OBSOLETE TECHNOLOGY: DVI

When you think of historical artifacts, it’s easy to think of things from the distant past. A quill pen, a hornbook, even a chalkboard seem like charming reminders of days gone by. But, here we are racing toward the quarter point in the 21st century, and many of those artifacts are things we thought were brand new not long ago. Example: the DVI connector.

DVI was designed in 1999 to be the solution for computer and HDTV compatibility for the 21st century. It was a vast improvement over the previous standard, VGA. Unlike VGA, it could carry analog video, and digital video on a single connector. It failed in the marketplace, disappearing around 2008 (although Solid Signal still carries some DVI accessories if you need them.) The reasons for its failure make for a good story.

Why DVI was needed

The VGA standard came about in the 1980s when color monitors started to come down in price. Computer users never liked black and white monitors and VGA, originally an IBM standard, offered a better alternative. The connector itself was small and easy to attach, and the tech standard allowed for increasing resolutions.

VGA didn’t carry sound, though, and that meant it was a bad choice for high-definition TVs. It was also a purely analog standard. This was a selling point in the 1980s when computer chips were too slow to encode and decode digital data. By the late 1990s it was a problem because an analog signal can’t match the quality of a digital one.

DVI came about as a response to all these complaints. It was designed to be a flexible standard. If your device could only put out analog, DVI had your back. If you wanted to go digital, here was the connector for you.

Why DVI failed

DVI had a lot, lot of problems. It was a bigger connector than VGA, making it less desirable for laptops. It was also much more delicate which meant that the little pins were more likely to break. Computer users didn’t like it because the thumbscrews on the back acted like hooks and snagged nearby cables when moved. TV users didn’t like it since it didn’t carry audio.

What’s really amazing about DVI is that pretty much everyone agreed that it was an almost instant failure. DVI’s moment in the sun was brief: I seem to recall 2003-2006 being the age of DVI.

What people don’t recall about DVI

There was something incredibly good about DVI. Unfortunately it was also part of DVI’s downfall. DVI could carry a pure digital signal, utterly unencrypted. With the right hardware, it was the perfect cable to let you make perfect digital copies of videos you had.

This obviously wasn’t going to fly with content providers, who moved rapidly away from DVI in favor of HDMI. HDMI was designed from day one to be a consumer-friendly standard with a small connector, built-in sound, and easy connection. Studios liked it too, because it could carry built-in content protection. No more perfect digital copies for you!

And so…

DVI disappeared as quickly as it appeared. It’s still seen in some monitors alongside VGA, which is finally starting to fade in favor of HDMI. But for the most part it’s gone gone gone, and really, if you still have a bunch of DVI cables, it’s probably time for them to be gone too.