What is an output device?

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

In the simplest terms, an output device is an external device or unit that behaves as an outlet for computer functions, from audio-based to visual devices. These kinds of peripherals also include devices that can print documents.

An output device takes data from a computer and translates this into being expressed in another medium, essentially taking input and converting this into varying forms of output. It’s because of this broad definition that ‘output device’ is an umbrella term to encompass so many devices and peripherals.

Display output devices

Probably the most widely-used and important kind of output device is a display or monitor, whether this is a specialist screen or television, but could also include a projector. They’re built to convert data into a visual expression, which chiefly manifests as the graphical user interface (GUI) on an operating system or in applications. The monitor, in such instance, allows any user to interact with the GUI in order to then, in turn, interact with the computer and influence the machine into performing various tasks.

Audio output devices

Beyond visual output devices, sound equipment and audio hardware is perhaps the most sought after. These are designed to translate data from computers into sound, and demands user interaction typically in the form of built-in or external speakers. While speakers built-into computers don’t require much configuration, external audio devices make use of physical cables or wireless technologies such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to service computers.

As we all know, sound equipment amplifies the audio data attached with audio and video files, as well as the notification tones that software and operating systems are written to include. Examples of this function include pings when an incoming email has been received, or when messages are delivered on social media platforms. Many system tones also include errors and those indicating how a computer is performing.

Physical output devices

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

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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