Intel, others, back new interface for displays

A new industry group is looking to replace VGA display interfaces with a new standard for connecting PCs to HDTVs.

A recently formed industry consortium backed by PC and consumer electronics companies is pushing a new standard for the interface that links PCs and high-definition digital displays.

The UDI SIG (unified display interface special interest group) hopes to replace the old VGA (video graphics array) interface with a new connection that can accommodate high-end video content, it said in a press release this week. Companies such as Intel, Apple Computer, Nvidia, Silicon Image, Samsung Electronics and Foxconn Electronics Inc. are supporting the UDI SIG.

PC companies have been trying to make their products look and work more like consumer electronics devices for several years. Their vision, as evidenced by Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition OS and Intel's forthcoming Viiv PC specification, features the PC as the center of a home multimedia network. But if that vision is to ever become reality, a new display standard will be needed that allows low-cost PCs with simple graphics technology to send content to high-definition televisions and displays.

Sophisticated modern PCs with discrete graphics chipsets like Nvidia's use the DVI (digital visual interface) to connect to digital displays. High-definition televisions use a standard called HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) to obtain their images from set-top boxes or receivers. The two standards are compatible, but HDMI offers some additional features, such as universal remote control, and can handle more traffic over a single cable.

But many low-cost PCs still rely on the analog VGA standard to connect to monitors. VGA is good enough for those PC users who are simply browsing the Internet or composing those mind-numbingly detailed year-end letters accompanying Christmas cards, but DVI connections are needed to watch videos stored on a home PC on a digital display.

UDI promises to bring the features and functionality of HDMI, not to mention its copy-protection technology, to mainstream PCs, the UDI SIG said. UDI will use the same HDCP (high-bandwidth digital content protection) technology used by both the HDMI and DVI standard, and it will be fully compatible with the two existing standards, the group said. Therefore, UDI PCs will work with HDMI televisions or DVI digital displays, it said.

Technology advances aside, transitions to new display interfaces tend to be frustrating and confusing for consumers, said Stephen Baker, director of industry analysis with NPD Techworld.

"The thing about all these back-end connections is that there are so many of them. If you asked anybody, there are too many connections, too many options, and too many wires," Baker said. "People are looking for a solution that's more all-encompassing, that makes it easier to plug all that stuff in."

DVI is still relatively new to PCs, and it will take some time for people to upgrade their systems to ones bearing that new standard, let alone an even newer standard, Baker said. "What you're asking people to do is upgrade their equipment. From a manufacturer's standpoint, that's not a bad thing, but it's just a very slow process," he said.

The UDI SIG is looking for more industry participants to refine the final standard, which is expected to be released to manufacturers in the second quarter of next year.

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Tom Krazit

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