USB-C: Not as simple as it seems (when it come to video)

The latest ‘standard’ connector for computers and most things electronic that exchange data is the new USB-C connector. The plan for USB-C is for it to replace all those various previous versions of the USB (Universal Serial Bus) connector that we have at the moment, being:

·         USB 1.x (from memory there was 1.0, 1.1, and 1.2)

·         USB 2 Hi-speed

·         USB 2 Full-speed

·         USB 3

There are also the various types of USB connectors; including:

·         Type A

·         Type B

·         Mini-USB

·         Micro-USB

·         Micro-USB 3 (sometime known and Micro-B)

These will all be replaced with the simple standard USB-C, which, just to start the confusion, is also known as USB 3.1. Oh, no. Hang on. It’s not quite that simple. There is actually USB 3.1 Gen 1 and USB 3.1 Gen 2.

So now the confusion starts.

While USB-C actually comes as USB 3.1 Gen 1 and USB 3.1 Gen 2 you will find that the packaging labelling will generally not tell you which one you are getting. Does it matter? It does a little. USB 3.1 Gen 1 provides a data throughput of 5Gbps and USB 3.1 Gen 2 goes up to 10Gbps.

USB 3.1 Gen 1 is also known as SuperSpeed USB. USB 3.1 Gen 2 is, as you might have guessed, SuperSpeed+. But again, this is almost never indicated on packaging.

The other trick that USB C/USB 3.1 has is that it can carry video, and, if needed, it can also provide power to the video device—but you probably would not want to be doing that from a notebook PC that is not connect to mains power as it would drain your battery rather quickly.

USB-C can carry a number of video transmission formats, but the two that are most interesting are HDMI and DisplayPort. Oh. I should point out that it only carries the ‘old’ HDMI specification (which I think was known as v1.4b). It doesn’t carry the current 2013 HDMI 2.0/2.1 specification which allows for 4K resolution at 60 fps (and whole pile of other stuff).

But now we get to the really tricky bit when it comes to video from your computer.

If you have a notebook computer with discrete video (i.e., it has a separate video card and does not force video computations through the main processer or use main memory for video caching) then it is likely that if you connect a video device via USB-C that your discrete video capability will get bypassed. This is because now the main processor will have to do all the video rendering work in order to pass it via the USB-C connection to the screen.

Where this happens, there will also be an impact on the performance of your computer. Especially when you are doing things that require a lot of video rendering—such as playing games, watching movies, photo editing, or video editing. There will also be an impact on the amount of main memory you have because your video will now be needing to use main memory instead of (or as well as) the video memory on the discrete card.

However, if your computer firmware is smart enough and the discrete graphics card supports it, then the discrete video can be transmitted via the USB-C connection. In which case your main processor and main memory will not be impacted.

Right now this is not an issue that we need to be too concerned about because there are currently very few external computer screens that have USB-C input. But this is expected to change rapidly over the next year.

My advice today would be that if you are connecting an external monitor and you have the choice of DisplayPort, HDMI, or USB-C then don’t pick USB-C.

Loving my new 950XL Windows Phone

I am not sure if I mentioned it before but about two months ago I upgraded my trusty never-fail 640XL Windows Phone to the 950XL. I had been thinking about making this change for about six months or more but the latest offer from Microsoft was just too hard to resist.

When the 950XL was released late last year the cost in Australia was $1,199; basically $1,200. Over six months or so I watched it come down to $899 at Harvey Norman. And then a pal at work said "I see Microsoft are selling that phone you like for $499 on their site".

Initially I thought that he must have been talking about the 640XL or the 650. But, just out of curiosity,I went to the Microsoft Australia site. He was right. Microsoft were selling the 950XL for $499.

I tried to order one right then. But for some reason the Microsoft site would not accepted my order. So I rang them. They were aware of the issue with the 'shopping trolley' on that page and advised it should be fixed within 24 hours.

Seriously. I mean! Seriously. A company the size of Microsoft put up a special on their flagship phone on their own site and the page doesn't work? Plus, it is going to take 24 hours to resolved the problem.

So I had to wait until the next day to order the phone.

I love it. LOVE IT! The super hi-res AMOLED display is amazing and the colours are very close to correct—which is a big plus for a photographer type who doesn't want his pictures (taken with a real camera but transferred to the phone to show to people) showing on the screen as over-saturated; I really appreciate the colours to be close to correct.

As you might expect, the CPU performance compared to the 640XL is blindingly fast. I realise that the 950XL is not quite as fast as the latest iOS or Android phones but for someone coming from the 640XL I can assure you that the 950XL works like it is turbo-charged.

