Sunday, 28 February 2010

Why do I need a privacy filter? (3M's new Vikuiti Gold Privacy Filter)

I received my free sample filter from 3M a week ago now - it is one of the first of their new Vikuiti Gold Privacy Filters. Before I tell you about my experiences with it though, I think I ought to cover the question: 'Why do I need a privacy filter?'

So, what is a privacy filter? It is a thin sheet of plastic that fits over your screen to reduce the viewing angle. LCD manufacturers spend all their time increasing the viewing angle of their screens so that many people can view the TV from all over the room or crowd round a computer screen to share information. The problem with this is the advantage itself - what if I have sensitive information on my screen that I don't want everyone to be able to read? The privacy filter reverses the wide angle viewing trend to reduce it as close to straight on as is practical. The point of a privacy filter is to stop prying eyes and shoulder surfing.

Do you need a privacy filter? I was speaking to one professional a little while ago and they told me about the time they were on a plane travelling back from an exhibition. He was sat beside a competitor who was working on their laptop for the whole journey, looking at details of their sales leads from the exhibition. At the end of the flight he thanked his fellow passenger for the information. Do you or your users have corporate laptops that they use in a public location? Shoulder surfing documents, usernames, security procedures, etc., can be a serious issue. We can spend all our time and effort protecting the storage and transmission of information and forget about the display and viewing of them.

3M Gold Privacy Filter
Back to the new 3M Gold Privacy Filter. The viewing angles of filters are around 40 degrees from perpendicular. Mostly they work in a similar way to vertical blinds - if you are straight on then you only see the thin edge, but as you move off the perpendicular they start to show until they overlap and you can't see through them. The problem with this is that you can still see the screen if you move in the vertical plane. The 3M Gold filter seems to have a narrower angle of view (which is good for a privacy filter) and also cuts out vertical shifts to a certain extent. This is due to the gold mirror-like surface that cuts out the light from the screen and reflects the surroundings. The matte filters from 3M and other vendors are not so effective due to the lack of reflections. However, in bright ambient light with the laptop LCD panel turned to minimum brightness it can be harder to see the screen effectively with a shiny filter. This can be mitigated, to a certain extent, by the gold filter as it shows a brighter, clearer image than the grey ones in my opinion. Which brings up another problem with privacy filters; they do reduce the brightness of the screen. However, with the brightness turned up on my laptop, I can see the screen with no problems in any ambient lighting environment.

The one poor feature of the filter is the fitting. Small clear plastic tabs get stuck to your laptop round the screen (they have to protrude over the screen). The filter then slides in behind these and fits the screen perfectly (you have to buy the correct size). Fitting the filter is fairly easy (but can be a bit fiddly on a screen like mine as the sides of the laptop slope towards the screen) and removing it is very easy. However, you are left with the tabs over the edges of the screen even with the filter removed. They aren't that obtrusive though and you don't really notice them when the filter is in place.

Overall, I think that the 3M Gold Privacy Filters are probably the best filters on the market at the moment - certainly the best ones I've seen, though I haven't seen them all.

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