Heavyweights endorse flat-panel standard

Everybody likes the look of desktop digital flat-panel displays, but connecting one to your PC can get confusing.

LCDs require digital signals instead of the analogue signals used by standard desktop CRTs. You can buy a display that internally converts the analogue signal from a standard graphics card to digital, or use a display/graphics card combination that delivers direct digital signals. The former option adds to the cost and often reduces image quality; the latter usually involves proprietary hardware and is expensive.

Standardising the digital connection between graphics cards and flat-panel displays should make things considerably simpler and cheaper.

Since last year, two standards, the US-based Video Electronics Standard Association's Plug and Display (P&D) and the Digital Flat Panel Group's DFP have slugged it out. Intel recently entered the fray with its Digital Video Interactiv standard.

Recently the DFP standard pulled ahead with an endorsement from VESA. That means, the organisation says, that you can buy a flat-panel display now and be confident it will be compatible with future graphics cards.

Buy now, display later

VESA is still working on its P&D standard, and experts say it will be at least a year until a single industry standard emerges.

But a VESA spokesperson explains that the standard miniature 20-pin connector used for DFP will be compatible with other connection standards because all standards use the same basic technology (Transition Minimised Differential Signaling) to carry the digital signal between the graphics card and monitor. Adapters may be needed to connect between future cards and displays.

Flat-panel displays should drop in price, given the relatively low cost of DFP components and the lack of analogue-to-digital conversion circuitry.

The promise of increased sales of boards and displays led a number of major players to endorse this week's announcement. They include graphics chip maker S3 and board makers 3Dlabs, ATI, Creative Labs and Matrox. Display makers Princeton and Viewsonic also endorsed the standard, as did Compaq.

Although several manufacturers, including Compaq, already ship DFP-compatible displays, industry analysts expect many more such products to be available later this year. Some displays and cards based on the competing standards are also available and will continue to be in the future.

You can expect to see upcoming generations of graphics cards that feature two connectors: a standard analogue connector for CRTs and a direct digital connection for flat panels.

VESA executive director Bill Lempesis adds that flat-panel makers will still be selling displays with built-in analogue-to-digital conversion for users with older PCs outfitted with analogue graphics cards.

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