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What is an Optical Keyboard?

By Ken Black
Updated May 16, 2024
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An optical keyboard is a device that wirelessly connects to a computer and serves as a data input device, similar to what a traditional keyboard may do. With the focus of many computer accessories going wireless, this keyboard offers that advantage as well. In addition, another type of optical keyboard is one that projects a virtual keyboard onto a flat surface, though the term optical keyboard is not widely applied to that type of hardware.

In actuality, the term optical keyboard is a misnomer, likely coming from the fact that wireless computer mice are referred to as optical mice. In computer mice, the term optical does not refer to the connection technology between the mouse and computer, but rather the tracking technology in the mouse itself. A wireless keyboard is usually connected to a computer via an infrared connection, much like a remote control works, or via radio frequencies. In some cases, a Bluetooth® connection may be used, giving rise to the term Bluetooth® keyboard. In some ways, given the infrared connection, the term optical keyboard could still technically be considered correct.

For whatever reason, the phrase optical keyboard is often used when referring to a wireless keyboard. In those cases, it is generally understood that the term optical has taken the place of the term wireless. Also, wireless keyboards and optical mice are often packaged together, which may further reinforce the wrong term in some people's minds.

The advantage of a wireless keyboard is in its ability to be moved around, rather than be tied down to a radius of just a few feet around the main CPU of the computer, like a wired keyboard would be. This can be especially helpful when giving presentations requiring the use of a keyboard. In some cases, having a computer next to a podium is not practical. However, it may be easier to have a wireless keyboard at the podium.

A wireless keyboard, other than the technology connecting it to the computer, works the same as any other technology. Sensors detect when a key is pressed and sends that information along in the form of an electrical signal, which is then processed by the computer and displayed on the screen. The only thing different is how that signal gets to the CPU. Most wireless keyboards cost more than similar wired versions, but the cost is still affordable for many computer owners. Finding one for less than $30 US Dollars (USD) is generally not a problem.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1004325 — On Jan 16, 2021

An optical keyboard refers to a keyboard with optical switches in it. It has nothing to do with connectivity in a keyboard or mouse. You can have wired optical mouse in fact most prebuilt PCs you buy from a store come with a wired optical mouse.

By pharmchick78 — On Oct 25, 2010

I was wondering, does an optical keyboard and mouse set work kind of like a remote control? For instance, do the keyboard and mouse have to be in a specific place for them to connect with the computer, or can you kind of move around with them?

Because that would be totally inconvenient if you had to keep the keyboard just so to make it work -- it would kind of defeat the purpose of getting a wireless keyboard in the first place.

By googlefanz — On Oct 25, 2010

Sometimes an optical keyboard can also refer to a keyboard with an optical trackball. Although most optical keyboards are just wireless keyboards by another name, you may come across one like that every once in a while.

So just be sure when you're looking for your cordless optical keyboard that you don't end up with a wired keyboard with an optical trackball -- there's nothing more frustrating, if you ask me.

By rallenwriter — On Oct 25, 2010

I really like using an optical keyboard and mouse for my school presentations. Like you said, it's often simply implausible to put a laptop up on the podium, but an optical mouse and keyboard fit easily.

Using an optical keyboard and mouse is also really nice if you want to work sitting on the floor or bed (or anywhere that's not a desk), but you don't want to put your computer on the floor or bed. With an optical keyboard and mouse, you can put the computer on a table or other flat surface, and them just put the keyboard in your lap and the mouse to the side.

Definitely a very, very convenient set up.

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