When I recently reviewed the new Mac Pro machines, I mentioned that the one thing that didn’t really make it such a great upgrade for me was that the graphics cards in the new Mac Pros do not (yet?) support portrait mode. I mentioned that my beloved three monitor setup (from left to right: 21″ portrait mode, 21″ landscape mode, 21″ portrait mode) from the G5 PowerMac needed to be converted to a landscape only “panorama” setup.
I may have given the impression that doing this on my Ergotron DS100 triple monitor stand is not so easy. Well, it’s true. The DS100 is a kit-type system designed primarily for static setups with anything from 2 to 5 (or more) screens.
This makes sense because until recently a dual (or God forbid triple) TFT screen setup was just prohibitively expensive. This meant that you were only ever likely to find such setups in environments like control rooms of half-billion dollar factories, airports and of course financial trading rooms. In these types of environment, “set them up and leave them running” stands are more than sufficient.
The price of LCD screens has now, however, plummeted so far that multi-screen setups are, if perhaps not cheap, at least affordable for most professionals. Thus monitor stands need to evolve!
After I reported my “niggle” with their product on my blog, the good people at Ergotron contacted me via email. That’s customer service! With most companies, it is YOU who have to contact them and they will then be happy to ignore you until you give up (e.g. Canon’s scanner support people).
On paper, the LX Triple Display Lift Stand is exactly what I was looking for before I “settled” for the DS100. It can accommodate three flat screens, is fully height adjustable, you can allegedly easily rotate the displays from portrait to landscape mode and tilt them forward and backwards as a unit.
Today, the good man from FedEx delivered a parcel roughly the size of a golf bag (at least I think that’s how big a golf bag must be). So let’s see what the new generation of triple monitor stands looks like..
The giant box contains a surprisingly small number of components and right from the start you notice that this is a consumer/ prosumer kind of product. My previous stand had a utilitarian/industrial feel about it: designed for and by people who like ratchets and aren’t afraid of a spot of DIY.
This stand is different. Each component is “designed” and attention was given to the detailed aesthetics; there are even nicely emblazoned “Ergotron” logos here and there. The bulk and the impeccable finish of the major components screams “German SUV” aesthetics.
Assembly too is definitely at the prosumer/ consumer end of the spectrum. You simply plug the three major components into one another and fix them with 4 screws. 5 minutes flat if you are of a careful disposition.
The assembled stand according to my wife looks like “space tech”; I think it wouldn’t look out of place on an big Audi Q7. It’s a bit too large to ignore, just big enough to impress and not quite so huge as to be ridiculous. In a word: nice.
It is of course the part where you put YOUR screens on the stand where things start getting tricky, and swapping between different setups “on the fly” is where the reality of manipulating some fairly hefty hardware re-asserts itself.. let’s see whether the new stand fares better than the old models in this respect.
Hands down the most complicated part of assembling your three display stand is to unmount your TFTs from their original stands. Many LCDs these days come mounted on a rotating, tilting and height adjustable base. Disassembling this and using the VESA compliant (if you’re lucky) mounts can be a little tricky especially on models with built-in USB hubs, power supplies, speakers, etc.
This is where the “oh my good I hope I don’t break it” feeling starts to strike (perhaps not so much if it’s not YOUR screen that YOU paid YOUR money for, but still..).
Luckily for me, I went through this whole process a while ago when assembling the DS100 stand, so that part was plain sailing for me 🙂
Now for “How do I put my screens on that stand”?
This turns out to be not so very complicated, even though it takes two people to do it.
The basic problem is the weight distribution: the middle monitor goes on without a hitch, but the side monitors are more problematic. While you are trying to put on the first side monitor, there is obviously a lot more weight on that end of the stand and the whole thing is going to topple over. This is where you need the second person to stabilize the other end. Once the first side monitor is on of course, the entire stand will be unstable until you put on the third and final monitor, so don’t plan on doing this without having somebody else around to help you. While you’re at it why not invite a third person along?
With the older DS100 model, this was quite tiresome because each screen was attached with a jumbo size screw that went through the horizontal rail itself. There was nothing keeping the screen horizontally stable until the screw was at least halfway in.
Imagine the scene: one person is holding the already mounted left hand screen level so the stand doesn’t fall over on its heavier left side, while the second person is trying to hold up the right hand screen so that the jumbo screw fits into the rail while trying to fit the nut onto this screw. This would be hilarious if it weren’t for the fact that some very expensive hardware is about to get damaged 🙂
The LX Triple Display Lift Stand makes things an awful lot easier by supplying a more horizontally stable base. What’s more the screens are first mounted on a kind of bracket with a straight edge that is hung onto the horizontal rail. This makes an enormous difference: you simply lift the screen and hang it onto the rail and then do all the fine-adjusting. Much nicer.
