Apple to embrace DisplayPort, now what?

With the introduction of the new gorgeous “unibody” all aluminum 13″ and 15″ MacBooks, Apple made the move to DisplayPort in favour of DVI. What gives?

Despite the generic sounding name, DisplayPort is a new standardized connector and protocol designed to connect computers to digital displays. It was developed by VESA, a group of companies working on defining various display-related technologies since the Super VGA era in the 80s.

In many respects, DisplayPort is a competitive technology to DVI and HDMI. The DisplayPort group claims various technical advantages over DVI, such as the protocol being packet based (similar to the TCP/IP protocol that is driving the Internet and most other networks), it is scalable so that it can be enhanced in the future without breaking compatibility, and it can daisy-chain multiple displays over 1 connector at the computer’s end. Most importantly, they claim lower cost, due to the lack of a step-in fee (like the $10,000 required for HDMI). And because of technical reasons that go beyond the scope of this blog and certainly my technical expertise, it requires less components in a display monitor, as the digital video format can be sent directly to the LCD panel, further reducing cost.

However, most of these improvements are bearly real advantages to general users, and I expect more political reasons to be the real motivator fot its supporters to push this standard over the DVI and HDMI conntectors. A different share of the IP fees and licensing are more likely reasons.

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The wide screen saga

Wide screen television sets were introduced in Europe around 1992. At that time, there were hardly any wide screen broadcasts, so in order to move these new wide TV sets, manufacturers included all kinds of artificial picture scaling technologies into their products, stretching out the image just so that the screen is “filled”, and no black bars are visible at the sides of the screen. Of course, even though anyone serious about viewing moving images “the way they are intended” shudders from the idea of sacrifising picture aspect ratio, I can understand that in those early days without any wide screen content available, such technologies were needed just to get the wide screen TV ball rolling.

Then came DVD in early 1997. The first mainstream video format to offer real, anamorphic, wide screen video. The DVD specification cleverly defines that a player must be capable of compressing and letterboxing a wide screen DVD when a traditional 4:3 is connected, while outputting the uncompressed, full frame wide screen image to a wide screen TV. Unfortunately, the type of TV set that is connected to the player needs to be manually selected by the user. Ususally, this setting is burried deep down into the player’s setup menu. And since outputting an uncompressed anamorphic image to a traditional TV would result in deeply distorted pictures, but outputting a compressed letterboxed image to a widescreen TV does no harm to the aspect ratio, all manufacturer’s decided to set the player to “4:3 TV” by default.

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A degree in picture management

Only recently, I took the plunge and bought myself my first Blu-ray Disc player, a Sony BDP-S350. I waited specifically for this model, for two reasons. One, I wanted the player to be BD-Live (or Profile 2.0) compliant, meaning that it is equiped with a network-connector allowing certain BD titles to access the Internet and enhance the movie playback with online content. And second, I wanted my Blu-ray player to be a Sony, because as the main supporter of the Blu-ray Disc format, I expect Sony to provide the best support in terms of firmware updates, making my investment as future proof as possible.

I hooked up the player to my Philips Full HD LCD television, which is about one year old. Much to my surprise, the picture quality of a Blu-ray title (in this case the magnificant documentary “Earth”) did not overwelm me in the way I expected. Specifically, the picture contained, in my opinion, a lot of musquito noise in darker areas, and also the movement was a little jittery. When trying a DVD, I noticed some of the same effects: noise and lack of sharpness, and not perfect motion. Of course this qualification might be due to me being over sensitive to video quality, however I was pretty sure that both the TV and this generally well reviewed player should be capable of delivering more. Especially since the picture quality of my relatively cheap 1080p upscaling DVD player was free from these effects when used with my TV. So I was determined to finetune the new player and the TV to get the results I expected.

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