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Look Out HDMI and DisplayPort, There's a New Cable in Town

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Ever heard of Mobile High-Definition Link, or MHL for short? Today, it's a way to connect a smartphone to a HDTV or monitor via microUSB. But the new SuperMHL could challenge HDMI and DisplayPort dominance over your entire home theater.

Today, the MHL Consortium (which consists of Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Nokia and chipmaker Silicon Image) is showing off SuperMHL, a new specification which leapfrogs both HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.3. It can carry ridiculously detailed 8K video signals at 120 frames per second, with 4:2:0 pixels and 32-bit color, as well as 40W of power and fancy surround sound setups like Dolby Atmos and DTS-UHD. A single SuperMHL source can drive up to eight displays, and you can remote control SuperMHL devices similarly to HDMI.


The catch: to get all that goodness at the same time, you need a new cable too, with a new 32-pin SuperMHL connector on both ends. While the SuperMHL protocol works over USB, including the fancy new reversible USB Type-C, MHL president Rob Tobias explained to Gizmodo that you only get four lanes that way. That's enough bandwidth for 8K video at 60fps, or 4K video at 120fps if you want to use USB 3.0 at the same time. Standard microUSB only gives you one lane for a maximum of 4K at 60fps.


The SuperMHL port.

And since both of those are fairly small phone-grade connectors anyhow, you'll probably want a full-size, six-lane SuperMHL connector anyways. Not like that would necessarily be a bad thing: the new connector's reversible, unlike HDMI or DisplayPort, so you can plug it in without fussing about whether it's upside down when you're blindly reaching around the back of your A/V reciever.

Except, of course, that if the SuperMHL connector becomes a standard, that will make for more competition in a field where competition can actually be icky. It was kind of nice having HDMI be The One Cable To Rule Them All, since I knew it would always work everywhere. The popularity of Mini DisplayPort in laptops like the MacBook Air and my ThinkPad X240 threw a tiny wrench in that. But at least all of today's video signals are more or less compatible. I'll probably just need to buy one more adapter.

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