I really like the fast-charge technology in this phone. While I manage to easily get two full days of life out of the huge battery in the 950XL there are those rare occasions when you find yourself facing the "Charge me now or I am going to die" screen. About 20 minutes on the charger will get the gauge close to 50% (about 44%).

As much as I like it not everything is better on the 950XL. I am finding that the reception antenna is not as good as the 640XL. I realise that the 640XL was the best in the world for antenna reception. It was a freak. But I kind of expected the antenna in the 950XL to be as good. Sadly this is not the case.

Whereas I could confidently make and take phones calls on my 640XL from the office in my house with no fear of the calls dropping out I am sad to report that I have had a couple of instances with the 950XL where calls have dropped out due to fringe reception problems. This is a disappointment. I have also had a call drop out while in the lifts at work—again, this NEVER happened with the 640XL.

In my next post I plan to review the in-phone camera. While the camera in the 640XL was 'just okay' I rarely used it. I am hoping that the 20MP camera in the 950XL is better than 'just okay' to the point where I might be able to use it to take serious pictures with.

 

How to spot an 'old' Windows user: Copy and Paste keys

There are sort of two kinds of Microsoft Windows users: the old original users that go back to Windows 286 (yep, that is what Windows 1.0 was actually called—because it ran on the Intel 80286 processor) in the mid-80s, and then there are those that came into Windows around the era of Windows 95 (circa 1995).

As one of the former I can generally pick a Windows user that discovered the Windows operating system very early on.

One of the give-away tells is the key combinations people use to work the Windows Cut, Copy and Paste functions.

Us original Windows users use the original, and the then only, key combinations that existed for performing these functions. These were Ctrl+Insert to copy, Shift+Insert to past, and cut-copy was Shift+Del.

These key combinations for cut, copy, and paste were in use long before Ctrl+X, Ctrl+C, and Ctrl+V came into existence for Cut, Copy, and Paste.

In my next post on "How to spot and 'old' Windows user" I will tell you why Microsoft used the above key combinations for Cut, Copy, and Paste. There was a very good reason for this.

Mary Jo Foley's 'All About Microsoft' blog

I have added a link to 'All About Microsoft' in the sidebar. All About Microsoft if a blog at ZDNet by Mary Jo Foley that is, basically, all about Microsoft.

Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thorrot pair up on the TWiT podcast 'Windows Weekly'. As the name probably suggests, this is a weekly podcast from the TWiT network that talks about all kinds of things that revolve around Microsoft Windows and Microsoft in general.

The screen capture taken from the All About Microsoft blog (at right) provides a small insight into some of the topics that Mary Jo covers.

If you are an IT professional and you want to keep up with things that are happening with Microsoft the, if you don't already, it would be worthwhile popping in on Mary Jo's blog once a week at least.

Selling my 'old' Epson 1650 Flatbed Photo Scanner

I am in the process of cleaning up my office/study—for about the tenth time in the last 20 years. But this time I am being ruthless; at least I think I am. However, there is stuff that I just don't want to throw in the bin.

One such item is my 'old'—because I have a new one bought a couple of years ago—Epson Perfection 1650 flatbed photo-quality scanner.

This scanner has 16 bits of colour accuracy per channel, an optical resolution of 3,200 dpi, and incorporates de-screening (to remove the moire pattern created by screen printing in magazines and such). In its day this was about an $800 scanner.

Following is a de-screened image of Charlize Theron from GQ magazine taken from the matt-finish paper inside the magazine. There is almost no moire patten visible in this scan.

The following two pictures show the de-screening at work. The scan at left was done without de-screening, and the scan at right, obviously, with de-screening turned on—so most of the moire pattern has been removed.

Following is the full face in de-screened scan mode.

The following picture shows you the sample I was scanning for the above pictures off the cover of the GQ magazine.

As well as being able to scan paper images, the 1650 has a back-light in the lid so that it can be used to scan transparent items such as slides.

There are two downsides:

  • There are no Windows drivers for Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 10. BUT I am using Windows 10 and as you can see it will work with Windows 10 (or Windows 7 or 8). However, you will need to purchase a utility called VueScan from Hamrick.com. At the time of me writing this VueScan was USD$29.95.
  • The interface is USB 1.1. So it is relatively slow—compared to USB 2, or the unbelievable speed of USB 3.

If you are interested then go to Gumtree and search for Epson 1650.

For more specifications see this page at the Epson site.