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Adafruit Qualia: a customisable DisplayPort monitor for your PC



Image from Adafruit

High resolution, easy to assemble and great value

Several years ago, a computer display with 2048 x 1536 pixels would have come with a hefty price tag that kept it out of reach for the home user. Now we are seeing more high resolution displays, at increasing pixel density, meaning that you don’t necessarily need big money for a big monitor or resolution.

Apple have played a major part in developing and manufacturing displays that cram a huge amount of pixels into a small space. Given that these displays are mass produced, the cost of a panel has inevitably come down to the point where you can purchase a replacement OEM part for a reasonable price.

Without an iPad to connect to said display panel, using it involves a little more work. Enter the Adafruit Qualia: an all-in-one kit that lets you do just that, including the display, driver board, power supply and a frame to hold it all together.

In this post we will take a look at the parts, customise the frame and connect it up to a laptop.

In the box

The Qualia kit requires no soldering or advanced assembly skills, other than patience and a bit of care when handling the reasonably delicate display panel and connector. The photo above gives an indication of what’s in the box – but don’t be fooled into thinking that the frame consists of a load of MDF parts. They are in fact black acrylic covered in a brown paper sheet.

Adafruit even take the care to supply the kit with one particularly fiddly job completed, that of attaching the driver board to the fine pitch ribbon cable on the display.

There are no printed instructions included with the kit, but don’t panic! This is the Adafruit way, with all documentation available online, meaning you have access to good quality, clear instructions when it comes to building and using your kit.

It should be noted that our kit came with a US two-pin power supply, which could be used in the UK with an adaptor plug. Alternatively, you could use a bench power supply, as we did, or an alternative power supply such as this one.

Modifying the case

Adafruit is considered a long-standing part of the maker community, sharing many of their designs openly and encouraging users to hack or modify their products. This rings true with the Qualia, with the board schematic, layout files, firmware and frame design all available to download.

The design files for the frame are shared in .dwg format – native to AutoCAD. I do not have access to AutoCAD and tend to use Inkscape, an open source and free to use vector graphics software to edit design files. So I used a free online tool to convert the original files into a pdf, then open and re-scale the file, and save as .svg – the native format for Inkscape.

Interstingly enough, closer inspection of the design showed multiple copies of some parts, indicating that the shared file may have been used for production, rather than intended to be shared directly.

The file was cleaned up and is shared below for others to use, to reduce the time and effort required to make changes and cut modified parts. Logos were then added to the design and the file exported ready to be loaded into the laser cutter. The new parts were cut from different material, in this case a different colour acrylic, though plywood or MDF could have been used for an alternative finish.

Putting it all together

With the new parts cut, assembly was a case of following Adafruit’s detailed step by step instructions. Since there is no need to re-invent the wheel, it is recommended you follow them closely.

I was able to put the kit of parts together without trouble and soon had the screen connected to my laptop via the cable provided. Opening up Display Settings was the cause for some amusement, since the additional screen, though pyhsically smaller, showed up as much larger compared to the laptop screen due to the bigger resolution!

In all, I am impressed with the simplicity and ease of build of this kit. It is certainly not ready to be thrown into a laptop bag – the driver board is not protected at the back, neither is the rear of the display panel itself – but it is perfectly fine to use on a desk, as it is.

Should you wish to ruggedise the case, or indeed simply change the angle of the stand, then access to a laser cutter would certainly make this an easy task.

Same but different

Around a year ago I came across a similar driver board for the same iPad screen and made an all-in-one unit that enclosed the screen and driver board, included cable tensioning for the cables, and had provision for mounting an Intel NUC on the back.

Whilst the multi-layered construction was a touch unwieldy, this case does provide protection for the delicate internal parts, and combined with the NUC is a reasonably powerful, portable computer with a very high resolution screen. It is by no means as svelte as an iPad, but can be used as a regular computer, running the opertaing system of your choice.

In comparison, the Qualia is certainly a more elegant design and well suited as a second monitor for many applications.

The Qualia is a brilliant addition to the Adafruit range, with their trademark quality documentation and ethos of the end user being able to hack, modify and change the product themselves. Not forgetting the fact that this kit provides an eye-watering 2048 x 1536 pixels for your desktop computer!

maker, hacker, doer

1 Feb 2017, 11:32