Home > Music making > Adding a remote monitor on top of a MIDI piano

Adding a remote monitor on top of a MIDI piano

Previously I discussed my experiences on extending my digital piano’s MIDI connection via USB extender. There is still one device though that would be convenient on top of my piano, a display monitor.

As the situation is, I already have a heavy powerful laptop (actually used as a “desktop”) that is on most of the time for work and procrastination (and blogging). But it is not located close enough to where my digital piano is, and I can’t rearrange the room yet. Booting an additional computer for a 5 to 20 minute piano session does not seem attractive, especially when there is an idle one somewhere in the house. Carrying the laptop around also does not seem an attractive option. I want things to be as easy as possible to prevent musical inspirations from fading away. I know. I’m crazy. Just like many musicians are.

Back to the topic, I wanted to place a display monitor on top of my piano to emulate having a computer close to it. It would be convenient for controlling the MIDI recording or for Synthesia piano lessons. Wireless mice and keyboards are quite trivial now, so a remote display is as good as a remote client computer. And as I see it, wireless video transmission is still in “beta” stage and quite expensive too.

I thought of several options, getting a slim LCD monitor, preferably with touchscreen capability, or a USB pocket projector projecting on the wall behind my piano. The standard monitor option would be tricky as I already have an extended desktop on my work laptop, and I have no plans of moving it away the laptop. Unlike in a desktop PC, I could not simply plug in video cards into a laptop’s motherboard. For most laptops (that I know of), the only way to add a third monitor is to use a USB to display adapter. As for the pocket projector option, I can not imagine a convenient location for the projector. The best projector position would be blocked by the piano player.

Eventually, I recalled these 10.1 USB LCD monitors made by Liliput, but while looking at them I also found out about Toshiba’s usb mobile dispaly and Lenovo’s ThinkVision LT1421. I chose the ThinkVision which is more compact, although it didn’t have a power switch like Toshiba’s. I can tolerate disconnecting USB cables though. It also has a faster response (8ms)  compared to Toshiba’s (16ms).

Another motivation for getting the ThinkVision (or Toshiba’s), is that it can be used while on travel. Unlike a standard monitor, it is easily portable (more portable than a Thinkpad). It will have many uses for me when working remotely as I am most productive with  two screens.

The next step is to extend its USB connection. Unlike MIDI data, video data is much heavier, so I needed a higher throughput connection. There is a DisplayLink USB 2.0 extender that is not yet widely available and just seems to be a standard USB 2.0 CAT5 extender. Adding 3 meters more to its 1.8 meter cable works. But to go beyond the 5m limit, I had to use a repeater compliant to USB 2.0.

I was able to obtain a 5 meter Trendnet TU2 EX5 repeater. I haven’t seen any reviews about it but it was available in a local dealer and it is USB 2.0 compliant claiming upto 480MBPS transfer rates. It is also cheaper than the USB 2.0 CAT5 extenders I can find.

It works! But unlike with the simple 3m extension, external power is now needed. This is provided through the second USB “plug” in the Y cable, which I plugged to a USB charger. I had to remember which USB plug goes to the computer during my initial test, so I marked it. No video output comes out if these USB plugs are interchanged. It actually looks dangerous when there is no power provided and I’m using the 5m extender. The picture gets distorted and I hear a high frequency hum, like a capacitor is about to blow.

Now, with just an easy wireless keyboard and mouse, software tweaks, and the already extended MIDI connection, my digital piano and semi remote workstation are now united as a more convenient DAW station.

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