The 1394 interface has a significant role to play in the future of the personal computer, but it is a somewhat different role from the one that companies such as Intel envisioned a few years ago.
Intel has been strongly committed for several years to the 1394 high-speed serial bus as the recommended connection between a PC and new digital consumer-electronics equipment. Intel considers 1394 a digital convergence pipe connecting the PC to the world of digital camcorders, digital VHS, set-top boxes, digital TV and the like. Intel believes convergence connectivity will grow increasingly important to the PC over time as the wealth of available 1394 devices increases.
Intel once believed that 1394 technology could also serve a second role-as a serial interconnect for high-speed computer peripherals, such as high-bandwidth printers, scanners and external storage devices. With the announcement of USB 2.0 at the Spring '99 Intel Developer Forum, however, we have modified our position and now recommend USB 2.0 as the preferred solution for high-speed computer peripherals.
Printers, scanners and external storage are already available on USB 1.1. We are simply recommending that hardware vendors develop higher-speed versions of those products for the PC on USB 2.0 rather than on 1394. We intend to drive USB 2.0 to become a standard PC feature.
What has changed? First, 1394 deployment into the PC platform has proceeded more slowly than expected a year or two ago, for several reasons. Some proposed implementations, such as Device Bay, didn't achieve the early success many predicted. The initial 1394 consumer offerings were limited to digital camcorders, and those were priced out of reach of the average consumer.
The expense of 1394 implementations made PC OEMs reluctant to commit to 1394 across their product lines. Rather, they chose to use 1394 selectively, in PCs targeted at consumer "creativity" applications. As a result, the hard-disk industry opted to stick with an interface it knew would be available across the platform: ATA.
Uncertainty and concerns about licensing costs-in particular, whether patents necessary to implement 1394 technology would be licensed under openly disclosed, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms-also discouraged deployment of 1394.
Second, Intel recognized that the industry, if it is to succeed in making computers easier to use, needs a serial interface that is faster than USB 1.1 and that can be deployed universally in the platform. By simply speeding up USB 1.1 in a forward- and backward-compatible manner, Intel can provide the industry a rapid, evolutionary path to faster serial I/O and to high-performance computers that afford greater ease of use.
Intel still believes 1394 and USB will both play important roles in the future of desktop and mobile computing, but today we see a new division of the roles for the interfaces. We recommend USB 2.0 for connecting PCs to computer peripherals, and we recommend 1394 as the interface connecting PCs to emerging digital A/V consumer equipment.
-David L. Fair is visual computing initiative manager for Intel Corp. (Santa Clara, Calif.).