Will DisplayPorts go the way of Firewire?

I started to ponder this question after the Recent revision of MacBooks. To put it bluntly, I don’t know. DisplayPort, for those who don’t know, is a standard port that usurps HDMI, DVI, and VGA. DisplayPort 1.0 was approved in 2006, and version 1.1 was approved in April of 2007.

DisplayPort is very similar to HDMI connection, with one big difference. There is no royalty for DisplayPort, as there is a $0.04 per device royalty for HDMI. Some would think, 4 cents, who cares. Think of it in terms of sheer numbers. Apple sold 2.5 Million Macs in Q3 2008. 0.04 cents per device comes out to $100,000. And that’s just for Macs, try thinking if Apple started putting an HDMI Port in each iPod. That could add up to some serious cash over the course of a year. We’re talking 10 million just in Q2 of 2008 alone. Even 35 Million iPods would add up to a good chunk of change just for royalties. Since Apple is a Public company, they must look out for Shareholder value, and even $1.4 million for royalties might change the earnings per share ratio.

With the announcements on 10/14/2008, Firewire was discontinued on the MacBook, and thereby discontinuing the use of Target Disk Mode for transferring information between two computers. I’m not entirely sure if this is such a big deal, given that you can transfer items from one Mac to another over Ethernet, using the Migration Assistant. Migration Assistant, in my opinion, is better than Target Disk Mode, since you do not have to know where your files are located, you can just allow the Mac to determine the files you need to move. With this procedure, you are allowed to customize what is transferred and what is not. The Migration assistant should be smart enough to not transfer items that can or will potentially screw up your new setup. In regards to transferring data from one Mac to another, if you have a gigabit router the maximum throughput speed is 125 Megabytes per second, versus a maximum of 50 megabytes per second with Firewire. This is 2.5 times faster (optimally). Note, there is still Firewire 800 on the MacBook Pro.

The trend of moving towards smaller and thinner devices signifies Apple’s dedication to using only the best and most popular items to create their devices. Given the thinning devices, FireWire takes up quite a bit of space FireWire, despite being an Apple creation, seems to have not taken off, within the consumer realm, despite Apple’s best efforts. It is used within the professional community quite heavily for video and other functions that cannot tolerate dips in transfer rates.

With limiting the MacBook Pro to having FireWire, I believe as though Apple is doing two things. First is creating a segmented difference between consumers and professionals. Secondly, Apple is providing their sales people with one leverage point to potentially ‘up-sell’ customers who need a faster connection to their “professional” lines.

With the ability to connect an older Mac to a new 24″ LCD Cinema Display via an adapter, will not obsolete the older equipment. Yes, you’ll need to buy an adapter, but those are not that expensive.

The only downside I see with going with display port instead of HDMI is the KVM market. If you have a nice Monitor with a DisplayPort and you need to use a KVM, you’re basically screwed. As of writing this article, there are no DisplayPort KVMs. There are some HDMI to DisplayPort adapters, meaning you could use either a DVI or HDMI KVM, but quality may be degraded.

FireWire on the Lower end Macs may disappear, but I do not see DisplayPort going away in the low end, at least not for a while. It could turn south for Apple should the industry decide to pull an RIAA and say “screw you” we’re creating yet another standard. But, since Apple did not create DisplayPort (like they did for Firewire), it’s less likely to see spurning of Apple by the industry. Eventually, yes, DisplayPort will be replaced by something else. What will replace it, has yet to be determined.

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