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Computer Basics: What Is an Output Device? 10 Examples

Paul's passion for technology and digital media goes back over 30 years. Born in the UK, he now lives in the US.

Read on for 10 examples and the definition of an "output device."

Read on for 10 examples and the definition of an "output device."

What Is an Output Device?

An output device is a piece of computer hardware that receives data from a computer and then translates that data into another form. That form may be audio, visual, textual, or hard copy such as a printed document.

The key distinction between an input device and an output device is that an input device sends data to the computer, whereas an output device receives data from the computer.

For example, using a microphone to record a podcast is an example of using an input device. Listening to the recorded podcast through a connected speaker is an example of using an output device. Both output and input devices are examples of auxiliary or peripheral devices.

Analyzing the Functionality of a Device

There are four different categories of output device: visual, data, print, and sound. Each output device example has a specific history, so here I cover specifically how each device works, when it became a part of technology history, popular brands on the market selling the device, and a fun fact.

For more information about input devices, check out my article "Computer Basics: 10 Examples of Input Devices."

10 Examples of Output Devices

  1. Monitor
  2. Printer
  3. Headphones
  4. Computer Speakers
  5. Projector
  6. GPS
  7. Sound Card
  8. Video Card
  9. Braille Reader
  10. Speech-Generating Device

1. Monitor

Mode: Visual

Function: A monitor consists of a screen, circuitry, a power supply, buttons to adjust screen settings, and a casing that contains all of these components. A monitor displays data from a computer onto a screen so the user can interact with the data via a digital interface.

Popular Brands: Acer, Alienware, Apple, Asus, Dell, HP, LG, Lenovo, Samsung

Origin Story: The first monitors used the same technology as early televisions, relying on a cathode ray tube and a fluorescent screen. This technology was first utilized for computer monitors in 1965 in the Uniscope 300 machine, which had a built-in CRT display. CRT display lights up a series of dots with a beam on an active part of the screen. This resulted in a maximum resolution of 1600 by 1200 pixels. LCD (liquid crystal display) entered the market in 2000 and outsold CRT monitors in 2007. Nowadays, monitors incorporate flat display technology. Plasma monitors are brighter than both CRT and LCD and function by illuminating tiny charged gas bubbles, or plasma, in the screen.

Fun Fact: VDT (video display terminal) and VDU (video display unit) are alternative names for monitors.

2. Printer

Mode: Print

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Function: The function of a printer is to create a copy of whatever is sent from the computer to the printer. Printers take electronic data sent from a computer and generate a hard copy.

Popular Brands: Brother, Canon, Epson

Origin Story: Photocopying, also known as xerography, is the origin-technology of modern-day printing and was invented in 1938 by Chester S. Carlson of Queens, New York.

The first inkjet printer was developed in 1951. There are many different types of printers, with inkjet and laser printers being two of the most common. Modern printers usually connect to a computer with a USB cable or via Wi-Fi.

Fun Fact: A plotter, which is also a type of print output device, is a similar type of hardware device to a printer. Unlike a printer, however, plotters use writing tools, such as pen, pencil, marker, to draw lines. Designed to use vector graphics, plotters were once commonly employed for computer-aided design, but have now been largely replaced by wide-format printers.

3. Headphones

Mode: Sound

Function: Headphones output audio from a computer through two individual headphones for a single listener. Also known as earphones, headphones allow you to listen to audio without disrupting other people in the vicinity.

Popular Brands: Sennheiser, JBL, Bose, Sony, Skullcandy

Origin Story: There’s no single figure who invented headphones, but the use of headphones stems from the military. Nathaniel Baldwin of Utah submitted a headphone prototype to the U.S. Navy in 1910, which was adopted some years after by Naval radio operators. Koss Corporation then created the first commercial stereo headphones in 1958. Nowadays, headphones come in all shapes and sizes, from basic earbuds to the traditional style with padding around the earpieces and a connecting band that fits over the user's head.

Fun Fact: Headphones were popularized for mainstream use in 1979 by Sony Walkman.

