Two video connectors can be found on nearly every PC, monitor or graphics card in use today. Developed 21 years ago by IBM, the analog VGA (Video Graphics Array) clings on, despite the rise of the (DVI) Digital Visual Interface, which is tailored for LCD displays.
Many newer technologies are being touted to replace VGA and DVI. The two leading candidates are HDMI, which comes on nearly every TV and DVD player today, and DisplayPort, a high-definition alternative created especially for PCs. But Mini-DisplayPort has a powerful backer in Apple, while the emerging wireless HDMI has fans drooling over the potential to dump bulky cables.
The underdog is USB. In the past several years, and almost entirely through the effort of a single Silicon Valley vendor, DisplayLink, USB has become an easy way for laptop users to hook up an external monitor (or two, or three, all the way up to six).
DisplayLink makes graphics chips for laptop docking stations and external USB video cards that connect a laptop to any external monitor up to 1680 x 1050 in resolution.
DisplayLink shipped just under 1 million chips in its first year, according to Dennis Crespo, DisplayLink's executive vice president of marketing and business development, in an interview last month before the International CES.
Increasingly, monitor makers are embedding DisplayLink into the displays themselves, letting users sidestep buying other gear.
At CES, both Samsung and Acer announced 22-in. LCD displays embedded with DisplayLink USB capability.
By the end of January, more than 16 monitors will feature built-in USB support, Crespo said.
Besides supporting multiple screens, USB is more compact than bulky VGA or DVI connectors, especially the mini and micro-USB versions. That makes USB a good candidate for hooking up gadgets like digital cameras or iPhones to monitors or TVs, as well as PCs.
And as its full name, Universal Serial Bus, implies, USB has become ubiquitous since its debut in 1996. The USB Implementers Forum estimates more than 2 billion USB-enabled devices have been produced.
For all those reasons, "USB is a much more elegant solution" than either HDMI or DisplayPort, said Mark Fihn, editor-in-chief of the display industry newsletter, Veritas et Visus .