The stand comes with a whole array of mounting plates and screws to fit all VESA compliant monitors. If you are worried about your particular monitor being compatible, Ergotron have a very comprehensive list of monitor specifications on their website against which you can check your particular model. This also takes into account the weight of each monitor, an important factor.
My own setup consists of three 21 inch monitors: two Samsung 213Ts on the sides and one Samsung 214T in the middle. Ergotron recommend that the monitors have similar weights but this is not strictly necessary.
Since the LX is able to accommodate many different monitors and setups, a little bit of adjustment is necessary in order to get the best of it. The stand is capable of both moving your monitors up and down and to tilt them forwards or backwards in unison. Given that you might put three ultra light 17 inch LCDs rather than three heavy 21 inchers on the stand, the force that needs to be applied can vary dramatically. On the stand you can adjust Ergotron’s patented “Constant Force Lift and Pivot Motion Technology” (CF) by tightening three screws with the supplied adjustment tool.
I found that I had to tighten all three of the screws to very close of their respective maximum settings: I guess that the combined weight of my three 21 inchers must be close to the allowable maximum.
Once these adjustments are made the screens do indeed move up and down and forwards and backwards easily enough.
Unfortunately, the ability to rotate the screens from landscape to portrait orientation somewhat interferes with the nice smooth action of the CF adjustments: the landscape/ portrait swivel is rather loose so that when you use the edge of the center monitor to move the whole unit up or down, or tilt it forwards or backwards, the center screen tends to rotate a little bit on its vertical axis. In an optimal setup, the edges of both side screens touch the center screen and are thus also knocked out of alignment. A stiffer action on the swivel would eliminate this problem and make the whole thing feel more solid.
Apart from this minor gripe, the adjustability of the stand is exemplary. Especially keeping in mind that my setup is probably towards the maximum weight limit..
The technical support at Ergotron informed me that the brackets have undergone a redesign and that the currently shipping product features this newer design. This confirms my earlier experiences with the Ergotron support team being very eager to get feedback and going to some lengths to satisfy their customers. I’m currently waiting for the new re-designed brackets to arrive and will update you on this point as soon as they arrive.
Moving the screens from landscape to portrait mode is also easily accomplished. You simply loosen the knob of the bracket, move the screen a bit along the horizontal rail to make some space, turn it, bring it back in and re-tighten the knob. A definite improvement over the DS100 where this was a two person job (in all fairness, Ergotron do also offer rotating “pivots” for the DS100, but I’m not lucky enough to own one).
In conclusion then, the new LX Triple Display Stand is a marked improvement over the already more than adequate DS100 series. Unlike its predecessor, it is targeted squarely at the non-DIY crowd and makes both a stylish and practical triple monitor stand. As far as I am aware there are at present no other fully adjustable triple monitor stands available and this ought to make this an even easier choice for anybody looking for this type of product.
All this quality and ease-of-use comes at a recommended retail price of $299. Some people may think that this is an awful lot of money to pay for a monitor stand.
The reality though is that multiple monitor setups do not work half as well without a specialized stand. In order to be truly usable the displays need to be as close together as at all possible and arranged in a parabolic arc that keeps them at an easy viewing distance. Achieving this with individual stands isn’t easy and will usually mean that your elbows end up knocking into the stands of side screens. Supporting three large screens requires some no-nonsense engineering, and that comes at no nonsense prices.
What’s more by shopping around you can find the stand for anything between $200 and $250.
Your basic calculation for a three 21″ monitor setup will thus be something like: 3 times $500 for the monitors plus $250 is $1750 for a 4800×1200 pixel mega screen (that’s 5,7 Megapixel!). This isn’t exactly cheap but still compares favorably with a single Apple Cinema 30″ HD Flat-Panel Display that offers “only” a 2560×1600 screen at 4 mega pixels.
Of course you could just go for a 19 inch setup at 1280×1024 which would work out closer to $1000 and still give you an impressive 3,9 mega pixel.. or a dual 21 inch setup for 2 times $500 plus the $269 for the LX Dual Display Lift Stand. Choices. Choices. Choices.
Before you go off and order your own multi-screen setup: A word of advice for your monitor choice: choose something with a small bevel size (that’s the frame around the actual monitor) so that you easily place them close to one another and make sure that they are VESA mounting compatible. Sophisticated add-ons like usd hubs, built-in speakers and similar “nice-to-have” features can become a real problem because they might interfere with getting your screens as close as possible to one another. The extra features also often require the use of the supplied stand and you can thus end up disconnecting these features to get them onto a double or triple stand.
Samsung make some affordable “bare bones” screens without fancy USB ports, built-in speakers, etc but with great picture quality.
Right, I’ll now let you go off and plan your own triple monitor setup 🙂