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The future of HD at home — HDMI v1.4

By The Vann’s Editorial Team
Last revised March 30th, 2010

Today, we tend to associate the most advanced home theater systems with devices like LCD and plasma HDTVs, Blu-ray Disc players, internet routers, and multi-channel surround sound systems. However, one component should be at the very head of that list: cables.

Cables?

Well, to be more specific, one cable . . . HDMI.

The modern home theater system is founded upon teamwork. An HD source like a Blu-ray Disc player communicates HD audio and video to an HD receiver that, in turn, distributes that audio and video to a surround sound system and an HDTV. And allowing seamless, high-fidelity cooperation between all those individual parts is HDMI.

Now, there’s a pretty good chance you’re already familiar with HDMI, at least in name. High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) is an advanced A/V system interface, or input/output connection. Thanks to bandwidth (data-signal) transmission capacities that far exceed those of any other audio or video interface type, HDMI makes it possible to transmit both Full HD video and 7.1 channels of uncompressed, studio-quality surround sound on a single cable. In other words, just one HDMI cable does the work of at least eleven audio and video cables, not only achieving an integrated, universal HD home theater experience, but also keeping living rooms and entertainment centers neat and tidy.

Until now, the HDMI Version 1.3 cable has accomplished all this, having added to previous versions support for both the Deep Color expanded-color gamut and bitstream Dolby TrueHD and dts-HD Master Audio multi-channel surround sound.

While HDMI v1.3 has effortlessly handled current HD home theater requirements, the home theater of the future poises monumental advancements in technology on the near horizon. Whether it’s 3D viewing, enhanced networking and internet interactivity, or dramatically expanded display resolutions, the HD of tomorrow demands exceptional and versatile data-transmission capabilities. The HD home theater of tomorrow demands HDMI Version 1.4.

3D is here

Perhaps the most prominent of the emerging home theater advancements is high definition 3D home viewing. Already, 3D-capable HDTVs, Blu-ray players, and A/V receivers are appearing on shelves, effectively ushering in a revolution in home entertainment. Now, because this new 3D technology foregoes yesterday’s old “red-and-blue” technology in favor of advanced alternate frame sequencing technology, the data-transmission requirements are significant. Good thing, because that’s exactly where HDMI v1.4 shines. Engineered with expanded bandwidth capacities, the HDMI v1.4 protocol handles home 3D video content in addition to all previous media types, i.e. Full HD video and 7.1-channel surround sound.

Surf’s up

Internet widgets, online streaming, networking — next to 3D viewing, these web-based features are at the fore of next-generation home entertainment. Once again, thanks to its increased data-handling capacity, HDMI v1.4 allows for the transmission of a high-speed (100Mbps) ethernet channel along the same single cable passing HD audio and video. And thanks to bi-directional operation, the HDMI ethernet channel can be used to network multiple components via a single internet-connected device. For example, whereas before you had to connect each network-capable (DLNA) component to your internet source individually, HDMI v1.4 allows you to connect just one device (say, the HDTV) directly to the network, and all web-ready devices connected to the HDTV via HDMI v1.4 will automatically connect to your internet service.

Against the stream

By now it should be clear: the mission of the HDMI standard is to provide high-speed, high-capacity data transmission along a single cable. Holding true to its single-cable, clutter-free home theater motto, HDMI v1.4 even goes so far as to include a new audio return channel. Historically, if you’ve owned a TV with a built-in tuner or DVD player, you’ve had two choices: listen to the broadcast or DVD audio over the TV’s built-in speakers, or run the audio out to the receiver via a digital coaxial audio cable. With audio-return-channel functionality, HDMI v1.4 gives you a third choice: run the audio signal back to the receiver along your HDMI cable. Now you can enjoy broadcast TV and DVD audio via your home audio system without the hassle of additional cabling.

HD 1080p . . . times four?

Not surprisingly, the HDMI v1.4 standard is ready even for the super-high-end home theaters of the future. Currently, the 4Kx2K display resolution (4096 x 2160) is used only in state-of-the art digital projectors found in commercial theaters, but will potentially be available to home-theater enthusiasts in a not-too-distant future. Seemingly inexhaustible, HDMI v1.4’s bandwidth capacity spares room for this incredible resolution level . . . over four times that offered by 1080p video.

And yes, there’s more . . .

Rounding out its new slate of functionalities, HDMI v1.4 offers the following: First, real-time content signaling that lets video displays and source devices communicate, optimizing picture settings for different content types. Second, HDMI v1.4 includes support for a greater number of color formats, such as those often used in digital photos and gaming graphics. Third, for HD connectivity to smaller devices like cell phones and portable media players, HDMI v1.4 presents an HDMI micro connector. Finally, HDMI v1.4 introduces new cable and interface types for use in automotive A/V systems. And of course, HDMI v1.4 is fully backward-compatible with previous HDMI versions and their features.

Teamwork, revisited

We began by noting the role teamwork plays in today’s home theater systems. Accordingly, we want to take one more chance to emphasize the importance of cooperation and compatibility in the home theater. In order to enjoy any of the upgraded potential of HDMI v1.4, all connected components must support this new standard and its specific functionalities, and all devices must be connected using HDMI v1.4 cables. For example, if you’re using the ethernet channel, all connected devices must feature HDMI v1.4 connections and ethernet-channel functionality.

HD-ready, 3D-ready, future-ready . . . HDMI v1.4.

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