New HDMI 1.4 connection adds Internet, 3D, and 4K video

Consumer Reports News: June 11, 2009 05:31 PM

HDMI helped to clear up cable-clutter by sending digital audio and video through a single cable. The new HDMI 1.4 spec now adds Ethernet, too.

Later this year, new HDMI 1.4 connections will likely start showing up on HDTVs and Blu-ray players, and perhaps later, cable and satellite set-top boxes, and digital receivers.

The 1.4 specification offers much different capabilities than earlier versions. Perhaps the most game-changing feature is the addition of an Ethernet channel, which allows a single HDMI cable to carry Internet data (up to 100 megabits per second) along with digital audio and video. That means the growing number of TVs and Blu-ray players that connect to the Internet won't require a separate Ethernet jack.

HDMI 1.4 also supports 3D (which needs two separate 1080p video streams), and video resolutions four times greater than the best resolution offered today, 1080p. One day, home displays will be able to support the "4K (4096x2164/24Hz and 3840x2160/30Hz) resolutions" now found in many digital movie theaters.

The downside to a new HDMI spec, of course, is more confusion for consumers, as there will now be four different "versions" of HDMI 1.4 cables: standard and high speeds, both with and without the Ethernet channel. That means you'll have to read the labels carefully in order to get the cable you need and avoid paying more for one you don't.

Q&A with Steve Venuti about HDMI 1.4

To get some insight into what the new HDMI spec means for consumers, we asked Steve Venuti, president of HDMI LLC, a few questions:

CR: Does HDMI 1.4 have advantages other than an Ethernet channel, new color spaces, 4K video and 3D, as mentioned above?

VENUTI: Yes. "HDMI everywhere" also increases functionality. With the two new connectors—the smaller 19-pin Micro HDMI Connector for portables and the HDMI Auto Connection system for use in vehicles—HDMI is now wherever HD is, including much smaller and more portable devices, as well as in the automobile.

CR: Will products with HDMI 1.3 connections continue to be made and offered after the debut of HDMI 1.4?

VENUTI: This is something that can only be answered by the market, but history tells us that top-tier manufacturers will start to implement 1.4 features on their higher-end product lines. Second-tier manufacturers will follow as the 1.4 features make their way into the mid-level of the top-tier manufacturers’ lines. At some point, most products will adopt these features as they become mainstream.However, there is always a market for low-end products that are not burdened with all the optional features that HDMI helps to enable, and these products will continue to be sold as the entry line and/or in markets that are more likely to buy cheaper products.

CR: What will happen with legacy HDMI 1.3 products when they are connected to an HDMI 1.4 device?

VENUTI: The HDMI specification is fully backwards compatible, so that any 1.4 device will work with any previous version of HDMI, to the highest common denominator of shared features.

CR: Are the HDMI 1.4 connectors the same as those used with HDMI 1.3?

VENUTI: Yes, the connector remains the same, so that any 1.4 cable can plug into legacy 1.3 (or previous) receptacles, and legacy cables can connect into 1.4 devices as well. The products are completely backwards compatible.

CR: In previous iterations, manufacturers were given a menu list of HDMI features, and then elected to include or ignore specific features. Will HDMI 1.4 be similar?

VENUTI: Yes. HDMI is built upon the premise that manufacturers are the best ones to decide which features to include or exclude. HDMI has so much potential functionality; if we were to mandate features the cost to implement [them] could be very high.

CR: How will consumers know if the device they purchase is fully compliant with all the HDMI 1.4 features?

VENUTI: It is unlikely that a device will implement all the features. For example, 1.4 includes the Automotive Connection System—clearly something that will not be implemented by an HDTV. We are looking at ways to make this clearer to consumers by requiring that products that use the version number (HDMI 1.3 or 1.4) also list the features that are enabled by the version number.

CR: Could you talk about the different HDMI 1.4 cables, and the branding and certification requirements?

VENUTI: Sure. There are five types of cables, and we will be requiring all those marketing HDMI cables to label not only the package, but also the cable itself.

  • Standard HDMI Cable. Supports data rates up to 1080i/60;
  • High Speed HDMI Cable. Supports data rates beyond 1080p, including Deep Color and all 3D formats of the new 1.4 specification;
  • Standard HDMI Cable with Ethernet. Includes Ethernet connectivity;
  • High Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet. Includes Ethernet connectivity;
  • Automotive HDMI Cable. Allows the connection of external HDMI-enabled devices to an in-vehicle HDMI device.

CR: When will we see the first products with HDMI 1.4 connections?

Venuti: It depends on which features, but we should see some [products] by the holiday selling season this year. More will be introduced at CES in January, and 2010 should see the beginning of broader adoption.

CR: What do you see as the biggest challenge?

Venuti: The biggest challenge is making this make sense to the consumer. It is a never-ending battle, but here is how we look to make this as easy as possible:

  • Guidelines—so those who use the HDMI logo and talk about HDMI features do so clearly and consistently.
  • Cable markings and labeling requirements–new with 1.4, this will make the world of cables much more understandable.
  • website. We added a consumer section last year to address the educational needs of the average consumer.

For more information about the new HDMI 1.4 specification, see the official release, or the HDMI 1.4 FAQ. —James K. Willcox

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