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 a peripheral that performs computing functions regardless of whether it’s audio or visual in nature. The term ‘output device’ is an all-encompassing one that covers various hardware units that can be linked with your computer in order to perform a specific function, ranging from a Bluetooth headset to printers and scanners.

These peripherals will convert data it takes from the computer to which they’re connected into various outputs, depending on what kind of device it is in particular. Because there are so many different kinds of output devices, the output data varies greatly. Even though they may seem wildly different in function, we can class devices from a mouse to external monitors to speakers as output devices. This is because they all share that core principle of taking data from a PC and converting it into another form.

Display output devices

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

An external display is among the most common peripheral, and vary from high-end TVs to specialist monitors and even overhead projectors. Although many of us may use laptops for work, these output devices are becoming more and more for general workplace comfort given the rise of remote working. 

Monitors convert the data they receive from the PC and translate it into a visual medium, normally taking the form of a graphical user interface (GUI). Users interact with an external display by issuing commands within the GUI, which thus allows them to interact with the core functions of a computer and instruct the machine to perform various tasks.

Audio output devices

Black matted Bluetooth speakers on a desk

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

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

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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