HDMI Cable Buyer’s Guide

By: Oliver Amnuayphol
Home Theater Guru

If you’ve recently spent any time checking out HDTVs or other high-resolution home theater components, chances are you’ve heard some buzz about HDMI, and for good reason: Since its introduction in late 2003, HDMI has practically become the universal standard for bringing together today’s high-definition home theater components. Thanks to its one-connector solution for both audio and video signals, consumers now have a more simplified way of enjoying hi-res music and movies in the home. But like computers and software programs that evolve and grow, so too does the HDMI spec and its capabilities—meaning HDMI 1.3, the latest one-cable specification standard, allows you to extract more picture and sound quality from your home theater components than ever before. To understand how it does this, a little HDMI primer is in order.

The HDMI Standard—General Capabilities

The High Definition Multimedia interface, or HDMI, is the first all-digital interface standard that carries both audio and video in one cable. It features a bandwidth of 4Gbps and a native rate of 165 HZ, can pass most uncompressed audio and video (Dolby Digital, DTS, 1080p, etc.) and is capable of supporting color spaces for both HD and SD (standard definition, non-hi-def) formats. It also features “link intelligence,” so connected components will actively recognize one another for the best resolutions possible. So then: if standard HDMI is already the wonder connector, what makes version 1.3 so special? In absolute terms, not a bunch. But the few areas where it does offer an improvement are highly critical if you’re serious about home theater performance, especially for the long-haul. Read on to find out how HDMI 1.3 maximizes audio and video performance for today and tomorrow.

Support for Deep Color and 3D Televisions

An exiting development of HDMI 1.4 is the ability to carry Deep Color which, as its name implies, allows for more displayable colors than ever before. Now video can be displayed with 30-bit, 36-bit and 48-bit (RGB or YCbCr) color depths (up from 24 bit depths in previous versions), thereby increasing the range of viewable colors from millions to billions. Furthermore, HDMI 1.4 also allows for xvYCC” color space, which basically maximizes the range of reproducible colors to include all that are viewable by the human eye. Say goodbye to color-banding: the smoothest, most life-like picture you’ve ever seen awaits your viewing pleasure!  And if your TV and Blu-Ray player support it, HDMI 1.4 carries along a 3D signal, so put your glasses on and enjoy.

Digital Transmission of High-Quality, Lossless Multi-Channel Sound

Want to see what those fancy digital chipsets in you’re A/V receiver can really do? Give ‘em some love in the form of a bitstream Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio signal from your HDMI 1.4 spec’d Blu-ray or HD-DVD player; then sit back, listen, and be amazed. For the first time, HDMI 1.4 allows for a bitstream signal transfer of two previously unavailable, multi-channel, lossless surround formats: DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD—neither of which use any lossy compression algorithms or perceptual coding—a first for movie surround sound. Being the quality sound-oriented folks that we are here at Aperion, it should come as no surprise that we’re over the moon about this fantabulous bit of the 1.3 spec: now you can really hear your 7.1 set of Aperion speakers work their home theater magic in their entire splendor! Added bonus: No longer do you have to run 5.1 or 7.1 channels of analog interconnects from your hi-res disc player to get high resolution sound—be gone with ye, o’ tangled web of wires!

Future-Ready, Wide-Bandwidth Capabilities

By virtue of its 340 MHz, 10.2 Gbps bandwidth—more than twice the speed of first-generation HDMI—version 1.4 is ready to handle nearly every hi-res development for the immediate future. With some HD display sources already capable of 120-180 Hz refresh rates, having the extra bandwidth can only be a good thing. HDMI 1.4 could also support future integrated home entertainment and computing solutions which are sure to become an eventual reality. In short, HDMI 1.3 will be the best way to ensure your home theater rig has the capability of always delivering breathtaking pictures and lifelike sound.

Spotting HDMI 1.4

Now that you know what HDMI 1.4 is, how can you tell whether a specific component has it? If you’re out shopping for gear, chances are you won’t find an HDMI 1.4 emblem anywhere on the unit. Instead, focus on certain features that will clue you in, such as the aforementioned Deep Color, receivers with internal decoding of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, and the manufacturer’s product information. Once you’ve got that covered, arm yourself with the necessary cables, plug-in and rock out!

Further Reading

While we’ve covered the most important aspects of HDMI 1.4 here, this is by no means a comprehensive course. For all the ins and outs of HDMI from folks who drop some serious knowledge, expand your mind with some additional smarts and technical info from the following sources:

-Official HDMI website – Nothing better than getting the info straight from the source.

-Audioholic’s Display Formats and Technology Guide: “Understanding HDMI 1.3” – Great technical info and an HDMI development timeline.

-Wikipedia’s HDMI page – Lengthy but accurate page chock-full of info.

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