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What Is a Dial Box?

By Alex Newth
Updated May 17, 2024
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A dial box is a type of now-outdated hardware that once was used to manipulate three-dimensional (3D) graphics through the use of rotating dials. The common dial box came with eight dials, and each dial controlled a different aspect of the 3D model. Before the advent of the universal serial bus (USB), when the computer mouse had a specified port, this box would connect to the mouse’s port and required a separate power cord. While the box has several advantages over a mouse, it has been largely deprecated by upgrades in mouse technology that allowed them to control 3D models without the box.

When 3D graphics were first created, it was difficult to fully control the graphic through a mouse. This was mostly because the mouse did not have the technology required to hold and move the graphic for adequate rendering or design work. To mitigate this problem, the dial box was invented and used as a manipulation device.

Dial box units have rotating dials that allow the user to manipulate a 3D model. The common box contains eight dials, but some rare units have nine for extra control. Each dial controls a different element of the 3D model’s movement, such as rotating the model or flipping it toward the user. These dials also can be used to add elements to the model, but this is usually a secondary function.

The dial box was made before USB ports became standard and, during the time of the box’s popular use, it used the mouse port. This meant the operator was unable to use a mouse and dial simultaneously, unless the computer contained two mouse ports. The box required so much power that it also required a separate power cord to prevent it from draining the computer’s power and eventually forcing the computer to turn off. Converters are generally used to make the box’s port a USB port when they are used in 2011, but it still commonly requires a power cord.

Some people prefer using a dial box, but the computer mouse has largely deprecated it. After many technological and driver updates, the common mouse was able to fully control a 3D model without the need for a dial box. The mouse has been largely chosen over the box because it usually is easier to control, allows for a wider range of actions and typically makes it easier to select and use tools needed for 3D modeling. At the same time, the box allows very precise control of a model’s movement, which may be required or beneficial for some modeling projects.

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