HDMI – High Definition Multimedia Interface, has made in-roads into nearly every type of consumer electronic device that is intended to send or receive HD video. As a standard, HDMI defines the way software, firmware, cabling and signaling all work together to deliver digital information between these devices.
Previous versions of the HDMI specification have provided for such features as 1080p video, Deep Colour, and device control (CEC). Now, with version 1.4 officially released, HDMI is poised to move beyond its previous role as a single-cable digital replacement for all of those red, white, yellow, green and blue cables that used to make the backs of our AV equipment look like a rat’s nest.
- HDMI Ethernet Channel – Adds high-speed networking to an HDMI link, allowing users to take full advantage of their IP-enabled devices without a separate Ethernet cable.
- Audio Return Channel – Allows an HDMI-connected TV with a built-in tuner to send audio data “upstream” to a surround audio system, eliminating the need for a separate audio cable.
- 3D – Defines input/output protocols for major 3D video formats, paving the way for true 3D gaming and 3D home theater applications.
- 4K Support – Enables video resolutions far beyond 1080p, supporting next-generation displays that will rival the Digital Cinema systems used in many commercial movie theatres.
- Content Type – Real-time signaling of content types between display and source devices, enabling a TV to optimize picture settings based on content type.
- Additional Color Spaces – Adds support for additional color models used in digital photography and computer graphics.
- HDMI Micro Connector – A new, smaller connector for phones and other portable devices, supporting video resolutions up to 1080p.
- Automotive Connection System – New cables and connectors for automotive video systems, designed to meet the unique demands of the motoring environment while delivering true HD quality.
Typically, in previous upgrades of the HDMI standard, consumers didn’t need to worry too much about what had changed – the average HDMI cable was backward and forward compatible with the new sets of information that could be passed over their lengths.
Now however, with the introduction of the HDMI Ethernet Channel and the new Micro Connector, there are physical differences as well as signaling differences.
The Ethernet Channeltakes cabling simplification to the next level. When devices emerge that support this new feature, you will only need one internet connection (e.g. to your TV) which can then be shared with all other HDMI-connected equipment. Unfortunately, since HDMI can’t be daisy-chained, your TV is the best candidate for the role of Ethernet hub. It’s also the least likely (so far) of your devices to be equipped with an internet connection. It will probably take 3-4 years before people have a suite of devices that can take advantage of this feature, and it’s quite possible that ongoing improvements to Wi-Fi will make it moot for many.
When shopping for devices that enable this aspect of the 1.4 version, it’s important that you look for HDMI ports that have been specifically labeled as Ethernet Channel capable. The HDMI organization recommends that manufacturers label the ports as “HEC” (HDMI Ethernet Channel), but it is not a requirement. Likewise, you’ll need to make sure that you buy the right kind of HDMI cable – these are labeled either as Standard HDMI Cable with Ethernet or High Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet.
The Micro Connector however, is something I expect to see on tons of devices very shortly. Most of the digital cameras that were new to the market within the last year have been shipping with some kind of HDMI port, whether the full-size version or a proprietary version that comes with an adapter cable. But the Micro Connector, at 50% of the size of the regular port, means it can be easily added to even the smallest devices. In fact the biggest challenge may be in easily identifying the difference between the HDMI Micro Connector and the USB Micro Connector, which has been adopted by a majority of cellphone manufacturers as the standard charging connector. It would be helpful if the HDMI and USB licensing groups could recommend a colour-coding standard to help consumers identify the two similar ports at-a-glance.
If you’re reading this and are becoming concerned that new 1.4 devices won’t work with your existing HDMI equipment, don’t be. The HDMI standard is backward compatible, so though your older HDMI gear won’t be able to support these newer features, they will still do everything they are currently capable of doing, even when connected to newer gear.