Reversible USB Type-C wonder cable will deliver DisplayPort audio and video, too


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The upcoming Type-C USB cable just keeps looking more and more like the Holy Grail of cords. The fact that it works no matter which way it's plugged into a port is a game-changer all by itself, but the improvements don't end there: Type-C USB will deliver USB 3.1's blazing 10Gbps speeds and up to a whopping 100 watts of power. But wait! There's more. On Monday, VESA and the USB 3.0 Promoter Group announced that the Type-C USB connector will also be able to deliver audio and video signals via DisplayPort technology.

Forget separate USB and DisplayPort cables. Type-C can do it all.

The magic comes courtesy of the "Alternate Mode" technology introduced in the recent USB Power Delivery specification—the one that enables 100W power delivery. Alternate Mode essentially lets Type-C be used for more than mere data transfer by allowing "Structured Vendor Defined Messages" to repurpose the pins in the cable for alternative uses. VESA's "DisplayPort Alternate Mode" announced today leverages those capabilities.

And how! Check out this fascinating part of the announcement:

"By leveraging USB Type-C’s flexibility, the DisplayPort Alt Mode can choose to transmit on just one or two of the four available [signal] lanes, so that the other two lanes can be used for SuperSpeed USB data at the same time. In a docking station connection, for example, the use of two lanes for DisplayPort at 8.1 Gbps per lane would allow simultaneous transfer of SuperSpeed USB data (up to 10 Gbps in each direction) while also supporting a 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) DisplayPort monitor.

The dock can also be configured with DisplayPort protocol converters to support HDMI, VGA and/or DVI monitors. When using all four lanes for DisplayPort Alt Mode, which could drive a monitor with up to 5K (5120 x 2880) resolution, USB 2.0 data can still be carried across the USB Type-C connection using separate pins dedicated for that function."

Yum. If you're looking for more detail, AnandTech has a nitty-gritty technology deep dive on how DisplayPort over Type-C USB works, right down to schematics labeling individual Type-C connector pins and how they'll be used.

Type-C-to-DisplayPort adapters will be made available so that the new Type-C cords can still connect to your DisplayPort-equipped gear. (Here's hoping the future is filled with devices brimming with USB connections alone, rather than today's I/O menagerie.)

When will we see the first of these reversible wonder cables? Type-C USB cables are ready for production now, though it will likely be several months before compatible electronics become commonplace.

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