Friday, February 01, 2008

Will USB 3.0 overwhelm HDMI?

That’s what at least one attendee was wondering after the first industry review of the draft USB 3.0 spec. A group of as many as 300 came to the two-day, closed-door event in San Jose last week to hear the latest about the emerging Super Speed USB which aims to hit data rates up to 5 Gbits/second.

“I have attended two or three wireless USB events, and they were not as big as this. Almost everyone I know in the supply chain was there,” said Mark Fu, director of marketing for the connectivity group at SMSC which makes USB transceivers.

“There are a lot of things you can do with 5 Gbits/s such as carry uncompressed video, so I wonder whether this will challenge HDMI,” said Fu.

Interesting thought, given the fact last year Intel bailed on the UDI effort Silicon Image created to get HDMI into PCs and mobile systems. Although HDMI is well entrenched in HDTVs, it is looking less like an industry standard and more like a Silicon Image standard every day. And wouldn’t OEMs prefer one link (USB) that handles everything?

External hard and solid-state drives could use the target 300 Mbytes/s throughput for USB 3.0 as an alternative to external serial ATA, too.

“That’s almost as fast as SATA II,” Fu said.

Any challenge is a ways off. The 3.0 spec is only at a 0.78 version, although Intel hopes to have it complete in June.

“The way they talked about the connectors, EMI issues and other concepts you got the impression they have done a lot of work in the lab and this is not just a paper spec,” said Fu.

Indeed, Intel has some basic USB 3.0 hardware running the lab. There was a lot of back-and-forth in the San Jose meeting about cable issues—such as whether to consolidate USB 3.0 to just one micro-B style connector—the basic PHY, link and protocol aspects of the spec “seemed pretty solid,” said Fu.

I said before USB 3.0 will douse whatever heat Firewire is still generating. Now maybe a broader story about USB uber alles is in the making.

I reached out to the Intel and USB-IF folks for more today, but hey it’s Friday. I didn’t hear back. If anyone else at the big meeting has any comments to lend, go ahead and post them here or drop me a line at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be nice to have a single connector and technology that moved the industry forward for once? Everyone spends way too much time on backward compatibilty which only increases cost, complexity, and usability issues. As Apple continues to demonstrate with its iPod / iPhone products, casting off the old is the way to succeed. Show people a better simpler way to connect entertainment solutions, connect mobile devices, enable high-speed communications, etc. and do so with the demonstrated plug-n-play of USB and you have a winner.

I think many people would love to just have a set of USB ports on their equipment, a simple piece of software to manage connectivity (who hasn't added a USB device to a computer?), and the ability to avoid cables completely if desired. The entertainment industry has always messed over its customers with one proprietary interface after another. Even what they call standards is just codified proprietary technology.

USB 3.0 should be seen as an opportunity to eliminate the niche technologies and unite on common physicals, connectors, protocols, and so forth for multi-device connectivity that home as well as business customers can handle.

Taking USB 3.0 to replace SATA? Well, that would require significant software changes for some but it isn't infeasible. However, it might be better to focus on the billion unit entertainment components first before working on largely customer-invisible storage links. Also keep in mind that for many people, they use USB attached storage solutions already so they would not see or care what is done underneath. Again, focus on the customer visible value first and foremost and then fill in the gaps if they have merit.