We already knew that USB4 would be a versatile standard partly derived from Intel’s Thunderbolt technology, but it looks like the upcoming standard will have more features than we knew. VESA has announced that USB4 will fully support DisplayPort 2.0 through the “DisplayPort Alt Mode 2.0” spec, allowing it to power either 3x 10K monitors or 1x 16K monitor at 60Hz.
If you’re wondering at the difference, it has to do with the underlying resolution. 10K is 10240×4320 (approximately 21:9), or 44.2MP. 16K is 15360×8640 (16:9) or 132.7MP. 16 is only 1.6x larger than 10, but 16K packs 3x the pixels of 10K.
DisplayPort 2.0, which technically debuted in June 2019, provides a 3x bandwidth improvement over DisplayPort 1.4 and includes support for higher refresh rates, 8K and 16K panels, and HDR support at higher resolutions, delivered at 77.37Gbps. The 16K panel support is only achievable with compression, but this shouldn’t present an issue for the handful of people who benefit from such a high-resolution screen (assuming somebody builds one in the first place).
The only downside to USB4 is going to be the usual confusion on which types of cabling are compatible with its capabilities. First of all, USB4 won’t support older Type A cables, though USB3 can handle Type A or Type C.
Second, we can expect more cable confusion as companies build to their own standards. Like USB3, USB4 will allow manufacturers to pick and choose which features they want to support. USB4 devices and docking stations are required to support video pass-through, but USB4 hubs are not. When USB-C launched, we saw widespread cable incompatibilities and, in a few cases, improperly made cables or chargers even fried the devices they were attached to. Manufacturers ship cables that are compatible with their own devices, but you can’t count on swapping between USB-C cables with the same ubiquity as previous families, and this looks set to continue in the next generation.
The good news is, it’ll be easier to use multiple USB4 devices daisy-chained together. Hook up a monitor to a laptop via USB4, and you can plug your keyboard and mouse into the built-in USB4 ports on the display, which will use tunneling to transfer data back to your system. Want to power your laptop off an external monitor? No problem. This sort of additional component-level flexibility is welcome, though we’re uncertain of how the gains will balance against inevitable cable confusion. Hopefully we at least won’t see hardware damage as a result of connecting Company A’s hardware to the wall via Company B’s cable.
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