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The Case For DisplayPort, Continued, And Bezels

Part 2: AMD's Eyefinity Technology Explained
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Of course, there are other reasons to justify a higher price tag for a DisplayPort monitor. One is the age-old “future-proofing” argument. We always feel a bit lame and dirty suggesting this, but in the case of DisplayPort, the argument seems sound. We don’t see a reason why the market won’t standardize on DisplayPort, so buying into legacy formats makes less and less sense, especially if you can take advantage of special sales that get pricing close to that of non-DP equivalents.

“Graphics cards are getting DP connectors now and they’re going to have them in the future,” says AMD’s Bruce Gasson. “The industry has converged on this plan to get rid of VGA and DVI as the de facto connectors. Really, the reasons are the unique features DisplayPort has over DVI and one of them is bandwidth.”

Samsung's upcoming MD230 array.Samsung's upcoming MD230 array.

Even if Dual-Link DVI featured twice as many pins as it presently has, it wouldn’t match the bandwidth of DisplayPort 1.2, the new spec finalized in December 2009. Apart from being able to carry ultra-high resolutions, DisplayPort can also carry high bitrate 7.1 surround audio, touchscreen data, and bi-directional USB signals. Gasson notes that the logic in DisplayPort allows it to “easily switch between high-res, high color depth, and high refresh rate. These are the features that future monitors will want to have.”

DisplayPort 1.2 doubles the data rate of 1.1a from 10.8 Gb/s to 21.6 Gb/s. What can you do with all of this bandwidth? For starters, you can go from supporting a single 2560x1600 monitor under 1.1a to two 2560x1600 or four 1920x1200 panels. These aren’t cloned screens, either, because DisplayPort 1.2 supports multi-streaming, allowing each screen to get its own data feed via daisy chaining though a prior monitor in the series. Alternatively, you should soon find DisplayPort 1.2 hubs able to output multiple DP 1.1 streams. Moreover, DisplayPort finally has the bandwidth needed to support stereoscopic 3D displays.

Currently, the DisplayPort.org site lists Apple (specifically the 24" LED Cinema Display), Dell, Eizo Nanao, HP, Lenovo, and NEC as DisplayPort monitor vendors. We know that others are coming, including Samsung—a very strange omission from the list given that Samsung created the industry’s first DisplayPort LCD (30 inches!) back in mid-2007 and has been working with AMD on promoting six-screen Eyefinity arrays. Unfortunately, monitor vendors don’t appear to distinguish DisplayPort 1.1 from 1.2 in their specifications, so be careful going forward and try to identify 1.2-ready models.

HP's DisplayPort-capable LP2275HP's DisplayPort-capable LP2275

Incredibly, as of this writing, Newegg appears to carry only one DisplayPort monitor (HP’s LP2275). Amazon lists 13 models through third-party partner sites, the cheapest of which (new) is Dell’s 22" P2210H for $220.42. In contrast, Amazon shows a total of 1,688 new monitor models available. DisplayPort clearly has a long, uphill road ahead on its way to market dominance.

Framing The Bezel Issue

Even just reading the forum posts on our last Eyefinity feature, it’s clear that one of people’s top concerns about Eyefinity is monitor bezels. If the ideal goal of Eyefinity is to create a “holodeck” experience, you can’t very well achieve the illusion of edge-to-edge reality with bezels cutting through your field of view.

This is true...to a point. Consider looking out a wide set of living room windows or being in the front seat of a car. In both cases, you have support bars, little blind spots, running through the glass. Nobody stands around saying, “Man, if only I didn’t have these frames around my living room window panes!” They’ve always been there and probably always will be. That’s life. If you want to see what’s behind them, you move your head a few inches.

Is there any hope of ever seeing bezel-free desktop displays? Probably no time soon. Eliminating bezels has been a long-time priority in the digital signage market, but it’s never been demanded much by consumers. Even if the public demanded it, monitor manufacturers (or their suppliers) would have to retool the moldings for their designs, something they’d no doubt resist unless absolutely necessary. Instead, vendors are focusing on attributes such as LED backlighting and thinner overall design, which are more likely to spur sales.

Creating a validated monitor program for Eyefinity is much more complex than for dongles. It’s more than just a matter of, “well, does it work or not?” No doubt, AMD would love to specify a 3mm bezel width for its still-not-finalized Eyefinity Validated program. But if you throw a party at a time when no one can show up, you’re going to have a really small attendance list. AMD can’t mandate the impossible without committing market suicide. As it is, Bruce Gasson notes that the Ready portion of the monitor program will probably specify 15mm bezels while the Validated side will go to 10mm. Additional specs will likely include 5ms access times and “very attainable brightness levels.” The goal is to make it easy for vendors to qualify.

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