SAN JOSE, Calif. The Video Electronics Standard Association expects to finish a draft of its Net2Display specification in September. The spec defines a new approach to building thin clients that are more simple, yet powerful enough to handle full motion video.
As many as 20 companies have worked on the standard that could be ratified by the end of the year with about 12 companies active now, said Kenneth Ocheltree, an IBM researcher who co-chairs the effort. He expects multiple products based on the work using various combinations of hardware and software could hit the market by early 2008.
"I think most of the major computer companies are involved in this," he said. VESA has not disclosed names of companies involved in the standard effort.
The standard essentially enables a kind of network-attached display, greatly reducing the need for software updates and patches to the client device which acts like a local graphics frame buffer, Ocheltree said. It provides specific primitives for handling video with help from a graphics controller at the server, he added.
Backers hope the spec could ultimately enable suitably equipped computer monitors to act as remote PCs as long as they have a built-in Ethernet port. "This could be useful at home or in the office," said Ocheltree.
The VESA group is working on a reference implementation of the Net2Display standard, roughly based on the Think project at Columbia University that was the genesis of the effort. The group expects to release an open source version of its software. The standard envisions multiple implementations at different performance levels, though exact details of its overall approach have not been released.
Separately, startup Teradici that co-chairs the Net2Display effort recently released chips to power a new generation of thin clients. In addition, Wyse Technology that dominates this area said it plans to upgrade its software to support many of the features Teradici announced.
"The big story is all these things will breathe fresh life into a category of products a lot of people have written off," said Bob O'Donnell, vice president of clients and display research at International Data Corp.
"We will see a variety of hardware and software alternatives. There are a lot of ways to tackle the problem and each one has its trade offs," he said.
IDC estimates about 3.3 million thin client PCs will be sold this year, up from 2.7 million in 2006, a small sliver of the estimated 90 million business desktops expected to ship each year by 2008. Businesses like the systems because they save the cost of a full PC for every user, however today's thin clients typically lag full desktop performance in several respects, a fact that has kept the market small.