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PL500 LCD Pen Tablet System

You might be a graphic artist who is fed up with the mouse and who has never quite gotten the hang of using a pen tablet. If so, you might want to take a look at Wacom's new PL500, a 15-inch LCD that you can draw or paint on with a pressure-sensitive stylus. It's unique - but it's a bit expensive for what it offers.

The PL500 is only about two inches thick and weighs a mere ten pounds. It uses USB for the graphics-tablet functions and DVI for the display - so it works only with G4 Power Macs. For older Macs, it requires a digital video card, such as the $180 Voodoo 4 from 3dfx ( www.3dfx.com ). Priced at $3,999, the PL500 also requires a rather hefty bank account. Wacom also offers the $2,999 PL400, which has a 13.3-inch screen, and the $2,199 PL300, which has a 10.4-inch screen.

In Living Color

The PL500 is larger than Wacom's other LCD tablets, and it offers a better image - it's the first of Wacom's PL line to offer a 24-bit LCD, for millions of colors. It's also brighter than previous models, and it has better contrast.

Drawing on the PL500 takes some getting used to, however, just as using a normal Wacom tablet does. Because the tablet surface is a fraction of an inch above the LCD screen, the tip of your stylus doesn't actually touch the on-screen image. Simply put, it feels a little odd. If you expect using the PL500 to seem just like drawing on a piece of paper, you're going to be somewhat disappointed.

The PL500 ships with a standard Wacom pen that supports 256 levels of pressure (the more levels of pressure a pen can sense, the smoother the curves and gradations between shades of gray it can produce). A rocker switch by the nib has two programmable buttons for quickly issuing commands such as Select All and Save.

The pen can also simulate a pencil, since it has an eraser on the end. You can opt to set the eraser as a brush or any other tool, and just like the pen tip, the eraser is pressure sensitive. It seems a little curious, though, that Wacom did not choose to include one of its Intuos pens, which support 1,024 levels of pressure and a host of other features.

Electric Canvas   The PL500 is an LCD monitor with an invisible, embedded tablet.

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