If you have purchased any new home entertainment gear in the past couple of years, you’ve probably noticed a new connector. This new connector is called HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface). Many people ignore this connector and go on using the cables that were already buried in the dust behind their home entertainment cabinet. It’s time to get to know HDMI.
HDMI was designed by Hollywood Lawyers. The first thing HDMI does is turn off. Yes, you read that right. When you turn on a device (TV, Blu-Ray, etc.) HDMI senses that something is happening and immediately turns off the video. The reason it turns off the video is to ensure that you don’t look at or transfer any pirated video.
It works with digital ‘keys’. Your TV senses that you hooked up a Blu-Ray. It asks the Blu-Ray for a key. The Blu-Ray gives a key to the TV. The TV holds the key for the duration of that session. Now both the TV and the Blu-Ray agree that they are going to work together to stamp out pirated video.
Maybe I should take a minute to describe Pirated Video. Put simply, a Pirated Video is video that has been illegally copied and/or distributed.
The process that does all this police work among your home entertainment devices is called HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection). You probably don’t need to know that, but it might someday make nice dinner conversation.
Aside from the copy protection, HDMI has some positives and some negatives. Since I’m that kind of person, let’s start with the positive.
HDMI is easy to connect. Just slide it in. You can’t get it wrong since it only fits one way.
It’s one cable. No need to connect a separate audio cable. It carries all of the audio with it (including surround sound).
It is prepared for future resolutions. Yes, resolutions will get better. Right now, the best televisions can show 1080 lines of resolution. That means that if you got a magnifying glass you could count the dots that make up the picture on your TV and find 1080 rows of dots. That seems like a lot! It IS a lot! Believe it or not, people want more. There are already some specialized fields of display technology that are using the new, higher resolution. All that to say, when that higher resolution comes to your home, it will probably still use a HDMI cable.
HDMI cables are expensive. The price is coming down, but if you go to the electronics store to get one, it will probably cost you around $30. The salesman will try to talk you in to one that is closer to $60 (in most cases, you don’t need the more expensive one).
The cables and connectors are a bit fragile. With the way most Blu-Ray players and TVs are built, the HDMI connector on the back of it is just held in the device by the soldered pins on the circuit board (sorry, didn’t mean to get that technical). If you have a thick heavy HDMI cable, or if space is too tight to allow the cable to bend around to where it’s going, you could damage that connector in the back of the device. I run in to this most often when the TV is hanging on the wall. Usually, it will have a mount that lets the viewer tilt the TV to a comfortable viewing angle. If the TV manufacturer placed the HDMI connector near the bottom of the TV and the HDMI connector points straight out the back, the HDMI cable will hit the wall when the TV is tilted down. Fortunately, most TV manufacturers have figured this out now and are putting their HDMI connectors pointing out to the side.
HDMI has some limits to its cable lengths. In most situations, this isn’t a problem. If you need to send video and audio over a HDMI cable that is longer than 25 feet, you can run in to problems. If you need a cable longer than 10 feet you should go ahead and spring for the more expensive cable. If your cable is too long or too cheap you’ll see horizontal sparkles that are most obvious over dark images. If you see this, replace your cable with a shorter or higher quality cable.
I mentioned the new higher resolutions that are being developed for HDMI. Some other things are also on the way.
Soon, movies will not play if HDMI is not installed. If they do play, they will only play in 480 resolution. That’s the resolution that TV was a few years ago. You’ll bring home a Blu-Ray, pop it in your Blu-Ray player and probably get low resolution, a message saying the movie cannot be played without a HDMI cable, or just a black screen. This goes for Pay-Per-View from your cable TV or digital satellite provider too.
Many providers were already enforcing this when HDMI was just a year or so old, but most backed down because of the outcry from the viewers who weren’t ready yet. They appear to be giving the public some time to make the transition to HDMI.
Another thing that is coming is the end of Component Video. Component Video is another way to connect devices for High Definition video. It can give you a picture that looks just as good as HDMI, but it can not do the High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection. Therefore, the Hollywood lawyers don’t like it. The Component Video Sunset is coming. That is the day that the manufacturers of TVs and other equipment will quit putting Component Video connectors on their devices.
Along with Component Video we will also say good-bye to S-Video and probably DVI. If you don’t know what those are then you won’t care when they’re gone.
So then what shall we do? Let’s jump on the train! If your television is less than three inches thick, then chances are you already have a HDMI input. If you don’t have a Blu-Ray, Roku Box, or AppleTV, go ahead and grab one. Let’s put HDMI to work!