Speakers receive vibrational cues from a computer and elicit sound.

Speakers receive vibrational cues from a computer and elicit sound.

4. Computer Speakers

Mode: Sound

Function: Computer speakers are hardware devices that transform the signal from the computer's sound card into audio. Speakers create sound using internal amplifiers that vibrate at different frequencies according to data from the computer. This produces sound.

Popular Brands: Audioengine, Logitech, Razer, Harman

Origin Story: Speakers are essential if you want a louder sound, surround sound, fuller bass, or just higher quality audio. The first internal computer speaker (a speaker inside the chassis of a laptop) was created in 1981 by IBM. External computer speakers began to appear in stores in the early 1990s when computer gaming, digital music, and other forms of media became popular. Some computer speakers are wireless nowadays, connecting to the computer via Bluetooth.

Fun Fact: You can turn your speakers (or headphones!) into a microphone. The difference between computer speakers and a microphone is that the frequency of the vibration originates from external sounds rather than data from a computer.

5. Projector

Mode: Visual

Function: As its name suggests, this output device "projects" computer images or video onto a wall or screen.

Popular Brands: BenQ, Sony, Optoma, Epson

Origin Story: Originally, projectors weren’t an output device. Projectors were first created and used in late 19th-century France. Throughout history, biunial lanterns were used to project ink on glass by photographers, lecturers, and magicians. A biunial lantern is a lantern with projection capabilities. "Biunial" means combining two things into one, so a biunial lantern is a directional lantern and a glass slide with a print on it for projecting.

In the early 1920s, filmstrips were used to show “films” in classrooms. Turning the knob allowed teachers to stop on specific slides. Clear film copies for projectors weren’t invented until the 1960s, and 3M became the leading producer in clear film and projectors.

The data projector was invented in 1980. This is the first year it was considered an “output device.” The data projector was the first rendition of the projector that was closest to modern-day. Using a single cathode ray tube (CRT), the first data projector projected only monochromatically.

Nowadays, projectors are typically used for presentations, watching movies, or as a teaching aid, as they enable an entire roomful of people to see images generated by a single computer. Modern projectors usually connect to the computer via an HDMI (high-definition multimedia) cable or VGA (video graphics array) cable.

Fun Fact: 3D projectors are designed to project two images of the same thing from different angles at the same time. Wearing 3D glasses, the viewer can see a 3D projection composed of multiple superimposed images.

6. GPS (Global Positioning System)

Mode: Data

Function: GPS is a radio-based navigation system that’s composed of a sender computer and a receiver. The sender broadcasts signals to 24 satellites that ping to the sender the exact location of the sender computer in the form of latitude and longitude coordinates. The satellites use microwave signals to “talk” to the GPS, giving information on location, vehicle speed, and a number of other pieces of data.

Popular Brands: Magellan, Garmin, TomTom

Origin Story: A Soviet-era technology, GPS was originally used in the 1960s to track U.S. submarines carrying nuclear missiles. The Department of Defense deployed more satellites to bolster the burgeoning navigation system. By 1993, 24 satellites were in orbit and GPS was used broadly across the world in agriculture, aviation, the military, athletics, science, and the list goes on.

Fun Fact: Until May 1st, 2000, high-quality GPS signals were confined for use by the government.

7. Sound Card

Mode: Sound

Function: The sound card controls the output of sound signals, enabling devices like speakers and headphones to work. The sound card is known as an expansion card, which means it can be added to the motherboard. Although a sound card is not essential to a computer's basic functionality, you need one if you wish to play games, watch movies, listen to music, and use audio and video conferencing.

Popular Brands: Audigy, ASUS, Creative, EVGA

Origin Story: The first sound card was invented by Sherwin Gooch in 1972 and was used in PLATO systems (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations). PLATO was the first computer-assisted learning system in widespread use. It wasn't until 1988 that sound cards were widely used in PCs.

When computer data is sent through a sound card, it is sent to the card digitally. The sound card then translates the digital information (in the form of binary, or 0s and 1s) into analog information: vibrations, output in the form of sound.