The Universal Serial Bus, commonly referred to as USB, is truly universal in consumer electronics devices. Almost all of our devices, from mobile phones to laptops, tablets and cameras, come with a USB port or compatibility. We have replaced unique connectors and protocols associated with each type of peripheral device (as examples, think of PS/2 for keyboards, Centronics for printers, SCSI for hard disk drives, and IEEE 1394 for video cameras) with the USB connector and protocol.
A common use for the USB is to transfer data from one device to another, particularly using USB as a link to an external video display. However, there is a growing trend to replace the USB for such applications. As the world becomes more connected, consumers will want solutions that fit their on-the-go lifestyle. In this article, we’ll explore how video is traditionally delivered today and how audio, video and data can all be delivered over a new wireless connection with the same speeds as USB 3.0 (5 Gb/s).
Video over USB
Traditionally, video has been transported in raw form between devices, which requires a very high bit rate and a dedicated high speed interface such as HDMI or DisplayPort. However, compression can be applied effectively to video without noticeable impact to picture quality. This is shown by its use in broadcast television and video streaming. Using similar techniques suitably adapted for desktop display, compression can be used to achieve bit rates that will easily fit within the bandwidth offered by a USB link. Now USB carries audio, video and data. And the most widely used desktop compression technology comes from DisplayLink.
DisplayLink is a chip and software company whose technology is used in products from the world’s leading PC and peripheral brands. DisplayLink’s driver is used to compress the video display on the host side and the resultant compressed video stream is transported over USB to DisplayLink’s IC. DisplayLink’s graphics chip technology enables multiple monitors, docking stations, video adapters, and more, with resolutions of 4K and beyond across a single link to a host computer. Products with DisplayLink technology support the latest notebooks, tablets, phones using Windows, macOS, Chrome OS, Android, and Ubuntu.
The enterprise notebook PC is a great example of the traditional approach to interface expansion. A variety of dedicated interfaces are replicated over a large, complex, fragile and expensive connector to a dock platform. The size and complexity of the connector limit the form factor choices while the fragility makes the notebook more vulnerable to damage either through water ingress or connector failure. By contrast, a wireless connection doesn’t suffer from mechanical wear and tear. They can be used in parallel to increase the total bandwidth and they can transport dual 4K video using DisplayLink technology. The docking platform can provide the customary ports that the end user is expecting.
The 2-in-1 tablet and detachable PC also benefit from this approach. Typically, there is a transportable component that contains the keyboard and the external interfaces to desktop peripherals and displays and a mobile component which contains the screen and processor. The transportable part physically secures the mobile part when it is docked. Combining wireless and DisplayLink technologies, all of the data for the external interfaces, including video, can be carried over the wireless connector, liberating the design of the mobile device.
Finally, we can make new capabilities available for “mobile first” and “mobile only” consumers. These consumer computing needs are primarily met by their mobile phones and tablets. While they don’t want or need a personal computer, they do need the ability to undertake productivity tasks that are straightforward on a personal computer and cumbersome on a mobile device without a display, keyboard and mouse. Their needs can be met on a mobile device through a companion dock that provides display extension and connection to an accessory keyboard and mouse. The same docking device can provide ports for the connection of additional desktop devices such as external storage, printers, scanners or any other peripheral device that can be supported over USB.
In these applications, wireless connector technology transforms the implementation of the product, simultaneously making it more elegant and robust. To enable this experience, we developed the SiBEAM Snap wireless connector. We’ve been testing the interoperability of DisplayLink technology with Snap for some time now and they work as you might expect – seamlessly. By extending the concept to video display, DisplayLink and Snap technologies together provide a complete wireless video and data solution that can be used in new approaches to some important applications. A nice proof-of-concept was showcased in DisplayLink’s booth at CES 2017, which showed how effective docking and undocking can be without connectors.