One of the best features of HDMI cables in general is that they simplify the connections of High Definition components in a Home Theater. While that is overwhelmingly true, there are a number of different types of HDMI cables each with its own specifications and capabilities. Which HDMI cable is right for you depends on what features you need. Here we’ll help you make sense of the various specifications so that you get the cable you need without opting for higher priced alternatives that are of no additional benefit for your particular situation.
First, a bit of good news. All HDMI cables are backward compatible. That is to say that a current cable will do anything that its predecessors did but that additional capabilities have been added. This is important for those who are upgrading equipment. HDMI was initially released in 2002 but has only recently gained such prominence. As new electronic products have added capabilities, they’ve increased the requirements for new cables, particularly in terms of increased bandwidth. In practical terms, the current HDMI specification is version 1.3 and it’s generally available on all current HDMI equipment and current HDMI cables are of that standard. There are additional specifications labeled 1.3a and 1.3b but the designations aren’t relevant to consumers. The more advanced standard for HDMI 1.4 has been recently released and its availability will occur gradually.
What Types of HDMI Cables are Available?
There are essentially two types of cable within HDMI Specification 1.3: Standard Speed and High Speed. With a Standard HDMI cable you’ll likely see the statement that it provides up to 2.25Gbps of bandwidth. But what does that mean in practical terms? Specifically, it means that the cable will deliver High Definition video up to 720p/1080i picture resolution. So, it’s fine for standard DVDs or TVs that won’t display higher than 1080i. But, if you intend to take full advantage of Blu-ray discs and the full potential of an HDTV with 1080p resolution, you’ll need to upgrade to a High Speed HDMI Cable as it’s the only one that can carry enough bandwidth to provide full 1080p/60 reproduction.
In general, we suggest buying High Speed cables for two reasons. First, the lesser capabilities of standard cables are slowly becoming obsolete. Secondly, High Speed cables give a good measure of future proofing so that the cables purchased today will be relevant for years to come.
There are four distinct types of HDMI cables for use in the Home Theater environment within the emerging Specification 1.4. They are:
• Standard HDMI Cable
• High Speed HDMI Cable
• Standard HDMI Cable with Ethernet
• High Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet
The most significant addition encompassed by Specification 1.4 is the inclusion of Ethernet capability. The functionality can be added to either standard or high speed cables. With this addition, newer devices, primarily HDTVs and Blu-ray disc players can connect to the internet offering a wide variety of interactive possibilities. Access to Video On Demand, through such services as Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand are prominent among these offerings. Also popular are BD Live features which offer additional content that is available on many Blu-ray discs. These include movie trailers and clips, trivia games and chat that can be shared among movie fans. Connecting one component of a Home Theater to the Ethernet allows for sharing the internet connectivity with other compatible components via an HDMI cable with Ethernet.
What Else Is New In HDMI Cables?
Beyond adding the possibility of an integrated Ethernet Channel, Specification 1.4 features some other new capabilities for now and into the future. Taking advantage of HDMI’s two way communications allows for signals to be sent up stream as well as down. This functionality is called Audio Return Channel. In practice, that usually means that a signal can be sent from the HDTV to the audio/video receiver. In the most common case, a tuner equipped HDTV can send its surround sound audio to the receiver for distribution to the speakers for great theater sound.
The future of high definition is also covered by HDMI Standard 1.4. It has enough bandwidth to carry 3D imagery that is on the near horizon. It also can handle emerging 4K/2K video resolution. That technology will be capable of delivering roughly quadruple the resolution as 1920 x 1080 (1080p) which is currently the best available to consumers.
Also included in Standard 1.4 are requirements for automotive HDMI cables. These connectors have to be especially robust to excel in the extreme temperature, vibration and noise environment that are likely to be encountered in automotive applications.