The Slippery Slope of Convergence

July 26, 2006

UDIAs the line between consumer electronics and PC’s continues to blur, so does our tolerance of what is and isn’t acceptable with CE devices. We think nothing about a firmware upgrade to our iPod’s, projectors have long been subject to firmware updates and even Denon occasionally releases firmware upgrades for their DVD players.

We’ve even been able to stomach the idea that our signal paths are subject to upgrades, as recently demonstrated with the announcement of HDMI 1.3. But at what point do we say enough or have we forever crossed the line of convergence between CE and PC devices?

Personally I have no problem whatsoever with firmware upgrades, I’d much rather spend the 5-10 minutes or so required to complete one, than face the alternative of suffering through continued glitches or incompatibilities.

Remember that convergence is a popular buzz-word used to describe PC’s that integrate into our entertainment systems and or network capable CE devices that offer extended functionality when interfaced with a PC.

Up until this point things have gone relatively smooth barring the occasional DHCP hiccup or HTPC’s that require the display to be turned on, just to change the channel on an internet radio station, all in all minor annoyances in the scope of things.

Sure HDMI has displayed its share of hiccups, glitches and outright incompatibilities but like it or not HDMI is a necessary evil. Content providers want the added security (even with the likelihood HDCP will be rendered irrelevant one day) and apparently component video just doesn’t instill enough confidence with content providers. DVI has HDCP but lacks audio on the same cable, long story short we’re right back at HDMI as our one-cable solution.

Problems aside, with a bit of refinement I feel that HDMI will move beyond its current state and ultimately become the de-facto means of signal transmission for consumer electronics. But more importantly HDMI is already incorporated into our electronics and in our homes, which brings me to the real point here.

How would the idea of a new interface standard sit with you? Would it ease your mind to know that the new interface is designed primarily for use with PC’s? I can’t say that I’m overly worried about it but the very name of the connector might give some the heebie-jeebies. More on that in a second, yes, I’m a tease I know. (hint the image top-left isn’t a HDMI connector)

A rough draft of this post has been sitting on my desktop for nearly a week; I’ve gone back to it several times and shrugged it off just as many. However my worries of being wrong and in the process inadvertently causing undue alarm and speculation finally gave way to wanting to share it with you. I’d rather make sure you’re aware of potential pitfalls now, rather than take a wait and see stance and explain later.

As I mentioned before, the idea of a new interface standard doesn’t necessarily worry me, what does make me a bit nervous however is when I read that this new interface is “compatible” with HDMI, see it’s that word compatible that raises an eyebrow. The very use of the word suggest that someone’s tried, will try or expects that we’ll try to insert this interface into our A/V systems.

A New Interface standard on the Horizon:

The new interface I’ve been referring to is called UDI short for ‘Unified Display Interface’, err see there’s one of those phrases again “Unified”. Seriously though UDI is by all appearances set to replace VGA and DVI interfaces for the computer industry, which in of itself bears little relevance in the consumer electronics world, but yes there’s a but, several of them to be exact.

UDI in its default state does not pass audio but is capable of passing audio, if the attached device is licensed as HDMI compatible. You see where I’m going with this? Right out of the gate we have a rather odd overlap of abilities and intended applications. Ok I thought to my self that’s one source let’s see what else we can find on the subject.

Who better to layout UDI’s intended purpose and real world applications better than UDI’s governing body, right? This is what they have to say on the matter:

“What happens when I plug a UDI PC into an HDMI TV? Will I hear audio?”

“If a PC simply supports UDI, then audio will not be sent along the link. Audio will need to be supported through another traditional means such as the SPDIF or analog audio jacks from the PC. Regarding video signals, an HDMI-compatible TV that also supports the UDI specification will see video of the same quality as if being driven by a HDMI host.”

“If a PC design supports both UDI and HDMI, then the PC will detect that it has interfaced with a HDMI TV and automatically go into HDMI mode. The PC will act like any other typical HDMI host and send both video and audio to the TV.”

That’s all fine and dandy but only speaks to UDI’s role in PC to computer display scenarios, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now my concern is that UDI may creep its way into CE devices as well. And as it turns out my suspicions aren’t unfounded. It appears as if at least one and possibly two major players in the CE world are experimenting with UDI outputs on CE gear.

Now I fully understand that UDI has the capacity for resolutions above and beyond that of HDMI but I have to wonder, why couldn’t PC manufacturers have lobbied HDMI’s governing body for a PC specific version of HDMI? Perhaps a PC specific version that’s fully compatible with standard HDMI but allows for resolutions that exceed that of typical HDMI.

As UDI and HDMI share similar pin-outs and cable properties I have to believe this is technically feasible, they could even designate it HDMI-PC or something similar to avoid confusion, this seems like a much more “Unified” solution than yet another interface standard.

Well as with most things that involve standards, licensing and governing bodies, the real answer may boil down to cold hard cash. It seems as if the PC manufacturers would rather developing a new interface standard than be subject to the licensing fees associated with using HDMI as your sole signal path, versus one that’s “HDMI compatible”.

Listen I’m about as far from a technophobe as one can get, I welcome real advancements in hardware, software and the associated upgrades that go along with them but I don’t want to turn a blind eye to advancements that have the possibility of diluting the strides the CE industry has already made toward a universal interface. My stance here isn’t based on fear or resentment but one of caution. HDMI by all appearances will become the CE interface method of choice.

If the PC manufacturers feel the need to move beyond HDMI for their interface standard, then by all means more power to them. However if that “Unified” interface threatens what we’ve already gained in research and refinement with HDMI equipped CE devices, I think we’re going to see even more inconsistencies and headaches in the long run. I really wish this “Unified” interface was a bit more unified.



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Home Theater Equipment


Comments

  • westcott

    My real problem with HDMI technology is the lack of education for the public and the poor implementation efforts from most of the mfgs to either save money on hardware or ignore the end users needs.

    The HDMI specs have been around long enough for everyone to implement the standard properly yet very few mfgs actually take the time and effort to insure compatability with other devices/displays.

  • westcott

    My real problem with HDMI technology is the lack of education for the public and the poor implementation efforts from most of the mfgs to either save money on hardware or ignore the end users needs.

    The HDMI specs have been around long enough for everyone to implement the standard properly yet very few mfgs actually take the time and effort to insure compatability with other devices/displays.

  • ErikR

    I refuse to use HDMI again as long as they don’t fix the silly thing. This type of connector MUST have a secure way of fastening it — screws or a clip of some sort. Without a fastener, the connector droops and pulls out of the socket far too easily.

    Component video cable seats much more securely than HDMI (coaxial cable does not require a fastener since the round plug fits tightly into the round hole) and component video cable (including all 3) is less expensive than HDMI, and in my tests component video is indistinguishable in picture quality from HDMI.

  • ErikR

    I refuse to use HDMI again as long as they don’t fix the silly thing. This type of connector MUST have a secure way of fastening it — screws or a clip of some sort. Without a fastener, the connector droops and pulls out of the socket far too easily.

    Component video cable seats much more securely than HDMI (coaxial cable does not require a fastener since the round plug fits tightly into the round hole) and component video cable (including all 3) is less expensive than HDMI, and in my tests component video is indistinguishable in picture quality from HDMI.