Since the displays are getting cheaper, yet their resolution is not improving, the ability to effectively use multiple displays together will be even more useful in the near future. What to expect from Ivy Bridge… or even Haswell then?
Looking back the past ten years, the monitor resolution didn't improve at all. In fact, no thanks to mentally myopic Taiwanese and Korean LCD panel makers (hope the Chinese will save the day there) attitude, we are all stuck with LOWER resolution and lesser effective productivity screens than we had years ago. From 1920×1200 decent screens, and 2560×1600 plus some 3840×2400 models, all in productive 16:10 ratio, now we are being offered 1920×1080 movie screen 'scroll up-down forever' time wasting 16:9 monitors, with occassional 2560×1440 models. All that to save few bucks on LCD panel cutting, at the cost of world populace's productivity, every single day.
Anyway, the new lousy display cost went down somewhat, so, if you are in the mood to do so, you could easily afford multiple displays even on a mainstream PC then, without the need for discrete graphics cards. How about the support for these over the next few years?
We already covered the enhancements to multi-display support on the upcoming Ivy Bridge, aside from its welcome ability to take in 4K resolution displays, which hopefully should finally appear this year at costs lower than five digits. One generation beyond, in Haswell timeframe, you should see even more of it. For instance, two monitors on the internal graphics engine can be supported together with multiple monitors with the discrete graphics card – the question is, would 'drag and drop' be able to work there?
If using internal graphics alone, then you'll have three identical high-performance graphics interfaces for full three-monitor support, all configurable as DisplayPort or HDMI or even old DVI. Importantly, Intel is expected to go with the market flow and enable features such as 3D and deep colour together with the already included 4K resolution on these ports by that time as well. Likelihood of supporting 3D symmetric displays is also high, no wonder noticing that 3D 'functionality' is becoming a fairly low-priced add-on – Chinese OEMs will charge you something like ten bucks extra for it, excluding the glasses of course.
Talking about 3D, Haswell generation graphics is expected to support most 3D stereoscopic formats, including auto-stereoscopic 3D displays, quite a big one for a 'mainstream PC graphics' device. The glasses-free, and hopefully not headache-inducing, technology has several approaches, including parallax barrier, lenticular and head tracking. And, if BluRay 3D disk playback means anything to you, the multi format encode and decode will be enhanced to fully support even this in hardware.
Finally, when combining the internal and external adapter graphics, the upcoming 'Dynamic Muxless SG' feature would enable different applications to be rendered by either graphics engine, even though the display itself is driven by the Intel internal graphics. This is quite an useful capability, as you could literally have application-driven choice depending on the requirements.
In summary, while still not as fast as midrange discrete cards, Ivy Bridge and then Haswell graphics will go many steps towards being sufficient enough in features and capabilities for a multimedia consumer, especially with the extra support for multi-display usage even with the new generation 3D and beyond-HD monitors and TV sets. The extra pixels do matter too, and these processors will support such monitors as well.