What is Unified Display Interface?

R. Kayne

Unified Display Interface (UDI) refers to one of the latest standards in video interfaces, incorporating personal computer (PC) compatibility with High-Definition Multimedia (HDMI) displays, or High-Definition television (HDTV). The Unified Display Interface will replace legacy VGA connections on PC monitors and electronic devices. While VGA was based on older analog technology, UDI and HDMI are digital technologies.

UDI (Unified Display Interface) is compatible with HDMI® (High-Definition Multimedia Interface).
UDI (Unified Display Interface) is compatible with HDMI® (High-Definition Multimedia Interface).

The Unified Display Interface will be compatible with Digital Video Interface (DVI), allowing for components with DVI to communicate with the newer standard. Although DVI is also digital and a step up from VGA, it is not compatible with HDMI. As users bridge PCs and other devices to HDTVs for various purposes, it has become obvious that an interface that supports HDMI is ideal. The Special Interest Group (SIG) responsible for developing the Unified Display Interface consists of several leading corporations, including Intel, LG Electronics, Apple, nVidia, Samsung, and Silicon Image.

LCD monitor.
LCD monitor.

To make the Unified Display Interface compatible with HDMI, UDI had to incorporate the copyright protection scheme included in the HDMI standard. High-definition signals are encrypted to ensure the integrity of the product from transmitter to receiver. Without content protection, programs could be intercepted and altered en-route or “stolen” from the airwaves. This protection scheme is known as High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP).

Using the Unified Display Interface with built-in HDCP, if one tries to view content that is not authorized for that device, the monitor will not display the content. Some critics argue that this effectively puts hardware in charge, rather than the user, likening it to embedding a “content cop.” On the plus side, the Unified Display Interface allows for higher bandwidth and greater resolution. It also eliminates the analog-to-digital circuitry required in DVI displays, and the UDI interface is smaller and cheaper to manufacture. Hence, the UDI interface should bring down the price of LCD monitors.

Some insiders predicted that the Unified Display Interface would become the standard to endure into the foreseeable future. VGA technology lasted some 20 years. If UDI did half as well, it would be an accomplishment and likely a relief to consumers that must re-educate themselves with every new video interface that comes down the pike. As it happens, a competing interface known as DisplayPort already exists, and word has is it this will be the new industry standard. Consumers might be well advised to hang on to their reading glasses for now.

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