USB to HDMI Adapter - With Caveats

Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer, Grandtec, claims that it is now shipping "the world's first USB to HDMI converter"--the Grand HD Cinema. Grandtec claims that the Grand HD Cinema can use your Windows XP or Vista system's USB 2.0 ports to send 720p HD video to an HDMI-equipped display, such as widescreen HD LCD or plasma TV.

The Grand HD Cinema is a 1.30x2.17x3.94-inch (HWD) adapter with a USB port on one end and an HDMI port on the other. It gets its power from the USB port, so it doesn't need an external power supply. You can connect up to six Grand HD Cinema adapters to a PC to send video to up to six different HDMI displays simultaneously. The device can also send audio through the adapter as well, but it  supports only sending audio to a single display, despite how many adapters you might be using.

The Grand HD Cinema comes bundled with the HD Cinema Program, through which you can designate whether your system sends a mirror of your desktop or if it extends the desktop. The software also allows you to control the resolution and color depth of an extended display, and even rotate the extended image by 90, 180, or 270 degrees. The adapter also comes with the USB PnP Sound Program, which lets you adjust the audio being sent to the HDMI display with a "10-band equalizer and 27 environmental effects."

Some of the uses that Grandtec suggest the Grand HD Cinema could be used for are for watching "high quality videos stored in [your] PC," or for setting up a video wall. We noticed a few differences between the Grand HD Cinema's Taiwanese version of the site and the U.S. version. The Taiwanese site includes a spec sheet you can download (PDF), which states that the adapter works only with Windows XP and Vista, and implies that the adapter is HDCP compliant. HDCP compliance means that you would be able to play copy-protected content, such as commercial DVD or Blu-ray movies through the adapter. We say "implies," because the spec sheet includes an HDMI-HDCP logo with the text, "HDMI & HDCP Member." This is ambiguous at best; so it is unclear if this means that the product is HDCP compliant or just that the company is a member of a standards organization. The U.S. site actually states the Grand HD Cinema is "HDMI & HDCP Compliant;" plus it also states that the adapter is "Mac OS and Vista Ready."

As the Grand HD Cinema uses the USB port to send video, we made an educated guess that the device uses DisplayLink technology; we confirmed with a DisplayLink spokesperson that the Grand HD Cinema, does, in fact use DisplayLink technology. The spokesperson also explained that DispayLink technology does not currently support HDCP and therefore the Grand HD Cinema is not HDCP compliant. The spokesperson went on to say that when using DispayLink technology to show video, DispayLink recommends using only one DispayLink-fed display at a time, otherwise the USB bus will be saturated and video quality will quickly degrade. This is not to say that you can't feed multiple displays at once, such as a video wall; you just can't do it if you are sending video images (as opposed to just sending your Windows desktop or relatively static photo slideshow). DisplayLink is working on getting HDCP compliance into products that use its technology, but this will require changes on the chip level, and therefore existing DislayLink products will not be able to be upgraded to support HDCP.

As to Grandtec's claim that the Grand HD Cinema is "the world's first USB to HDMI converter," that is not exactly true either--the Coolgear "USB DVI or USB to HDMI or USB to HD-15 Adapter" and the Altona AT-HDPix USB-to-HDMI HDTV Adapter are products that already do this. The Grand HD Cinema sells for $149.99 and is available now.
Tags:  USB, video, HDMI, HDCP