IDEA: Mini screens for DJs

The dead horse beating of design elements is well known – be it every ad agency in the 80s hammering the Helvetica Neue font into typeface , going grundgy and distressed in the 90s, and images going hi def or tilt and shift in the last decade. But the current de rigueur video effect seems to be the perspective video overlays. In the case of the DJ industry, it’s actually really useful to demonstrate key product features.

I for one wish that his virtualisation of the software features was more than an overused video effect. It’s actually a bloody good idea, that with a little work can be a reality.

Taking this back to its roots – controllers popped up because DJs wanted a more tactile approach to DJing, and this has developed to the point of wanting to get away from pressing keys on their laptop. The attention is on the DJ gear rather than the keyboard. But the laptop is still a key if annoying part of a DJ setup, if only because the DJ needs to see what’s happening in the software and have a visual way to load the tracks. So logically, finding a way to put that visual information on or near the DJ gear would be extremely useful.

Numark VM03-MKII screens

Take a look at this shot from NAMM. It shows a Numark NS6 running Serato ITCH and Serato Video with a Numark VM03-MKII. With video becoming the next big thing in the next few years, it’ll be near essential for small video monitors to hit the market. But my contention is that they can be used in much the same way for software elements too.

It’s an age old principle – if something is at capacity, you either work smarter or expand. With so much being crammed into laptop screens, the working smarter element is getting harder all the time. Collapsible elements or tabbed screens are all well and good, but there comes a point where it’s unworkable.

This leaves expansion, and to me this means additional monitors. There’s something to be said for hooking up a 40″ flat screen to your computer, but it’s not especially practical for most DJs. The above Numark unit caught my eye for exactly this purpose, but digging a little deep showed a few possible alternatives, in particular small USB monitors.


For example, Mimo make a range of screens – all USB connections and ranging from 7″ to 10″ in size. Some have webcams, others pivot and some are even multitouch. But this isn’t an ad for Mimo, more an indication of what’s out there. But looking at the cheapest as an example – $180 direct or around £120 online. For this you get a pivoting USB powered 800×480 touch screen. Now imagine 4 of those – one for each deck, showing whatever you wanted to on screen right above each deck. And latency permitting, everything is but a touch away. This would also leave your laptop screen for other things, and importantly put your attention right on your DJ gear. Nice. Very nice indeed.

But all this theorising and fantasising is pointless without the software supporting it. Traktor, Scratch Live and just about every other piece of DJ software are locked one screen wonders. Virtual DJ 8 shows promise with undockable windows, but for this to gather any steam, elements e.g. decks will need to be assigned to separate screens. And then there’s the issue of converting onscreen elements to touch compatible ones al a Smithson Martin Emulator.

With a powered USB hub and small touch monitors, you’d have a really cool workable setup. All we’re really waiting for is the software to be adapted to suit. But again, I must underline that this is just an idea that I’m putting out there for discussion. It has many merits as well as a few hurdles that I feel could easily be overcome.


  • i hope maybe ”the one” software supports this… if it does i’m surly going to look in this

  • My personal take on this is that I’d kind of like to go the other way, and eliminate screens altogether. If I could have Serato SSL on a phone and only look at it to pick tracks I would.

    There seem to be two prognostications of the future right now: one involves more elaborate display technology (HUDs, Google Goggles, holograms, giant touchscreens) but the “stealth” one — and one that seems to me to have legs with the common man — is a trend towards less and less display and more minimal ways of determining the state of your apps.


    • Jared Helfer

      See, I want both. I want the ability to set a modular setup for when I need it, and have the most basic setup for when I don’t. If I’m gonna DJ a lounge for an open mic or something I don’t need a huge crazy setup. I might just want a screen to select tracks and do everything else myself. OR, if I’m gonna play a club with two other guys and need as much info as possible, I want that too, in the same software, and as save-able profiles.

      I mean, if we go one way, why not go the other?

    • I guess it depends on your needs. If you just want to see what the state of your app is, then there are doubtlessly more space efficient ways to represent the important data. But to have actual control over the increasing plethora of new features, you’re going to have to offer more physical controls which in turn leads to larger lumps of DJ gear. To have all that info and control adequately represented on a single laptop screen is a challenge now. The sample decks in SSL and Traktor are already cramped.

      Perhaps it’s as simple as a second monitor for the library, leaving the laptop screen for the main controls. But I still love the idea of individual touch screens for per deck operation.

      • I totally agree with the individual screens per deck idea. I’ve been looking for this option for a while now as I really don’t like having a laptop screen to distract my attention when performing. Most controls and software states can be removed from the screen and replaced with midi controls and leds for feedback. The only things left that needs a display are the waveforms and browser. I would love to have two small midi controllers, each with an integrated small waveform display for each deck, positioned either side of a hardware mixer. Basically a bit like the CDj-2000 but smaller, more customisable and running traktor. At present I play off 2000’s if the club has them, otherwise standard CDs but I really miss the flexibility in cuepoints / beatjumping / visual feedback of a waveform offered by a laptop set up. This small screen idea would be the best of both worlds.

