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In-depth

What is an output device?

Monitors, speakers and printers all count as output devices, receiving data from your computer

Close internal examination of a sophisticated printer

An output device is any additional machine, that is peripheral to the main computer, but which performs a specific function, be it visual like a monitor or audio like speakers. The term 'output device' covers a wide range of hardware that connects to your computer via cables, Bluetooth, or even over Wi-Fi, such as printers.

Peripheral devices convert data from the main computer in order to complete their specific functions. And, because there are so many different kinds of output devices, output data can be drastically different. However, no matter if it is a mouse, external monitor or even speakers, they all share core principles of using data from the PC and converting it for their own use cases.

Display output devices

A long office desk with multiple PCs displaying Windows 10 home screen

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One of the most common output devices is an external display but they themselves can vary. Some have similar capabilities and specifications as high-end TVs or even overhead projectors. While most people use a laptop for work, external or additional monitors are becoming the norm in the workplace and also at home for remote workers. 

Monitors turn the data they receive from the main PC into a visual medium, which is typically in the form of a graphical user interface (GUI). Through the GUI, a user can interact with the computer's core functions, either indirectly, with the keyboard or mouse, or directly if the monitor has touch screen functions. 

Audio output devices

Black matted Bluetooth speakers on a desk

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Sound equipment and units of audio hardware are also among the most sought-after output devices, beyond external monitors. Translating data into sound, these normally take the form of internal speakers built into a notebook, for example, or external speakers. Although the speakers that are fitted into many laptops, phones or tablets won't require a lot of configuration, external audio devices do require some setting up, either by running cables between the PC and the hardware or through wireless technology such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

The key functions of audio output devices are not only to playback audio tied with sound and video files but to express any notifications that arise in the day-to-day running of the operating system and software. Pings may be expressed when an email is received, for example, or when software encounters an error of some kind. 

Physical output devices

An office worker using a large printer

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Aside from display and audio output devices, there's another type of device that offers an output once pumped with information. Physical output devices create something tangible and yep, you've guessed it, a printer is the best example in this category.

These could be standard 2D printers, reproducing words on a piece of paper. They could also include 3D printed outputs - creating entire objects. Of course, this latter category is a little more complicated than standard 2D printers.

A plotter is probably a less-known type of output device unless you work in the engineering or architecture sector. These machines comprise a large "arm" holding a pen and is used for sketching out vast images, such as plans. It's a more accurate way of drawing, ensuring every line is in the precise position it needs to be.

Other output devices

A woman using a VR headset

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Alternative output devices may include ones that generate a kind of physical motion, such as in a connected gadget or robot - or even braille readers. These readers help the visually impaired to use computers by translating on-screen text to braille via raising and lowering a series of pins.

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