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1394: Still the best bus for network backbones

Posted: 16 May 2001 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:dvi? 1394? hdcp? usb 2.0? versatile home network?

If the goal is high-powered bandwidth, unlimited storage and powerful peer-to-peer communication between products, forget the imitators, says James Snider.

James Snider was former chairman of the 1394 Trade Association.
If imitation is the highest form of flattery, those who advocate the 1394 multimedia standard ought to feel proud. Every time a group or company touts a new specification, it claims the new spec will do what 1394 already does.

For example, the Digital Visual Interface (DVI) was created to provide a digital interface between digital monitors and the PC, but DVI advocates have campaigned for its use in digital TV applications to link set-top boxes and DTVs. Some claim it has audio support, but that is only a proprietary add-on from one provider. DVI does not offer a system solution. It is point-to-single-point, and data that comes into a device over DVI cannot be exported to another device. It lacks system protocols or commands. For a multiple-source situation, the design requires a multiway 5GHz switch. That is extra work and cost.

The biggest problem with DVI is that its copy protection scheme, HDCP, does not permit video recording. That is a showstopper because it will saddle DTVs with poor-quality video and audio.

In computers, meanwhile, the Universal Serial Bus is ideal for keyboards, mice and other "light" peripherals. But a few zealots tout USB as a key element in home-networking applications. Interesting, but not practical.

Even USB 2.0 can only be applied to make a dangle that would interface to the "real" home network connection, serving as the PC connection. No knowledgeable engineer will want USB in the home net. In fact, a demo at this year's Consumer Electronics Show built a next-generation home, the Versatile Home Network!with 1394 as its backbone.

Like DVI, USB will do fine in its niche. But it will never be fast enough!or provide enough bandwidth!to drive the video and audio that 1394 already carries. And 1394b, with its 800Mbps bandwidth and long-cable capability, is way ahead of USB 2.0.

Meanwhile, 1394 continues to make headway in the PC sector. Most notebook and laptop models will incorporate 1394 this year, and a new group of scanners, printers and peripherals are coming on stream with high-capacity drives that store 80 hours of music.

In the automotive sector, the vehicle spec known as IDB-1394 is the ideal backbone for video and audio, enabling cars and trucks to have everything from PDAs and game consoles to home theaters. Advocates of the Media Oriented Transport Consortium (MOST) claim that MOST is fast enough!at 24.8Mbps!and readily available. But it is been tough to get a complete copy of the spec, and while the speeds are ok for cellphones and some video display applications, 1394 is faster, cheaper, readily available and proven for any kind of networked application for the vehicles of the future.

DVI, USB and MOST are all fine for limited, niche uses. But for the network backbone, if the goal is high-powered bandwidth, unlimited storage and powerful peer-to-peer communication between products, forget the imitators. Stick with the real thing.

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