With so many state-of-the-art features introduced and included in the upcoming HTC EVO 3D smartphone and EVO View 4G tablet, it's easy to understand why something as ordinary-looking as a microUSB port wouldn't get much time in the spotlight. Both devices have one—on the side of the EVO 3D and on the bottom of the EVO View—and if we didn't know better, we'd probably identify it as the charging/syncing port and move on to something more interesting.
But since we do know better, we can say with certainty that this boring "microUSB port" is really a rather exciting MHL port.
Don't worry if you've never heard of an MHL port before. Even though the standard was originally unveiled in 2008, officially announced in the summer of 2010 (press release), and built into the Samsung Galaxy S II that launched at MWC 2011, nobody else really paid any attention to it either.
But now that it's built into the upcoming EVO 3D and EVO View 4G, it's time to learn more about it.
What Is MHL?
MHL stands for Mobile High-Definition Link. Version 1.0 is described as a specification that features a "single cable with a 5-pin interface able to support up to 1080p HD video and digital audio while simultaneously providing power to the mobile device and utilizing established connectors."
In oversimplified and technically incorrect but easily understandable terms, it's like a microUSB cable with special HDMI powers.
What Does It Do?
If you plug a regular microUSB cable into an MHL port, it will automatically function as a regular microUSB port, letting you transfer data to/from a computer and charge via USB. Standard stuff.
If you plug an MHL cable into an MHL port, it will automatically function as a magical HDMI port that outputs audio/video and provides power (5V, 500 mA) to the connected device. Not-so-standard stuff.
- When connected to an MHL-enabled HDTV (the first ones are due for release later this year), the cable will simultaneously charge the device and output media. In other words, the TV will charge the phone while displaying its content.
- When connected to an HDTV without MHL, the cable will not charge the connected device unless an MHL-HDMI adapter is used.
What Are the Benefits?
- One cable instead of two cables (microUSB and HDMI)
- Simultaneous phone charging and A/V output
- Backwards compatibility with standard microUSB cables
- Automatic "mode switching" depending on connection (MHL or USB)
- Thinner, cheaper cable compared to HDMI
- One port (slimmer phone, cleaner design)
- Up to 1080p HD video at 60 frames per second, 192MHz 7.1 surround sound
What Are the Drawbacks?
Before you get too excited, keep in mind that just because MHL can do something doesn't mean that HTC will let it.
Don't forget about all the things the company originally did to restrict the EVO 4G (e.g., FPS cap, HDMI mirroring, SD card transfer rates, 3G speed). Who's to say that the EVO 3D and EVO View won't be limited in some way too?
Other things to consider:
- MHL cable and MHL-HDMI adapter availability and price (included with new EVOs?)
- MHL-enabled HDTV availability and price
- No 3D support (MHL 1.0 doesn't support 3D)
- HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection); MHL supports HDCP "for the safeguarding of high-value digital motion pictures, television programs and audio against unauthorized interception and copying"
I don't know how or whether HDCP will actually affect the EVO 3D or EVO View 4G, but it may be cause for concern.
Other Notable Facts
- Any MHL-enabled HDTV's remote can control a connected device using "command and control technology." The extent of this control is unclear to me. It may just be the multimedia components, but PCWorld says that any remote can "control your phone's interface, apps and content," which implies full mirroring of the device's display onto the TV. Whether HTC will cripple this functionality on the EVO 3D and View 4G is unknown.
- Major companies believe in MHL. The MHL Consortium (yes, there's a consortium) includes Sony, Samsung, Toshiba, and Nokia; the group's goal is "to enhance the multimedia capabilities of mobile phones and portable devices by enabling them to fully integrate with HDTV’s and other CE products, while delivering high-definition (HD) content with an easy-to-implement digital connectivity solution."