Burney's Gadgets for Legal Pros: Reviews: Doing Double Time With Dual Monitors and Video Chatting Via Your Laptop

Brett Burney is the Legal Technology Support Coordinator at Thompson Hine in Cleveland, Ohio. He regularly reviews products for Law.com's Automated Lawyer and Law Office Computing Magazine. Feel free to e-mail Brett with your legal technology questions.

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Village Tronic VTBook

With the rock-bottom prices on flat-panel monitors these days, there's no reason why you can't have two in front of you.

This holds true for laptop users too. And while most laptops have a VGA video out port, the Village Tronic VTBook PCMIA card can bring a whole new level of dual-monitor functional frenzy to your regular work.

A short while ago, having two monitors in front of you was pretentious. But today, I would argue that it signifies a quest to be more productive and to better organize the influx of information we all have to deal with every day.

Three MonitorsJust like on your regular desk where you can have one document on your left, and another document on your right, two monitors lets you view multiple items at the same time. You can have your e-mail client open on one monitor, while your Internet browser or Word document is displayed on the other. You will be amazed at how much time this can save you throughout the day.

A laptop is obviously wonderful for its portability, but when you get back to the office, it should power more than just its small, built-in screen.

Similar to how you can plug an external projector into your laptop for presentations, that plug can also power an external monitor. While that might be adequate for most scenarios, the VTBook card can provide several additional features you won't find from the built-in port.

VTBookThe VTBook contains its own video/graphics card. That means it doesn't share duties with your laptop's built-in video system. That also means it has enough horsepower to handle large widescreen monitors without a problem. Most built-in video cards in laptops can't handle widescreen resolutions.

The VTBook houses 32MB of video RAM in its tiny casing, and can power resolutions up to 2048x1280 for VGA connections or 1920x1200 for DVI connections.

Delivered in a lovely box that resembles an eyeglass case, the VTBook is accompanied by a small DVI to VGA connector that Village Tronic graciously included.

I would recommend checking the Website for compatible laptops. I tried installing the VTBook card on one laptop with multiple failures before checking the site. When I finally did turn to the support section online I realized that my laptop was one of the few that were listed as being non-compatible.

(Note also that VTBook will work on both Windows and Mac laptops, although be aware that the newer Mac laptops have switched over to the Express Card slot as opposed to the older PCMCIA slot.)

When I did finally get the VTBook installed on another laptop, I followed the directions perfectly. The included quick guide walked me through the steps of installing the software first, then powering down my machine before inserting the VTBook card and turning the machine back on.

The VTBook isn't complete without the VT MultiDisplay software. This little app allows you to create display profiles, add shortcut keys, and generally tweak your display properties.

One feature I really enjoy is the two extra buttons that appear at the top right of every open window - these buttons allow me to a.) maximize the window across multiple displays or b) move that window to another monitor quickly.

I was lucky enough to hook up my VTBook to a monitor that supported the DVI cable. The image on that external monitor looked better than the image on my laptop screen. It was easier to read and just looked sharper.

Past that, the VT MultiDisplay software also allowed me to set options for how I wanted my screensaver and wallpaper to perform across monitors.

If you use a laptop and believe in the blissful power of multiple monitors, then the VTBook PC card is definitely worth a look. The $249 price may cause a few to trip, but if you need a flexible external video utility to complement your laptop, it's worth it.

Logitech QuickCam for Notebooks

I've never had much need for a Webcam. I've dabbled with them to call family members, but the newness wears off soon and it's just easier to talk over the phone.

I've always heard good things about Logitech's line of portable video cameras that stick on top of laptop monitors, so I was excited to receive one for testing with my recent trial of Adobe Acrobat Connect.

Logitech offers several models on their site, but I received the QuickCam for Notebooks that retails for $39.99.

The guide was simple and I followed the instructions to install it without a hitch. It did require a reboot of the laptop.

The camera "clips" on top of your laptop screen with an ingenious spring-loaded type of mechanism. A small rubber foot protects your screen and I wasn't worried about it falling off. The QuickCam plugs into your laptop via a single USB cord.

That cord handles both video and audio, since the QuickCam includes a small microphone. I was able to get a small video recorded within a few minutes past installation. I then had the option to save the video to an "album," or the Logitech software could actually attach it directly to an e-mail message if I wanted to send it to someone (just watch the file size on videos, they can get big quick).

The QuickCam can capture video in 640x480 resolution which is adequate quality for capturing those impromptu Hollywood moments. It can also capture pictures at 1.3 mega pixels.

The QuickCam for Notebooks will work with most of the popular chat services out there like Skype, Yahoo! Messenger, and AOL. Logitech also has their own service called VideoCall for Broadband that's reasonably priced (they also offer a 30-day trial).

If you have been considering the thrill of video chatting on your laptop, take a serious look at the Logitech line of Quickcams - I'm certain you'll find one that you like.