Stop the Noiz

Why DisplayPort Is the Video Connector for the Future

Frank Fox - 2008.12.23, updated - Tip Jar

Yes, it's horrible that Apple won't let you view DRM protected HD video thru the new Mini DisplayPort on October 2008 MacBooks on unsupported monitors. It feels like Apple has let us down. I've already voiced my issue with this.

Now it's time to stop crying about the change and spend a little time finding out why Apple switched to to DisplayPort.

The DisplayPort technology is a high definition display standard like HDMI. Although Apple has made its own proprietary connector, the Mini DisplayPort, Apple isn't the first company to use DisplayPort on its monitors.

DisplayPort Saves Money

Why didn't Apple go with the HDMI connector, which is already popular on HDTVs? Why not? Because DisplayPort technology is going to catch on big in the computer world, and Apple gets to save money in the process.

DisplayPort is a money saver. The use of the technology is royalty free. So while Apple can get away with charging more for its computers, price conscious Dell, HP, and others are going to start adopting the DisplayPort technology to save money. This will soon become a standard for new computers. Apple is joining early, just as the technology is starting to take off - but Apple started off by introducing a new mini connector just because it can.

Part of this new standard is that it will support both internal and external connectors. That is why you see it first on notebooks - one chip supports both the built-in display and the connector for the external monitor. Fewer chips and no royalties - can you say ka-ching!

Less Clutter

So it saves Apple a little money, but what's in it for me?

Well, Apple does love fewer cables and less clutter. The DisplayPort carries both video and audio signals, so one cable does it all. There is no separate audio connection on Apple's own DisplayPort monitor, the new LED Cinema Display, just power, USB, and the Mini DisplayPort. (UPDATE: Audio from the October 2008 MacBooks to the LED Cinema Display is not handled by Mini DisplayPort. Instead, audio is handled via USB.)

Who loves simple more than Apple?

Multimonitor Support

What else, you may ask. How about technology designed to send the signal to multiple monitors (that's why it can support both internal and external displays). You can daisy chain multiple monitors off of one graphics card.

That sounds great even if your don't have more than one monitor for each of your computers.

Gotta Pay the Piper

The less great news is DisplayPort has support for two DRM protection schemes. This is for Hollywood and content providers. So while not required, there is support for DPCP encryption protocol and HDCP 1.3 (HDCP support is also available with HDMI). So while some of us hate it, people who like to buy movies through iTunes may soon find more HD content available.

What's next?

With so many HD video standards (DisplayPort, DVI, and HDMI), will we be able to mix and match equipment? Yes, but unfortunately DisplayPort and HDMI handle things differently. So to send a signal from your MacBook to a non-DisplayPort of monitor or TV, you need a converter. There's no getting around the difference between these technologies. $29 adapters are already showing up.

Since the computer world is switching to this standard, new monitors are coming out with DisplayPort connections. I can't find a connector for Mini DisplayPort to standard DisplayPort yet, but this should be a straightforward pin-for-pin adapter. I expect in time there will be - or maybe other manufacturers will adopt Apple's proprietary mini connector design (which Apple makes available with no license fee). I've got my fingers crossed.

Since using DisplayPort will save Apple money, you can bet that it will soon be on all new Macs. Maybe revising circuit board designs to use this new technology is why the Mac mini has been slow in getting an upgrade.

Or maybe Apple has bigger plans waiting to surprise us? LEM

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