Tech Trends'08: Connectivity Rising


Bringing You Closer

New Connections For A New Year

HDMI, USB 2.0, Bluetooth 2.0 and 802.11g were the prevailing buzzwords in connectivity for the past couple of years heralding the very best mediums for transferring immense chunks of your precious data. Take the humble USB port which had its beginnings more than a decade ago in 1994, and has evolved from 12 Mbits/s to a whopping 480 Mbits/s. HDMI (High definition Multimedia Interface) version 1.3a eats Full HD requirements for breakfast by supporting resolutions of up to a whopping 2560 by 1600 pixels and a net bandwidth of 8.16 Gbits/s.

Even without the need for higher bandwidth (Full HD is only 1920 by 1080 pixles), consumers are already demanding more connectivity options as more gadgets are equipped with a wider range of connectivity support instead of just relying on one type of connection. Case in point is when the Macbook Air was announced, both admirers and critics were quick to point out that it had only one USB port, insufficient for the needs of today.

Let's however, move on to the gist of the matter and take a look into what 2008 brings to the table in terms of new connectivity options and how these new options may change the shape of things to come.


DisplayPort You Say?

In light of the industry's need to make things as thin as the laws of physics allow, the display connectors we all know and love might have to take a back seat to a new standard that's already been approved by VESA (Video Electronics Standards Association) , back in May, last year. While many will have not heard of DisplayPort, it's an evolution that should at least spell the eventual death of the VGA and DVI port we all know and love. Still, it might be a bit of a wait before the first signs of consumer devices come equipped with this display connectivity standard.

What it does is basically the equivalent of cutting out the middle man. All current LCD panels, monitors (and televisions) use a Low Voltage Differential Signaling (LVDS) system for connectivity between the actual display and their internal display driver. This technology however cannot extend beyond very short distances and is the main reason that we use other external connections standards such as VGA or DVI for our computing displays. The ever common DVI and VGA connections however use a different signaling scheme and thus require monitors to have further electronics to convert their input to an LVDS signal understandable by the display panel. DisplayPort however uses a new signaling architecture suitable for both internal and external display connections. This common protocol and connectivity standard will eliminate the need for any electronics on the panel, thus making a DisplayPort compliant panel sleeker, less complex and more cost effective.


Getting monitors to be sleeker and less complex isn't the only objective of DisplayPort. DVI and VGA fall short of the growing requirements of our ever-changing world of technology. VGA is understandably an analog only connection with no support for content protection as well as the limited scalability at high resolutions and color depth for which screen quality takes a steep nosedive. DVI on the other hand is a specification that is very hard to update and thus cannot support higher clock for greater bandwidth, nor greater color depths or other new features. DVI serves us well up till today, but the dual-link DVI is just a patchwork to enable support for resolutions of up to 2560x1600. It will not be able to handle the next ultra-high resolution standard of 3840x2400 or greater as it's not scalable nor does it have the bandwidth. Both of these connections are also huge and they don't support much in the way of auxiliary channels.

DisplayPort on the other hand has specs that can be easily revised, has optional content protection support like DVI, uses a slim physical interface no larger than a USB port and supports an auxiliary channel for audio and possibly USB support all via the single cable. With the amount of bandwidth it has got, it can even handle multiple video streams and thus possibly even multi-monitor setups easily. In terms of scalability, the current specs allow it to handle high color depths at resolutions of 2560x1600 and a newer revision in the works will support 3840x2400 in time to come. What's more, DisplayPort is backward compatible with all previous connectivity standards like VGA, LVDS, DVI and HDMI via converter plugs.

So in all aspects, DisplayPort certainly looks like the right way to move forward and we expect it to pick up pace this year. If you're wondering about HDMI, it is actually a competitor to the DisplayPort interface. However HDMI has a good foothold in the consumer electronics segment and is better suited for televisions than for very high resolution scaling and extensible needs of the computing space for which DisplayPort was geared. Our guess is that HDMI and DisplayPort will coexist to cater for the respective market needs.