Topics / Hardware / Output Devices

Output Devices

What is an output device?

Output devices are pieces of computer hardware used to communicate the results of data processing performed by a computer.

The objective of output devices is to turn computer information into a human friendly/readable form.

There are many examples of output devices, each with their own benefits and drawbacks.

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LCD & LED Flat Display Screens

Output Devices - LCD ScreenWhat is a display screen?

Display screens are amongst the most common types of output device.

Thanks to the development of LCD technology, display screens now require less power and are lighter and thinner than their obsolete CRT ancestors.

LCD screens produce sharp high resolution images.

Most display screens are either LCD or LED.  Details of these can be found below.

Typical applications for display screens

  • Phone and tablets
  • Laptops and computer screens
  • Televisions
  • Gaming devices
  • Cameras
  • Household appliances

Benefits of display screens

  • Low power consumption means that displays can be placed on battery powered devices
  • Screens are now lighter and thinner – meaning they can be used in a variety of places
  • Sharp high resolution images
  • Vivid colours with good contrasts
  • Reach maximum brightness quickly
  • Reliable and long lasting

Drawbacks of display screens

  • Keeping up with the absolute latest screen technology can be expensive

LCD Screens

LCD screens are made from millions of tiny blocks called pixels.

Each pixel contains a red, green and blue light filter which can be individually adjusted to create any colour when combined.

This is possible because the liquid crystals found in each pixel can be manipulated to allow all, some or none of the fluorescent tube back light through to the individual RGB filters at the front of the screen.

LED Screens

LED screens work in a similar way to LCD screens but with one major difference, the light source.

Small LED bulbs are used to provide light to the LCD pixels, not fluorescent tubes.

These LED bulbs either fill the entire back of the display unit, or on thinner models are just arranged around the edges.

A fully back lit LED display allows for localised diming of the screen, producing deeper blacks in parts of the screen where no light is needed.

Edge lit LED displays allow the screens to become even thinner than standard LCD displays.

In some situations LED screens are more power efficient than LCD.

LCD & DLP Data Projectors

What is a data projector?

Data projectors are output devices used to project the digital output from a computer device on to a large screen or wall.

The user can usually choose whether the projector mirrors their computer screen, extends it, or replaces it.

Projectors are ideal when training or presenting information to a large audience.

Prices are very reasonable for basic projectors, however, a data projector capable of showing cinema films or sports footage in a bar are far more expensive.

Data projectors come in two mains types, 3LCD and DLP.  The differences between these are detailed below.

Typical applications for projectors

  • Presenting to a large audience
  • Education and training environments
  • Boardrooms
  • Cinemas and bars

Benefits of projectors

  • Projected content can be seen easily be a large audience
  • Allow a wide range of media and ideas to be shared with others
  • Entry level projectors are affordable

Drawbacks of projectors

  • Top quality projectors are very expensive
  • Some projectors do not work very well in natural light

LCD Projectors

The lamp light is split from white into red, green and blue using dichroic mirrors.

The RGB light channels are passed through separate monochrome LCD screens, one for each of the three colours.

The RGB light is then reassembled into a single light beam and magnified out of the projector using lenses.

It is the three LCD screens that therefore control how much red, green and blue is present in the final image.

DLP Projectors

DLP projectors work in a different way to LCD projectors.

Most affordable DLP projectors use a fast spinning colour wheel filter to sequentially split the lamp light into red, green and blue light.

The projected image is created by a bank (chip) of thousands of microscopic mirrors.  Each mirror represents one pixel.

These tiny mirrors are carefully in sync with the colour wheel, turning towards or away from the RGB light as and when it is needed, thousands of times per second. So, if part of the projected image requires no red light, they face away from the light when the colour wheel filter is allowing red light through.

The reflected image from the mirrors is then magnified out of the projector using lenses.

Inkjet Printer

Output Devices - Inkjet PrinterWhat is an inkjet printer?

Inkjet printers are output devices usually used in a home or small office for low volume printing.

A moving print head sprays ink droplets on to the paper from a cartridge filled with liquid ink.  Thermal bubble technology is used to fire these microscopic ink droplets from the cartridge.

Because the bulk of the action happens in the high-tech ink cartridges, they are priced quite highly in relation to the price of the actual printers (which are often very affordable).

Inkjet printers are now commonly combined with a flatbed scanner to create an all in one solution.

Typical applications for inkjet printers

  • Low volume printing where speed isn’t critical
  • High quality photographic documents
  • Home and small office
  • Printing on heat sensitive stationary, such as labels

Benefits of inkjet printers

  • Entry model printers are very affordable
  • Excellent photographic quality
  • Can print on a variety of stationary as no heat is applied

Drawbacks of inkjet printers

  • Generally slower at printing than compared to laser printers
  • Ink cartridges can be expensive
  • Printed text is nice and clear but laser printed text is still superior

Laser Printer

Laser PrinterWhat is a laser printer?

Laser printers are output devices usually found in businesses and organisations.

