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USB4 Will Offer DisplayPort 2.0 Alt Mode With Support for 16K Displays

In a few years, you’ll be able to drive a 16K monitor at 60 Hz over a single USB Type-C cable.

USB Type-C is an inherently confusing standard, but USB4 is set to fix those issues, reeling in Thunderbolt 3 and, as per today’s announcement, DisplayPort 2.0 Alt Mode. Today, VESA, the Video Electronics Standards Association, announced that it updated its DisplayPort Alternate Mode spec to version 2.0. 

“USB Type-C is becoming the connector of choice in notebooks and mobile solutions” Syed Athar Hussain, VESA board vice-chairman, said in a statement. “With the new DisplayPort Alt Mode 2.0 specification, USB Type-C now delivers compelling single-connector solutions for docking, gaming, AR/VR HMDs and professional HDR displays that combine 80 Gbps of video bandwidth and other important features of DisplayPort 2.0 with the transport of USB data and power delivery.” 

DisplayPort Alt Mode is essentially an internal mechanism that allows users to connect a display to USB Type-C ports. This is already possible on today’s existing DisplayPort Alt Mode connectors, but the upgrade to DisplayPort 2.0 will mean support for much higher resolution displays, higher refresh rates and greater color, which is especially helpful with the advancements in HDR.

When used by itself, DisplayPort 2.0 Alt mode will enable a throughput of up to 80 Gbps, or 40 Gbps when used in conjunction with SuperSpeed USB. For comparison, USB 3.2 Gen 2×2, the fastest USB standard available today, has a bandwidth of 20 Gbps, and Thunderbolt 3 can churn through 40 Gbps. At 80 Gbps, DisplayPort 2.0 will be good for driving a single 16K display — that’s right, 15360 x 8640 resolution — at 60 Hz with 30 bits per pixel (bpp) color, which would be quite something to behold. The current DisplayPort Alt Mode supports up to 8K (7680 × 4320) resolution. 

Of course, 16K support is more future-proofing. Shoppers know that the best 4K gaming monitors are still pretty expensive. And while 4K TVs are getting more commonplace, we’re far from a 16K display becoming mainstream. Samsung has only dabbled with a very pricey 16K TV, and we’re not even going to get into the sort of graphics capability you’d need to hypothetically game at such a resolution. 

VESA is currently working with USB-IF, which makes the USB4 spec, to bring “seamless integration” with USB4, according to Craig Wiley, senior director of marketing at Parade Technologies, VESA board member and DisplayPort Alt Mode sub-group leader. 

“Through our latest collaboration with the USB-IF, VESA is now taking care of everything related to high-performance displays over USB-C, whether through a native DisplayPort or USB-C connector or through tunneling of DisplayPort over the native USB4 interface,” Wiley said. “DisplayPort is also tunneled through the Thunderbolt interface, making it the de facto video standard across PC and mobile displays.”

VESA expects the new standard to first come to devices in 2021, though you can count on mass adoption arriving later than that. Apple, for example, is only expected to embed USB4 to its devices in 2022.

Written by: By Niels Broekhuijsen