USB 4 will support 8K and 16K displays so you can ax another PC port

USB-C ports in 2021 could handle 8K displays thanks to DisplayPort support arriving in 2021.

USB-C ports in 2021 could handle 8K displays, thanks to DisplayPort support arriving in 2021.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

USB 4, the next incarnation of the ubiquitous data-transfer technology, will be fast and versatile enough to let you plug a very high resolution 8K display in to your PC. That’s because it’ll accommodate DisplayPort 2.0, the newer version of a standard widely used to connect external monitors.

The move, which industry groups announced Thursday, means USB will be a more capable replacement for older-style ports on digital devices — and that computers will likely rely more on the increasingly versatile port.

As PC and phone makers have sought to shrink and simplify their designs, USB ports have absorbed more and more duties once handled by specialized ports for things like printers, power cables, earphones, network cables and external displays.

USB 4 could arrive as soon as this year, doubling data transfer speeds and increasing the flexibility compared with today’s USB 3. But DisplayPort 2.0 support won’t reach USB 4 until 2021, according to VESA, the industry group that develops DisplayPort. It developed the technology in cooperation with the USB Implementers Forum that oversees USB.

DisplayPort will work on USB 4 by using an “alt mode” that essentially changes the data-transfer language a USB port is speaking, but it’ll still be able to send USB data and support the USB Power Delivery technology used to deliver electrical power.

Supporting 8K and 16K displays on USB 4

You may not run into today’s speed limits for displays and video, but gamers and creative professionals often use enormous monitors, and supporting DisplayPort 2.0 could mean they can do what they want. VESA released the standard in 2019, tripling data-transfer speeds to support 8K displays — 7,680×4,320 pixel resolution — at a 60Hz refresh rate with full color. With some compression, DisplayPort 2.0 also can support 16K (15,360×8,460 pixels) displays, too. VR displays also benefit from high resolution.

USB 4 gets much of its power by absorbing technology Intel developed for its Thunderbolt port technology. Thunderbolt 3 a few years ago adopted the USB-C physical connector and today runs as a USB alt mode.

USB 3 can use either new and old USB ports — the more recently developed oval-shaped and reversible USB-C connectors that you see on new phones and laptops or the rectangular USB-A ports that’ve been on computers for two decades. USB 4, though, will require USB-C connectors.

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USB 2 reached a data-transfer speed of 480Mbps. USB 3 in principle can reach 20Gbps, though it’s most commonly implemented only at 5GBps or 10Gbps today. USB 4 will be able to reach 40Gbps, the speed of Thunderbolt 3.

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