Using static electricity, the way they work is completely different to inkjet printers.

Laser printers are ideal for high volume printing because they produce very high quality documents at fast speeds.

Laser printers use a powdered ink/toner cartridge, not liquid ink.

  1. The rotating printing drum is given a negative charge.
  2. A laser removes the negative charge from certain areas of the drum as it scans across it, creating a neutrally charged copy of the text/image to be printed.
  3. From an ink roller, negatively charged toner is attracted to the neutral spaces on the printing drum.
  4. The toner image/text then transfers from the printing drum to some positively charged paper.
  5. A fuser is used to heat the document and permanently melt the toner on to the page.

 Typical applications for laser printers

  • High volume printing where speed is critical
  • Shared printer for several users
  • Predominantly text based documents
  • Found in businesses and offices

Benefits of laser printers

  • Very good at producing sharp text
  • Fast high volume printing
  • Large input trays to hold more paper
  • Cost per page is generally lower than inkjet

Drawbacks of laser printers

  • Good quality images, but inkjet images are superior
  • Initial cost for printer can be expensive
  • Heavy and bulky
  • Toner is expensive but is replaced infrequently

Test your knowledge of output devices with our quick quiz.

3D Printer

Output Devices - 3D Printer

What is a 3D printer?

3D printers are output devices used to create three dimensional objects from a 3D computer model.

The computer model can be created by using a 3D scanner, or by hand using CAD modeling software.

Using a method called additive manufacturing, 3D objects are created by layering a material, layer by layer, from the ground up until the object is completed.

Typical applications for 3D printers

  • Home and commercial use
  • Prototyping parts and solutions
  • Human prosthetics
  • Medical aids

Benefits of 3D printers

  • Prototype objects can be created at a fraction of the cost of a factory
  • A variety of intricate and “impossible” objects can be printed in a variety of materials
  • Computer designs can be shared and printed by others

Drawbacks of 3D printers

  • Expensive to buy although entry models are becoming more affordable

Wide-Format Printer

Output Devices - Wide Format PrinterWhat is a wide-format printer?

A wide-format printer is an output device capable of large scale printing.

Most wide-format printers work in a similar way to inkjet printers, allowing for some flexibility with the materials that can be used.

Wide-format printing is economical when printing a larger item in small volumes as setting up a traditional print run can be expensive.

Typical applications for wide-format printers

  • Banners, posters, murals
  • Vehicle image wraps
  • Architectural drawings and construction plans
  • Theatre and TV studio backdrops
  • Signage

Benefits of wide-format printers

  • Economical for small volume printing
  • Can print in a variety of larger sizes, using continuous rolls of paper

Drawbacks of wide-format printers

  • Initial cost is expensive

2D Cutter

2D Cutter

What is a 2D cutter?

A 2D cutter is an output device capable of cutting holes or shapes into a flat 2D surface.

Examples range from inexpensive paper/card cutting machines used by craft enthusiasts, to industrial models used in manufacturing to cut through metal.

Typical applications for 2D cutters

  • Manufacturing (laser cutters)
  • Craft projects (paper and card blade cutters)

Benefits of 2D cutters

  • Fast and consistently accurate cuts can be made all day long

Drawbacks of 2D cutters

  • Some industrial models can be expensive to setup and maintain
  • Output is only as good as a the computer 2D model

3D Cutter

3D CutterWhat is a 3D cutter?

A 3D cutter is similar to a 2D cutter except it is capable of rotating and cutting at many angles.  This means that 3D objects can have cuts made to all of its surfaces, unlike 2D cutters that can only cut into a flat 2D surface.

3D cutters come in many varieties, some of which do not use lasers.

Typical applications for 3D cutters

  • Manufacturing

Benefits of 3D cutters

  • Fast and consistently accurate cuts can be made all day long
  • All sides of an object can be cut into

Drawbacks of 3D cutters

  • Can be expensive to setup and maintain
  • Output is only as good as a the computer 3D model

Speakers and Headphones

Output Devices - SpeakersWhat are speakers and headphones?

Speakers and headphone are the output devices responsible for producing sounds.

Speakers and headphones convert digital signals into analogue sound waves that are audible to our human ear drums.

Speakers come as standard is most portable computing devices.  Desktop computers usually require the purchase of separate speakers.

Speakers and headphones aren’t just for music, they also allow us to hear computer warning signals and other people when communicating via voice or video calls.

Typical applications for speakers and headphones

  • Headphones keep sound personal so as not to disturb others
  • Speakers allow for sound that can fill the room
  • Music
  • Communications (phones, tablets, laptops)


Output Devices - ActuatorsWhat is an actuator?

Actuators are the output devices responsible for creating real world movement.  This could range from physically opening automatic shop doors to lowering the landing gears on a plane.

They are often used in a computerised control system, acting upon a signal sent by the microprocessor.   Actuators include electric motors, pistons and pumps.

Typical applications for actuators

  • Robotics
  • Control Systems

Test your knowledge of output devices with our quick quiz.

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