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SuperMHL is a new cable with origins in mobile that will be able to transfer data at higher speeds than existing HDMI or DisplayPort cables. It can transfer data at high speeds and power a mobile device connected to it at the same time. And it can support TV resolutions that are even better than the super-crisp 4K TV images that are the best in the market today.
High-definition TVs display video at a resolution of 1080p, or a screen with 1,920 horizontal pixels and 1,080 vertical pixels, or 1920 x 1080. The new UltraHD 4K TVs have four times as many pixels, with a resolution of 3840 x 2160. And the upcoming 8K TVs have a resolution around 7680 x 4320. That’s 16 times as many pixels as a standard HDTV.
That kind of data can’t flow through ordinary cables at a high enough speed to transfer data between two devices. It’s debatable whether we need such advances, but the display makers are creating such TVs — Samsung, for instance, demoed the first 8K TV with built-in SuperMHL connectivity at the 2015 International CES.
“SuperMHL extends the market from mobile devices to consumer electronics,” said Cheng Hwee Chee, senior director of marketing at Silicon Image, in an interview with VentureBeat.
You can plug a normal MHL cable into a smartphone, laptop, set-top box, streaming-media stick, or Blu-ray player at one end. And then you can plug the other end into a television or display with a resolution of 8K, which is the favored technology for the next generation of displays. The SuperMHL specification is a big deal for the infrastructure of future TVs, but it requires a new breed of chips.
Sunnyvale, California-based Silicon Image, which is owned by Lattice Semiconductor, is in a good position to create the SuperMHL chips because it is founding member of both the MHL consortium and the HDMI consortium. Other members include Sony, Samsung, Nokia, and Toshiba. While previous MHL chips were geared to mobile devices, the SuperMHL spec is targeted at the home theater and consumer electronics market too.
Silicon Image’s Sil9779 is a SuperMHL/HDMI 2.0 port chip that can support 8K video at 60 frames per second, as well as its Immersive Object Audio.
TV and cable manufacturers can use the SiI9779 to create a new generation of products that can connect SuperMHL 8K source devices to TVs and monitors using the reversible SuperMHL connector. The SuperMHL input also enables MHL mobile devices to deliver resolutions of 4K at 60 frames per second and beyond through existing and new connectors such as the USB Type-C with MHL Alt Mode. The port chip can also support three HDMI 2.0 inputs for displays, and it has HDCP 2.2 content protection.
“This is the first SuperMHL chip for 8K TVs of the future, or anything higher than 4K resolution,” said Chee. “It lets you carry several times more data over the same cable as HDMI 2.0 can today.”
This year, TV makers are likely to introduce 5K TVs with 21:9 aspect ratios, while more 8K TVs are likely to begin shipping in 2016. Japan, which wants to have 8K broadcasts online in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, is likely to drive the adoption of 8K TVs.
“8K is a high-end showpiece for now, but you’ll see new features and cheaper displays coming in 2016,” Chee said.
Lattice Semiconductor acquired Silicon Image in March. The chip is expected to be available in samples in the second quarter.
The original MHL cable spec debuted in 2010, and the consortium upgraded the spec in 2012 and 2013. Now it is doing so once again with SuperMHL, which can deliver 8K video at 120 frames per second under ideal conditions. More than 750 million MHL devices have shipped to date.
SuperMHL can charge devices at a faster rate. The SuperMHL cable can supply up to 40 watts of power while charging, much more than current MHL products. And it can run in an audio-only mode if desired. The SuperMHL 32-pin connector is different from the original MHL connector. You can run six lanes of MHL channels over the SuperMHL cable at the same time.
To get the full benefit of 8K video on a mobile device, you would have to connect via the SuperMHL cable. If you connect a SuperMHL device to a SuperMHL TV via the cable, you can view the 8K video on the TV at up to 120 frames per second, or four times faster than older TV shows. Showing video at that speed is ideal for sports, reducing motion blur during fast-action scenes.
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