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Plug And Pray

Two more AV interfaces are on their way. Here's what you can expect.

Chard expects HDMI 1.3 to have the same basic fee structures as its predecessors, but he hints that it might be tweaked to help address vendor concerns. “It's not going up,” Chard says.

The licensing issue is key because if it develops into a major rift, at least among smaller vendors, it could translate into more backing for DisplayPort, which the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) approved as an official standard in early May. (No commercial products are available yet.) DisplayPort would work in a wide variety of applications — such as displays, PCs, and projectors —where DVI and VGA are currently used. Like HDMI, DisplayPort is designed to support HD video, with throughput of up to 10.8 Gb/s.

The HDMI camp downplays the DisplayPort threat, partly by arguing that an HDMI cousin, UDI, can fill many of the same needs. “UDI is, in some ways, a counterpoint to DisplayPort,” Chard says. “When you need PC-specific functions only —that is, when you don't need audio — you can use UDI. It's completely compatible with HDMI, so you don't have to design a new connector or put a whole new interface in your device.”

UDI: up and comer?

UDI is a forthcoming technology backed by major computer-industry vendors such as Apple, Intel, LG, National Semiconductor, and Samsung, as well as Silicon Image. Although UDI is being developed in order to replace analog VGA as the display interface for PCs, “display” is a catch-all term that includes more than just monitors. For example, the UDI Special Interest Group (SIG) says that the technology could be used to connect PCs to projectors, too. That's one reason why UDI bears watching by pro AV.

Intel describes UDI as “HDMI optimized for the PC,” and that's not a stretch: Roughly 90 percent of their two specs are identical. The main difference is audio, which UDI doesn't support.

“UDI's greatest benefit will be realized with corporate PCs, which don't require multimedia functionality and are most sensitive to cost,” says Joe Lee, director of product marketing at Silicon Image.

As a result, HDMI might win out for PC-based pro applications that require audio, such as desk-top videoconferencing. Time will tell whether that turns out to be the case: UDI was announced in December 2005, and the initial 1.0 spec won't be released until early summer, followed by inter-operability testing to ensure that one vendor's product can use UDI to connect to another's. If that schedule holds, the first commercial products could debut sometime in late 2006.

HDMI also could trump UDI in applications involving the two new DVD technologies: Blu-Ray and HD-DVD.

“We're seeing tremendous demand and growth for HDMI on PCs, especially laptops and models equipped with HD-DVD or Blu-Ray drives,” Lee says.


For AV vendors and integrators alike, the connector choice has financial consequences, especially if they choose one that turns out not to be widely used by the rest of the market. In the case of vendors, changing connectors in equipment that's already in production can take from three to six months. That time span stems from the fact that a connector isn't just the physical jack. It's also the circuit board and software living behind it, both which may have to be replaced.

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