Flat panel monitor makers are bringing prices within reason for corporate applications, but the lack of a standard interface between PCs and digital displays will keep them out of the mainstream.
"There's an arm wrestle going on in the industry," said Steve Goacher, new product development manager at Texas Instruments. TI, National Semiconductor, and others are touting low-voltage differential signalling for the PC-to-monitor interface, while Compaq, a group of monitor suppliers and chip supplier Silicon Image have chosen to implement transition minimised differential signalling (TMDS).
Even the connector on the PC has caused controversy, according to Ed Buckingham, a monitor analyst at International Data Corp. Although the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) has selected one connector, Compaq and the other members of the Digital Flat Panel (DFP) Working Group have chosen another.
"The connector issue is a sore spot," Buckingham said.
Buckingham's advice to end users is to keep an eye on digital monitor interface technology, but also to stick to analog-interfaced monitors for now.
"What they're going to is analog," agreed Jeffrey Bottorff, vice president of marketing at Info Peripherals, a monitor supplier. As image quality improves, it makes sense to stick with standards such as the VGA, he said.
However, analog LCD panels require a conversion from digital to analog in the PC and back to digital in the monitor, said Paul Wang, director of marketing at MAG Innovision.
"Any communication process that includes translation is susceptible to error," Wang said.
"The same is true with analog LCD panels, which lose purity in the translation process."
Overall, digital panels are more cost effective and convenient, and have better quality, Wang said.
MAG Innovision has joined Compaq; DFP manufacturers Princeton and Viewsonic; and graphics interface supplier ATI Technologies in the DFP Working Group.
To date, the DFP interface has been incorporated only into Compaq's consumer PCs, noted Rhoda Alexander, an analyst at Stanford Resources.
Corporate buyers have not shown great interest in the design, Alexander said, because "they do not want proprietary technology".
The DFP interface will be considered for standardisation by VESA, according to Bill Lempesis, executive director of the organisation. Like DFP, VESA's Plug-and-Display monitor interface standard uses TMDS signalling. However, the VESA standard uses a unique connector that handles both analog and digital signals.
"They were trying to ease implementation" by using one connector, according to Mitchell Abbey, interface product marketing manager at National Semiconductor. Unfortu-nately, the connector has proven to be too expensive for implementation in low-cost systems, he said.
The DFP standard aims to correct this, but it may not stand the test of time, according to Abbey.
"It's not going to be a long-term solution," Abbey said. "Anyone who buys one can end up with a stepchild."