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VGA bowing out of homes, lingering in the workplace

Size constraints are pushing VGA ports out of laptops, but the display interface will linger in office equipment

After more than 25 years the venerable VGA port is finally disappearing from computers, but the interface is proving tough to phase out completely and will linger for years in projectors, monitors and TV sets.

The VGA (Video Graphics Array) port is being phased out with the emergence of thinner and lighter computers, which now come with display interfaces like HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface), DisplayPort or Thunderbolt to connect PCs to monitors and other devices. The thick VGA ports are a stumbling block in making laptops thinner and lighter, especially ultrabooks, which measure up to 21 millimeters and are getting even thinner.

However, VGA hardware is cheap and has a massive installed base on peripherals, so the interface will take longer to unseat from some mainstream and business PCs. The ports are prevalent in peripherals such as projectors and large displays, and VGA is still a primary connector for traveling salespeople or consultants who need to show presentations or share information on a larger display in another office.

First introduced in 1986, VGA's phase-out as a primary video interface began when PC displays shifted from analog CRT monitors to LCD flat panels in the late 1990s and early 2000s, said Chris Connery, vice president of PC and large format commercial display market research at NPD DisplaySearch.

The analog VGA was replaced in 1999 by a digital interface called DVI (Digital Visual Interface), which is also in the process of being phased out for lack of a clear upgrade path. Other digital or hybrid digital-analog connectors and standards such as P&D (Plug and Display) and DFP (Digital Flat Panel) were also in the mix for some time, but VGA has surpassed the life of those standards.

The need for VGA in homes is questionable with the continued popularity of consumer PC devices and tablets, Connery said. HDMI is being widely used as a connector and entertainment such as movies is increasingly shared via the cloud between PCs, mobile devices and smart TVs. Wireless display standards are also challenging hardwired standards with Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments backing a standard called Miracast and Intel offering a technology called Wi-Di.

But VGA will continue to be useful in the workplace as the need to connect PCs to external devices such as projectors, large displays and even to desktop displays may not go away soon, Connery said. VGA connectors are cheap and continue to be included on most TVs sold, so VGA provides an inexpensive way to visually share information, Connery said.

"If employees are stationary and never leave their individual, controlled corporate infrastructure then they might get away with some other form of external display connectivity, but for employees who travel to other companies then the ability to be able to display their information to a group is critical for their working success," Connery said.

Almost 99 percent of all desktop monitors still have a VGA port on them with a full 30 percent having only a VGA connector, Connery said. Other monitors combine VGA with other display ports. Additionally, more than 70 percent of flat-panel TVs have VGA connectors. Projectors, especially commercial, continue to have a hard time dropping legacy VGA support, Connery said.

"Some forecast scenarios we have done have shown VGA to phase out of most PC products by 2017, but in practicality it is difficult to envision that the legacy IT infrastructure will not still exist a decade from now," Connery said. The PC products include monitors, desktop PCs, laptops and other mobile PCs.

The aging VGA port is going away slowly, but it is still useful in offices, said Raymond Soneira, CEO of DisplayMate Technologies.

"I gave a talk at the engineering department of one of the world's top high-technology companies in a large conference room. All they had was a VGA cable to connect to the conference room projector. While the projector also had an HDMI input, it was set up for VGA presentations, which worked," said Soneira, who is also a displays expert.

Commercial display installers for large companies tell Soneira that most companies resist digital connections and prefer VGA and Analog Component Video.

"I'm surprised because I think analog has lots of performance problems at high resolution, but the IT people prefer to keep using what they know and have," Soneira said.

But with the technology aging, PC and chip makers see the writing on the wall. PC makers are slowly phasing out VGA ports from consumer laptops due to size constraints and lack of demand, and expect the gap to be filled by adapters that allow PCs to connect to devices with VGA ports. However, business laptops such as Lenovo's ThinkPad have VGA ports to connect to legacy peripherals. Intel and Advanced Micro Devices have said they would phase out chipset support for VGA by 2015.

VGA ports are not something requested by customers, said Kelt Reeves, CEO of the PC maker Falcon Northwest, which largely serves enthusiasts like gamers who dabble with the latest technologies.

"VGA is almost gone. I think we still carry a motherboard or two that have them on the onboard ports, which we override with the discrete graphics card anyway," Reeves said.

Fewer motherboards now carry VGA support, such as Asustek's new Z77 board for Intel's Ivy Bridge processors.

"Honestly, I think they just put it on because they had extra space on the I/O shield," Reeves said.

While DisplayPort is taking over from VGA as the display interface for office use, a number of other alternate technologies are under development. Display standards for consumer devices include the emerging MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) and HDMI, which is already found in mobile devices, TVs and Blu-ray players. The HDMI version 1.4 has a quad-resolution, meaning it can display images at a 3840-by-2160 pixel resolution, but MHL to its advantage has faster throughput, according to DisplaySearch.

Apple plans to use the Thunderbolt protocol in tablets and smartphones, which could make it a competitor with HDMI and MHL, according to DisplaySearch. Thunderbolt, which supports the PCI-Express 2.0 and DisplayPort protocols has the same connector as Mini-DisplayPort and is already being used in Macs.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is [email protected]


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