The Wide World of Monitors

The Future of the Monitor Port

For years, PC users had a simple choice of connecting a monitor to a computer via either an analog port (VGA) or, more recently, a digital port (DVI). But new monitors and high-definition content require technologies that can handle more data.

A limited number of vendors are using the ubiquitous USB connection to route graphics data from PC to display through a technology called DisplayLink. Its main benefit: You can daisy-chain up to six monitors to one PC. Samsung has one of the first DisplayLink-equipped monitors, the standard-aspect 19-inch 940UX, and is set to unveil a 22-inch wide-screen model at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January. Meanwhile, USB 3.0, expected to come in 2008, will be able to send ten times as much data as USB 2.0. Wireless USB, touted as a freedom-from-cords technology, may be another possible way of using DisplayLink.

Dell's 30-inch, $1999, DisplayPort-equipped UltraSharp 3008WFP display (with this port highlighted in the inset).
But the real port showdown is between two modern digital standards: HDMI, which is slowly becoming de rigueur on high-end monitors and TVs, and the emerging DisplayPort. The latter was developed by VESA (the Video Electronics Standards Association) and backed by giants such as Intel. Also on board is Dell, which is set to unveil at CES its $1999, DisplayPort-equipped UltraSharp 3008WFP, the 30-inch wide-screen unit you see at upper left.

Because DisplayPort is a royalty-free standard, manufacturers don't have to pay for each use of the technology (currently 4 cents per port/use for HDMI), so the incentive to push DisplayPort is potentionally motivated by economics.

Tom Mainelli, senior research analyst for monitors and projectors at IDC, thinks HDMI has the advantage because, among other things, it's largely compatible with DVI by using simple adapters. DisplayPort, on the other hand, has a new structure that may require new, more complex (hence, potentially more expensive) adapters. For now, the upstart DisplayPort may be royalty-free, but the more-established HDMI has already appeared on some large monitors, and is slowly working its way into smaller ones.

--Roy Santos

Danny Allen is a PC World associate editor. Roy Santos is a freelance writer and Web designer in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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