic FAQS they don’t really say yes or no – instead they say that the card does some of its own hardware acceleration regardless of the OS. MPEG2 hardware acceleration is not working. Hot-plugging/unplugging is not supported by the VTBook on Apple gear yet, but they are working on it.

Linux users get 2D acceleration and power management and if that is not enough they can add build more features themselves. They are crafty that way.

This card offers a wide range of resolution options (over 130). Both standard and wide aspect ratios are supported. Maximum displays are 2048*1280 (VGA) and up to 1920*1200 (DVI). If you use the optional dual DVI splitter you can get 1280*1024 resolution per monitor. Refresh rates are all independent of each other – great for mixed display types.

If you have an older notebook with integrated video or an older chip like the ATI Rage, you might actually benefit from the greater rendering power of the VTBook. For most users though, the VTBook really won’t help you with your game playing, so let’s just get that out of the way immediately.

To deal with the myriad of Cardbus variances across notebook brands and models, VTBook has an integrated voltage sensor. Power saving features are also built in – but you will have to plug in those external monitors so how this card reduces battery life is probably not an issue.


VTBook ships with a Windows/Mac driver CD complete with utilities for managing multi monitors. You will want to download a fresh set of drivers and utilities from the Village Tronic site(which is a pretty slick website).

Windows users get VT MultiDisplay which basically extends the capabilities of Windows Display Properties with features like support for up to ten monitors (they must be thinking ahead to DisplayPort because I can not imagine how they would get that many ports on a card). In addition to shipping with the VTBook, this software is available separately for purchase.

Mac users get a utility called VT Voila! Like on Windows, Village Tronic has nicely extended the built-in capabilities of the operating system. It adds to Expose. One feature draws a bright red circle around your mouse pointer, so that you can find it faster. Another feature allows you to bring up a desktop chooser similar to Expose’s task switcher. VT Voila! is a free downloadfrom the Village Tronic website and is worth trying out for any Mac user that likes multi displays.

VT Voila for Mac OSX (view large image)

(view large image)


I tested the VTBook on my 15″ Apple PowerBook G4. One of the things that I was keen to test was the VTBook’s ability to properly detect and display a desktop on my HDTV. The TV in question is the cheap and big Samsung 5086W DLP. It supports 720p and 1080i input via HDMI, Component or VGA.

First, I plugged a DVI to HDMI cable into the VTBook and started up. My notebook immediately detected the display, with an initial display resolution of 640*480, 60Hz. Opening up the display preferences I was presented with a list of about nine strange non-standard display resolutions. None of the supported HDTV resolutions were on the list, nor were there any decent widescreen monitor resolutions. I was using the latest drivers, so I could not figure out what might be causing the problem. I did some searching for forums where people might be reporting on HDTV compatibility and success but I did not find any – be we can start a thread on our forums.

To make sure that the problem was not with my notebook or TV, I connected using my notebook’s DVI port. It worked fine and the full list of supported resolutions appeared in the menu. Seeking help with my problem I turned to the VTBook support page. A quick note to Village Tronic tech support sent 9:41 AM morning was answered and resolved at 3:31 AM morning.

“I am sorry but VTBook does not support 720 or 1080 vertical resolutions on DVI: Such resolution be supported only on VGA provided that the display has proper timing information in the EDID data block, but I can imagine you need to use DVI to adapt to an HDMI digital connection. In this situation VTBook will not be able to deliver what you need. DVI resolutions on VTBook are limited to vertical size of 480, 600, 768, 1024, 1050, 1200 pixels.”

It seems strange, but there is no arguing with the source – he would know. be I should sign-up for the beta program and provide them with some feedback.

Next, I thought I would try to connect to a PC monitor. I tried a couple of old CRT monitors with the VGA adapter and experienced no problems. The picture was suitably crisp. Likewise, I tried a couple of standard aspect ratio LCD monitors with VGA and DVI connections and had no issues.

So what is the verdict?

VTBook is an interesting product. The combination of good hardware, great documentation, active development and platform flexibility make it a product that I would not hesitate to recommend.

For people that need multiple displays and want to use a notebook, the VTBook is a no brainer. This product should work with a wide array of notebooks supporting the three major operating systems, which is pretty smart. Science Labs running Linux, Day Traders on Windows and Mac users creating digital media can all use this solution.

For media center fans, the VTBook might be a bit less appealing. I was not able to simply plug and play my VTBook and Samsung DLP. When you consider how many brands of TV are on the market, especially with inexpensive sets flooding the market from China, it is easy to see some models slipping through the cracks.

Village Tronics should publish a better display compatibility list. Their public beta should allow them to collect info on what displays people are having success with.

In terms of display support, VTBook offers enough resolutions and refresh rates to make most users happy. Although I encountered troubles using VTBook with my HDTV, there does seem to be a lot of development going into this product. They have an ongoing public beta program for all three platforms.

Value is good. It literally has a full video card in this svelte Cardbus form factor and that makes it very unique. People with older hardware might be able to prolong their upgrades, but there is quite a bit of recent hardware that might benefit from a device like this too. For the money, I think it offers good value compared to competing products.

I would however like to see the VTBook DVI splitter included in the box as standard. Finding the VTBook is hard enough, getting accessories might be impossible. This is clearly a niche product at this stage.

A new niche?

HIS and Village Tronics have created an interesting new submarket for themselves – one with a lot of potential. I would like to see future generations of this product. I think Village Tronics should explore other target markets as well.

Read the NotebookReview forumsor any other computer forum and count the number of notebook users that have just bought some game that they can not play on their portable. Integrated video solutions dominate the notebook market and a reasonably priced solution that could leverage the bandwidth of Expresscard and bring dedicated hardware video acceleration could sell very well if done right.

That brings me to my next question: Where is the Expresscard version? With software that supports up to 10 displays on some operating systems, you have to think that a next-gen version is coming eventually. You could stick quite a few DisplayPort connections on an Expresscard/54 card. be a faster more powerful GPU could be added to help with Vista and OSX effects. With all the Core 2 Duo notebooks without dedicated graphics in circulation, HIS could be on to something.





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