Wednesday, August 06, 2008

DisplayPort Graphics Adapters and Monitors Status

I am always one to keep up on the "up and coming" and/or "cutting edge" in computer hardware and software developments, and one of the technologies I have been following is that of the DisplayPort interface standard - the presumed successor, or at least complement too, HDMI video interface technology.

DisplayPort is the most recent major display-interface / graphics-interface technology to emerge, having arrived on the scene in 2007. By comparison, HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) first came out in 2003 and DVI (Digital Visual Interface) first showed up in 1999. In addition to being the physical interface name, it is also the name of the protocol used to communicate with a DisplayPort display.

Because of my hatred for purchasing devices that are essentially obsolete at date of purchase, I am trying to put together a computer system that will have some "staying power" with regards to technology that is about as modern as it can be, without being so on-the-fringe that I am likely to just need to toss it out in a few years.

I have considered getting a graphics card and LCD Monitor / Display that uses HDMI for connections, but I figured that both of those are rather "old" by technology age-standards, and if possible, I'd really love to leap forward an entire generation to expand the window of obsolescence a bit. Another goal of mine is POWER SAVINGS in my ultimate computer and display configuration. And, I don't care too much about 3D performance either (most stuff I do every day is 2D), so although there are good 3D graphics accelerators with DisplayPort out there, 3D performance was not a huge consideration for me.

I THINK DisplayPort may be a solid enough platform now to meet my goals, though it seems critical-mass in the market is nowhere near attained yet. VESA (Video Electronics Standards Association) has the job of promoting DisplayPort via their own website. I do think that if they REALLY are trying to promote DisplayPort (DP), they need to start getting up-to-date on maintaining a list of products that include DP technology, since even though there are quite a few products with DisplayPort out on the market, they don't have much of an inventory or list there. As such, I guess we're on our own to locate all the latest and greatest DisplayPort LCDs, video cards, and the like.

Another place you can find some decent DisplayPort information is Wikipedia's DisplayPort discussion if nothing else. Actually, I think the WIKI is quite a bit more detailed informative than DisplayPort's own web site. DisplayPort offers some rather nice specifications:
  • 10.8Gbit/s throughput over small, slim cable with 3 meter+ reach (15 meters for 1080p output, 3 meters for full 2560x1600 resolution)
  • up to 16 bits per color channel
  • same connector for internal and external components (think: laptop display internal connector)
  • provides an auxiliary channel for data from USB, touchscreens, cameras, etc.
  • Supports both RGB and YCbCr color space, which I presume will be useful to graphics designers
  • a future revision (2.0?) is supposed to offer multiple video streams over single physical connection. Current rev is 1.1a by the way (from what I can tell).
So, while waiting (heh) for VESA to update their website to help people looking for DisplayPort devices, I will provide a few links to DisplayPort-enabled Adapter and Display products that I am pesonally considering now:
  • ATI's FireMV 2260 2D graphics accelerator with DUAL DisplayPorts. I love how the power consumption on this card is very low (JUST 20 WATTS!), and that is has a huge MTBF (Mean-Time-Between-Failure) rating and emits no noise since it does not need an onboard fan (i.e., passive cooling)! This card is PCI Express 2.0 x16 / x1 or PCI, and uses the RV620 GPU (Graphical Processing Unit) core from what I have been able to find out, which is a modern 55nm form factor chip, and couples that with 256MB DDR2 memory. It can pump out 2560x1600 resolution PER DISPLAY over DisplayPort -- nice! And, if you need it, they throw in Display Port to DVI-I Adapters (though, if you go DVI vs. DisplayPort with your implementation, you'll be limited to 1920x1200 resolution per display). I have seen the card on NewEgg for about $179.00 as I recall.
  • NEW 8/7/2008: ATI just announced their new FirePro 3D V5700 graphics card, which features 2 DisplayPorts (also has 1 DVI dual-link port) in a midrange 3D accelerated graphics card targeting the workstation market in a PCI 2.0 x16 implementation with OpenGL 2.1 and DirectX 10.1 support. The card has 512MB GDDR3 and can pump out 2560x1600 resolution. Supported Operating Systems include even the latest 64-bit Windows Vista and Linux-64 bit. I saw a press release stating that Dell would offer this card as an option on their Precision workstations.
  • ATI also has their FireGL V7700 that offers a single DisplayPort. The one thing I find difficult here is figuring out (with all these choices) which card is the "right one" for me... not to mention the NVidia options to consider :)
  • The Dell UltraSharp 2709W 27-inch Widescreen Flat Panel LCD Monitor. Yes, it is a bit more pricey than I would prefer, but it offers DisplayPort, plus it is VERY ENERGY EFFICIENT compared to previous generation LCD monitors -- at 57W typical, and 110W max! It has a native resolution of 1920x1200 (0.303 dot pitch - i.e., big enough to be more tolerable to read than the .25 pitch high-res smaller diagonal monitors) and boasts a 3000:1 contrast ratio and 6ms response time. In addition to DisplayPort interface, there is also HDMI, DVI, VGA, Composite, and Component video display interfaces (which should cover most anyone's needs). At 18.3 pounds it is reasonably heavy. The monitor currently lists for $999.
  • I am also looking forward to the upcoming NVidia product releases during their early September 2008 "Big Bang II" driver release which is supposed to bring with it the latest NVidia Forceware Release 180 (R180). R180 is supposed to offer all sorts of new technology support like DisplayPort, the long-overdue OpenGL 3.0 API, and SLI multi-monitor (something gamers will certainly love). New Nvidia Quadro cards are due out at the same time as R180, and I would expect these workstation-level cards will likely implement DisplayPort. DisplayPort has been in the GeForce chips since early 2008, and it is really just up to video-card manufacturers to wire up the adapter and make it available on a card.
So, that's where I am at with DisplayPort Adapters and Monitors / Displays. I have one option currently available that I am somewhat comfortable going with, though I may wait another month just to check out the Nvidia Quadro offerings (I am a fan of NVidia cards in general - though, I wish they'd be more "open" with their GPU internals to help open-source initiatives write better display drivers - especially an open-source DisplayPort driver for Linux that would offer optimal performance).

Market projections I have read about DisplayPort adoption predict that the number of DisplayPort enabled equipment units sold will rise from about 10 million in 2008, to 27 milion in 2009, and 88 million units 2010, and continued stellar growth thereafter. To me, 2008 is the first real year for DisplayPort to gain a foothold in the market, and I will likely be an early adopter.

UPDATE: What are the odds? I just emailed VESA this morning, and I would have sworn they updated the DisplayPort.Org website today, after I saw what appeared to be VERY old content. But, as someone from VESA responded to me and informed me, somehow I found an "old link" to old content via this URL:

Either way, it is looking much better now that I see the "real" content. Seems they need to implement some redirect mechanism for those "old" links, since I found that via some other site that linked to them.


Warren said...

We've been doing a 3 part series of posts about Display Port on so you might want to check that out to see some of the features of Display Port (compared to DVI and HDMI) in relatively non-technical language

Mike Eberhart said...

Thanks Warren! I liked that info on the new AMD/ATI FirePro cards. I need to look into those.

That FirePro 3D V5700 with two displayports sounds rather nice. I will update this blog entry to include a link.