2016 will be the year of USB Type C and DisplayPort is along for the ride: Q&A with Analogix

2016 will be the year of USB Type C and DisplayPort is along for the ride: Q&A with Analogix

2016 will be the year of USB Type C and DisplayPort is along for the ride: Q&A with Analogix

Published Date & Time: 
Thursday, December 24, 2015 - 18:00
News Organisation: 

2016 will be the year of USB Type C and DisplayPort is along for the ride: Q&A with Analogix

Michael McManus, DIGITIMES, Taipei [Thursday 24 December 2015]

At this point most consumers are not that familiar with the USB Type C specification but it has the IT industry excited, with adoption rates among makers ramping up quickly. Leading market players including Apple, Google and Microsoft have already adopted the standard in some of their products and it won't be long before users begin realizing the benefits of USB Type C - such as having the potential to eliminate the need for a drawer-full of proprietary data, display and power cables, or being able to turn a smartphone into a PC using only a single connector.

Moving into 2016, an increasing number of computers, monitors, TVs, tablets and smartphones will hit the market supporting USB Type C, so Digitimes recently sat down with Andre Bouwer, vice president of marketing for IC design house Analogix - whose SlimPort brand is the leading DisplayPort brand for mobile devices in the market - to talk more about how USB Type C may change how we consume video on our mobile devices.

Q: First of all, I think it would make sense if you would first explain the various terms being thrown - USB Type A, B and C; USB 1, 2 and 3; USB A, B and C; as well as DisplayPort and SlimPort.

A: Sure. A simple high-level way of thinking about USB is that it is a bus for connecting devices. As you go up in number the transmission rates increase, with the latest USB 3.1 version supporting speeds up to 10 Gb/sec. The letters are used to describe the types of connectors. We are all familiar with the bulky USB Type A connectors but the latest USB Type C connectors will be much smaller and easier to use since they are reversible. On the display side, DisplayPort is a digital display interface for connecting devices to displays while SlimPort is our brand.

For us, one of the most exciting aspects of USB Type C is that is supports alternate modes, which means one or more of the lanes can be configured as a DisplayPort lane. So now we have this exciting scenario where data, audio/video and power (up to 100 watts) can all be delivered at the same time over a single cable.

Q: What kind of video support are we talking about when we use DisplayPort?

A: The latest version of DisplayPort (1.3) was approved in September and includes support for a data transfer rate known as HBR3 (High Bit Rate 3) that can provide 8.1 Gb/s per lane or up to 32.4 Gb/s for the four lane DisplayPort cable, a 50% increase from previous generations. Allowing for overhead, the total data transport capacity supported is 25.92 Gb/s.

For end users it means that they can operate a 4K UHD display at a 120Hz refresh rate using 24-bit pixels or a 96Hz refresh rate using 30-bit pixels. Even 8K displays can be supported with a 60Hz refresh rate.

Q: Consumers don't know much about DisplayPort now but I'm guessing they'll reap the benefits of the technology much more once USB Type C becomes more widespread?

A: Most definitely. In the past, if you wanted to take advantage of DisplayPort, you needed a DisplayPort cable. But once it's integrated into a USB Type C connection, users can take full advantage of the technology since it would only require the USB cable. And this is happening at the right time.

Q: What do you mean when you say, at the right time?

A: Just look at the way video content is being consumed these days. For example, consumers are just as likely to use a streaming service to get content than to watch a TV show. And we are all using our mobile devices to watch movies. In fact, over the past few years it has become the norm for a family of four to have four different screens with each streaming its own video.

But on the other hand, we still want to be able to share our viewing experiences, and that's where the TV/projector/monitor comes in.

So you have this one trend where the mobile device is becoming our own personal data center and the other where we want to share our viewing experiences and this had led to increased demand for video-out functionality for mobile devices. Up till now, connectivity for mobile devices has almost exclusively been about transferring data. The broadcast of video content has not been as easy as users want it to be, but that will change with USB Type C with DisplayPort. I expect that it will be the foundation of a number of new solutions in the market, since smartphones will almost all have a USB Type C connector and display makers are beginning to support the specification as well.

Q: But DisplayPort is not the only player in this area. When we think of connecting to a TV, HDMI is probably what comes to mind and in the mobile space there is MHL as well.

A: HDMI is strong in the display market but you don't see many mobile devices that have a HDMI port and there is not an HDMI alternate mode in the USB Type C specification so it will remain a niche solution when it comes to mobile devices.

As far as MHL goes, we are seeing it lose momentum in the mobile market. Much of the early adoption of MHL was based on it having a head-start in the market. MHL was created in the 2009 time-frame and early adopters included Samsung and Sony. HTC adopted it as well for a couple of generations. So there was a point where the standard was gaining traction in the market. But a lot of PC makers adopted DisplayPort and that meant display makers followed suit. Then in 2011, SlimPort came out with a version architected for mobile, which had advantages over MHL in terms of the power/performance tradeoff and royalty pricing (no royalties for DisplayPort) and people started to switch from MHL.

HTC has stopped supporting MHL since its previous generation, and Samsung stopped putting it in the Galaxy. I think the nail in the coffin will be the transition to the USB Type C.

Q: And why is that?

A: As you mentioned, there are various technologies out there that are available but it all comes down to what is being implemented in the market. Right now all of the smartphone, tablet and notebook vendors are looking to implement USC type C and while there is an MHL alternate mode, leading players such as Apple, Google and Microsoft have all already adopted the DisplayPort alternate mode in their products, and also in their recommendations in the case of Microsoft. With those three giants all supporting DisplayPort, it is not surprising that there are no smartphones that have MHL alternate support at this point.

Q: What are some of the interesting applications of USB Type C that you are seeing?

A: The integration of video and data is where we are seeing the greatest interest. In the past you couldn't do it simultaneously but with USB type C you can do it at the same time and that enables a number of new usage scenarios.

Look at Microsoft with its Continuum for Windows 10 Mobile. Now you can connect to a hub and get keyboard, mouse and display support for your smartphone. You are basically turning a smartphone into a computer.

Or look at a case where you plug a smartphone into a TV to watch a movie and when it's finished your phone is fully charged.

At Analogix, we developed at product called the Nano-Console which basically turns your smartphone into a smart TV. You plug the phone into the Nano-Console and control it with a remote. The console connects to a TV using HDMI so you can view your content on a large screen and charge your phone at the same time.

Basically, the usage scenarios are endless and we fully expect a number of exciting new products to be introduced in the market in 2016.

Andre Bouwer, Analogix vice president of marketing