CES - Ending the tyranny of the VGA cable

The past few years have seen a clear trend toward ridding desktop PCs of wires. But the VGA cable connecting your system to your monitor has been a stubborn holdout. Now a company called Quartics is looking to sever that tie, using technology that will allow monitors to link via wired or wireless USB connections.

The Irvine, California, firm doesn't make monitors, but it does produce the semiconductors necessary for USB connections. Quartics expects its partners to come out with USB monitors sometime in the next month. And Belkin is already selling a USB hub designed to connect to a PC's USB port by means of ultrawideband wireless technology.

Making a video connection through USB would simplify the task of setting up multiple monitors: In theory, a single laptop could support more than 25 displays, according to Quartics' Mahboob Akhter. The technology would also make computing devices such as ultramobile PCs--which generally have USB ports but no VGA port--more useful.

From PC to TV

I saw a brief demonstration of a USB monitor at Quartics' hotel room at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas; and the image seemed clean, though I didn't get an opportunity to play with the system.

Ultimately, Quartics is pursuing a bigger goal that has nothing to do with USB: wireless transfers of video content from your PC to your TV. That's an objective that lots of companies here at CES share (yesterday Netgear announced another approach).

Quartics demonstated a prototype of its PC2TV system, which uses a small box equipped with a Wi-Fi radio. You use a wired connection (a VGA cable in Quartics' demo) to hook up the box to your TV or monitor, and then you wirelessly network your PC to the box, just as you would connect to any other wireless network. When you subsequently launch your Web browser, the page that comes up includes a link that automatically loads drivers for the device onto your PC.

At that point, you bring up a small application that lets you mirror your PC's display on the TV or extend your desktop onto the TV's screen.

Latency issues

There was clearly some latency going through the Quartics system, which compresses data so that it will fit the bandwidth of your wireless connection, and then decompresses it for display on your TV. The quality of the picture I saw was not as high as that of an image from a DVD player--but it looked pretty good, given the manipulation it had undergone.

Addlogix, which sells interface cables and other networking gear, has announced that it is using the Quartics chip in some of its products. And Quartics officials have said that they expect the chip to be embedded in some televisions by next fall.

The Quartics system allows you to see any content viewable on your PC on your TV. Other systems for showing PC content on a TV support some PC video formats, but not others--or they may be optimized to work with a specific Web site, such as YouTube, but not with all online video sites.

Netgear's media streamer, for instance, will provide access to the most popular videos on YouTube for that day. With the Quartics system, you would be able to view any video on YouTube, Google Video, or any other site.

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Edward N. Albro

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