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DisplayPort, Thunderbolt gaining rapid momentum, study finds

updated 10:00 pm EDT, Tue April 26, 2011

All three major graphics vendors now on board

The DisplayPort digital display interface standard is set to become the industry standard for video and other types of connections, fuelled in part by Apple's early adoption and the consent of all major graphics-processor companies to support it, according to research provided by technology consultants IHS iSuppli. Shipments rose over 150 percent year-over-year from 2010, and the company predicts continued triple-digit annual expansion for the next couple of years before stabilizing as a de facto standard. Apple's standardization on DisplayPort technology in 2009 kicked off a trend starting in the mobile-devices field that will eventually spell the end of the decades-old VGA standard.

As was the case with USB adoption in the late 90s, Apple was not actually the very first party to the table -- Dell, HP and Lenovo also offered a few selections of notebook and desktop PCs that incorporated DisplayPort -- but the Cupertino computer maker's commitment to making it a standard across product lines gave DisplayPort a market momentum that has been steadily building, and by 2014 IHS iSuppli expects annual shipments of nearly half a billion units with some form of DisplayPort technology on board.

DisplayPort technology is also part and parcel of Intel's latest high-end, all-purpose connector technology, Thunderbolt (formerly known as Light Peak). Thunderbolt essentially marries DisplayPort (for video and sound) and PCI Express (for data) into a single serial interface that boasts incredible two-way bandwidth with extremely low overhead, offering two bi-directional channels of up to 10 gigabits per second transfer that can travel along longer and less expensive cables (currently using copper wire; Intel expects to eventually replace the copper with fiber optic cabling in future iterations).

Unlike other technologies such as USB 3 (which will also increase in popularity), Thunderbolt is able to handle video and sound as well as data simultaneously with bandwidth to spare even at the highest resolutions, and offers the possibility of relatively easy backward-compatibility with various older technologies through adapters.

DisplayPort derivatives such as internal DisplayPort and embedded DisplayPort are intended to provide lower-cost and smaller interfaces compared to bulkier low-voltage signal differential (LVDS) solutions such as VGA and its original intended replacement, DVI. Most of the major graphics vendors (including the big three -- Intel, AMD and Nvidia) have announced that they intend to drop support of VGA, DVI-I and even Firewire by 2013 (2015 for some companies) in favor of DisplayPort, HDMI and Thunderbolt.

The adoption of DisplayPort variant MiniDisplayPort has been most rapid in the mobile computer field, with IHS Suppli expecting 72 percent of all notebooks will have the interface by 2014. The use of DisplayPort technology in graphics cards in 2011 has more than doubled from 2010, and roughly the same percentage of growth is expected for DisplayPort technology in desktops. By 2016, some version of DisplayPort will likely be on 90 percent or more of notebook and desktop computers, the company predicts.

Third-party monitor and HDTV makers will be among the slowest to abandon the older interfaces and to fully adopt DisplayPort, IHS iSuppli predicts, though some monitors are already starting to enter the market with the technology, and computer companies who also make monitors (such as Apple) will also be quick to adopt it for their monitors.

By Electronista Staff
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