  • Seeing more complexity being introduced into current DJ technology, whether it be a stand-alone all-in-one controller, CD deck or even mixer, a case can be made for more hardware to make the jump like the Stanton’s SCS.4DJ to be true stand alone operational units. Imagine for example a Rane Sixty-One with a motherboard running its own internal operating system that would run SSL software onboard and on the rear patch panel an HDMI port to connect to whatever monitoring source you want to use. Just bring your portable hard drive full of tunes and your set. The argument on the other side of course is compatibility with other systems of this nature and whether or not DJ’s will prefer to be more entrenched to a specific standard.

  • I think this is a big opportunity for the Smithson Martin guys to break Emulator Modular out of the niche that it’s in and turn it into something everyone needs. EM already allows you to cut holes in the touch overlay so a user can see (and interact with ) parts of the underlying application. Unfortunately, you have to work around those functional groups because they can’t be moved. Imagine if you could MOVE those groups (both the visual and control aspects) to a different part of the screen. This would allow users to re-arrange the screens however they wanted.

    Of course, this is still a half measure. The EM software can only show what’s shown on the screen. The best solution would be manufacturers supporting multiple monitors, and allowing users to build custom interfaces on those monitors.

    • Jared Helfer

      Well, definitely. Especially when combined with modular units, I could, in theory, have an individual little monitor for each controller. THAT would be crazy awesome. Have, like, 4 little monitors all showing individual (and sometimes overlapped) and detailed information, and a larger screen with more generalized data.

      That would be one killer setup.

  • mark

    You might like this xwax setup with one screen per-deck, from 2008:

  • Loudist

    Personally, I’m happy with the 40″ flatscreen approach!

  • Loudist

    Then again, perhaps these guys hold the key…

  • GroovinDJ

    I’m all for having screens on hardware – the Stanton SCS.4DJ for example, or the Numark D2 Director or DDS. For browsing thousands of tracks it’s a pretty essential thing – a screen and a keyboard input.

    Pioneer are going the right way with the screens on the CDJ-2000 etc. Unfortunately Denon seem to be going the opposite way! Despite using a fairly good screen on the HS5500, their new all singing all dancing multimedia monster the SC3900 has taken a step back in time and uses a CD player style display.

    Instead they expect DJs to carry around a wireless hub and a bunch of LAN cables, to connect the player(s) to a laptop or wirelessly link to an iPad. To me that’s madness. Too much fuss and clutter.

    Still waiting for a multimedia player that has a VGA, DVI or HDMI output, so we can choose our own screen.

  • Doesnt the ipad cover most of this? I looked into these mimo screens a while back and they arnt ideal. Ipads can now display / control nearly every aspect of your DJ software. The Lemur app seems to offer fully customisable visual feedback too. True, they are expensive but android is hot on its heals and you will soon be able to get a 1+ ghz dual core for around the same price as a mimo. We may have to wait for some time for google to sort out androids audio capabilities and devs to get on the case.

    • GroovinDJ

      Why pay out £400 for an iPad to use as a screen when you can get an 18″ LCD monitor for £80?

  • There are at least two active threads on DJTT fourm, where this kind of thing is pushed to reality, with current (inflexible) software. And solution is really simple, you don’t have to beg software companies to get their heads out of wherever-their-head-is right now.

  • akiem
    • Good work. But once will do. Clearly people have thought about this for some time. How did this work akiem? Back in 2005, I imagine that the latency was terrible.

  • akiem

    Kept leaving comments and would get an error. Thought it was the link.

    Anyway it was actually excellent. Even the touch screen. The text was small, but this is before ssl text could be resized. I was very close to making it something I could tour with which was the goal. Just not sturdy enough. I actually not to use it because I did not want to get too used to it when practicing. The was before the 57 and using the touch screen to scroll and load songs worked too well. If I had the ability to develop a product I definitely would have. I also played with the idea of using a mini computer and building one single mixer/computer/monitor unit that would be easy to transport and set up. One snag I had with that was there was not any mini keyboards a could find back then, I have one now. If I could I would develop a case with a monitor on it, you could drop a mini PC or Mac mini into it.

  • Korji Liddicut

    I have been thinking of this idea too and thought that, with Apps like Touch OSC for that are used to control the software on laptops that there may be a way to even get an application for video out too. Although the fact that the companies haven’t done anything about it is what puts it down. But I do think that it would be nice to have an iPod/iPhone with maybe a stand or something next to each deck to visually see the wavelengths of the tracks…

  • there must be aps for this on the iPad. If not, someone must do one… HELP US!