Widescreen laptop for presentations (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Fri, 06 Feb 2009

Widescreen laptop for presentations

I've written before about how I'd like to get a netbook like an Asus Eee, except that the screen resolution puts me off: no one makes a netbook with vertical resolution of more than 600. Since most projectors prefer 1024x768, I'm wary of buying a laptop that can't display that resolution.

(What was wrong with my beloved old Vaio? Nothing, really, except that the continued march of software bloat means that a machine that can't use more than 256M RAM is hurting when trying to run programs (*cough* Firefox *cough) that start life by grabbing about 90M and goes steadily up from there. I can find lightweight alternatives for nearly everything else, but not for the browser -- Dillo just doesn't cut it.)

Ebay turned out to be the answer: there are lots of subnotebooks there, nice used machines with full displays at netbook prices. And so a month before LCA I landed a nice Vaio TX650 with 1.5G RAM, Pentium M, Intel 915GM graphics and Centrino networking. All nice Linux-supported hardware.

But that raised another issue: how do widescreen laptops (the TX650 is 1366x768) talk to a projector? I knew it was possible -- I see people presenting from widescreen machines all the time -- but nobody ever writes about how it works.

The first step was to get it talking to an external monitor at all. I ran a VGA cable to my monitor, plugged the other end into the Vaio (it's so nice not to need a video dongle!) and booted. Nothing. Hmm.

But after some poking and googling, I learned that with Intel graphics, xrandr is the answer:

xrandr --output VGA --mode 1024x768
switches the external VGA signal on, and
xrandr --auto
switches it back off.

Update, April 2010: With Ubuntu Lucid, this has changed and now it's
xrandr --output VGA1 --mode 1024x768
-- in other words, VGA changed to VGA1. You can run xrandr with no arguments to get a list of possible output devices and find out whether X sees the external projector or screen correctly.

Well, mostly. Sometimes it doesn't work -- like, unfortunately, at the lightning talk session, so I had to give my talk without visuals. I haven't figured that out yet. Does the projector have to be connected before I run xrandr? Should it not be connected until after I've already run xrandr? Once it's failed, it doesn't help to run xrandr again ... but a lot of fiddling and re-plugging the cable and power cycling the projector can sometimes fix the problem, which obviously isn't helpful in a lightning talk situation.

Eventually I'll figure that out and blog it (ideas, anyone?) but the real point of today's article is resolution. What I wanted to know was: what happened to that wide 1366-pixel screen when I was projecting 1024 pixels? Would it show me some horrible elongated interpolated screen? Would it display on the left part of the laptop screen, or the middle part?

The answer, I was happy to learn, is that it does the best thing possible: it sends the leftmost 1024 pixels to the projector, while still showing me all 1366 pixels on the laptop screen.

Why ... that means ... I can write notes for myself, to display in the rightmost 342 screen pixels! All it took was a little bit of CSS hacking in my HTML slide presentation package, and it worked fine. Now I have notes just like my Mac friends with their Powerpoint and their dual-head video cards, only I get to use Linux and HTML. How marvellous! I could get used to this widescreen stuff.

Tags: , , , , , ,
[ 21:12 Feb 06, 2009    More linux/laptop | permalink to this entry ]