Silicon Image gives us the inside track on a new format that will replace DVI and 15-pin D-sub

Last week DailyTech had the opportunity to sit down with Silicon Image and ask some questions about the upcoming Unified Display Interface (UDI) and its direction as well as industry impact. As many of you know, there are several digital interface standards coming out to market: DisplayPort, HDMI and UDI. Silicon Image, a cornerstone supporter of UDI, and HDMI, assures DailyTech that UDI has a special place and addresses a key issue affecting a great deal of companies: cost and compatibility -- UDI does not compete with HDMI and is backwards compatible with both HDMI and DVI.

UDI addresses the primary issue of cost by redesigning the current DVI standard. While there is room and margin in the video card market to add DVI, the interface is relatively complicated and costly to add to the value space, which is made up mainly of integrated chipset graphics solutions. According to Silicon Image, motherboards with integrated DVI chipset output for the business and value market do not exist -- although NVIDIA's integrated GeForce 6150, positioned for Media Center PCs, does feature a DVI TMDS. Some manufacturers have created DVI-output add-in boards that contain the necessary transmitter as a purchasable option.

Another key cost-saving benefit of the UDI standard is that there are no royalties to pay for using it beyond the initial cost of licensing. Backwards compatibility is also well addressed with UDI. Because it is based on the existing DVI standard, UDI devices will be able to operate harmoniously with current DVI displays. UDI will opt for single-link high bandwidth signals supporting resolutions all the way up to 2560x1600.  According to Silicon image, the UDI interface will also be able to connect to both current DVI displays as well as HDMI displays.

UDI will also remain fully electronically compatible with HDMI. Although audio will not be transmitted, the HDCP content portection scheme is fully supported and not required. This way, a computer equipped with a UDI interface will be able to plug into a HDMI-HDCP interface or even a DVI-HDCP interface, provided that the proper adapter is used. Though HDMI technically does not require HDCP for implementation, there are no implementations commercially available for HDMI that do not have HDCP keys.  Since UDI is designed for lower cost markets, Silicon Image claims that HDCP implementation will not be as aggressively implemented.

One important bit to notice though is that unlike HDMI, UDI is not bi-directional: the UDI interface output connector is different from the input connector.  As illustrated (right), the source and sink connectors for UDI are different.

Currently, DVI serves many consumers well and is the de-facto standard for digital displays. Unfortunately, the cost for integrating a DVI interface is too high, especially on the PC side -- even though there are no royalties and very few licenses. UDI makes it so the necessary extra silicon can be integrated into a chipset without adding any significant die-size increase. In fact, integrating DVI into a chipset or motherboard is so costly that NVIDIA's market manager James Kim stated that it wasn't something his company would do. Intel agrees, as the company has previously stated that "UDI is HDMI optimized for the PC."  UDI will still require companies to pay a one-time license fee to implement, but there are no royalties and currently no certifications.

The UDI delivers a standard where value-oriented integration can pick up a high-quality digital interface while avoiding extra costs. HDMI on the other hand, focuses a great deal on high-definition multimedia functionality. As of specification revision 1.3, HDMI will be able to transmit Dolby-HD as well as DTS-HD lossless audio standards. Because of its cost-cautious design, UDI will make an appearance on portable consumer electronics, business computers, wall displays and other devices not necissarily considered all encompassing.

Silicon Image helped create both the HDMI standard as well as the UDI standard, but it is not part of the DisplayPort group, which makes the situation even more intense. However, Joe Lee, director of marketing for Silicon Image says "there's nothing that DisplayPort can do that HDMI or UDI can't do and can't do better. UDI is DVI done right." With HDMI products already shipping on consumer and computer devices, it appears as though the PC competition will boil down to DisplayPort and UDI. However, with UDI's backwards compatibiliy with DVI and interoperability with HDMI, the interface already has a huge headstart over DisplayPort in key areas: cost, compatibility, ease of integration and ease of use.

UDI is expected to be finalized at the end of this month. Silicon Image says we should expect to see manufacturers pick up on the new standard almost immediately.

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