The Orientation: High-Definition Multimedia Interface

It’s been a while since my last Orientation, but we’ve all been traveling around for various events and such over the last month so it’s been a little hectic. To get things back on track, we’re going to talk about High-Definition Multimedia Interface, better known as HDMI. The Super Bowl is coming up as well as March Madness and some of you just got a brand new HDTV for the holidays so let’s try and get the best out of the whole deal. Sound good?

The HDMI interface was designed in ’02 and produced in ’03 by the HDMI Founders that include big shots like Hitachi, Philips, Sony, Toshiba, RCA, Silicon Image, and Panasonic. It didn’t really start to pick up a full head of steam until ’06 when CE products started to integrate the interface. This year’s CES made it pretty clear how big this interface is going to be in the coming months. Most of the CES show floor was based around HDTVs, or, at least, that’s the impression I got. Prices on HDTVs are going to go down this year simply because they’re getting easier and cheaper to manufacture. I think there will be quite a bit of competition from Chinese OEMs who are bringing cheaper HD sets to the market, which seem to be fairly decent. We also haven’t gotten to the point where things are going to be 100 percent wireless yet, but having HDMI-equipped gear is a step in the right direction. If anything it clears out most of the clutter.

Images courtesy of this guy.

So what exactly is HDMI? In a nutshell, it’s a single interface that transfers both digital audio and video that’s uncompressed from, let’s say, your set top box to your HDTV or game console to HDTV. To get simpler, it’s 19 separate cables wrapped into one with a bandwidth of 10.2Gbps. What that translates to is crisp and clear audio and video on a HDTV. Component cables suck and just make everything dirty because so much data is lost when going from analog to digital. Of course, HDMI supports video that’s not HD, too. It also supports up to eight digital audio channels, which certainly clears up the tangle of wires for you burgeoning theater buffs.

The current spec is 1.3 and what that entails is full, uncompressed 1080p content flowing through without a hitch. It supports 10-bit, 12-bit and 16-bit color depths, which just means you’ll see more colors the way they’re meant to be seen. The connector is also smaller than previous versions. The Samsung HMX10 I’ve been toting around the last month has an HDMI slot so I can hook it right up to the TV in my living room and watch all that 720p content I’ve been shooting over the last month. On the audio side of it, 1.3 supports lossless compressed digital audio formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio as well as Dolby Digital and DTS.

The only problem with HDMI at the moment falls on the shoulder of the manufacturers. A lot of CE products out on the market right now come with one HDMI port and that’s obviously not enough. So you’ll want to pick up a switcher of some sort like XtremeMac’s XtremeHD switcher. If you’re stuck with DVI then you can pick up a converter for that, too.

I think most everyone is aware of the capabilities of HDMI, but, like many, you’re probably more concerned with the price. Luckily for me, my Elite, even though it’s v1.2, came with an HDMI cable saving me a 100 bucks. But here’s the thing, if you’ve already thrown down the dough for an HDTV and home audio system, why wouldn’t you spend another couple hundred bucks on an HDMI cable? Yes, there are cheap HDMI cables readily available, but sometimes those are hit or miss. You’re not going to get anything else right now that’s going to give you the best visual/audio experience. You could wait a few months to see if prices go down, but you’ll only be torturing yourself. The easiest way to see a difference is to stop by your local Best Buy or electronics shop and ask for a demo. You’ll instantly see the difference and you won’t want to go back to your setup that’s using component cables. The Super Bowl is this weekend and chances are you have an HD set top box and, at the very least, a 720p TV. Don’t you want to see the Giants go down with crystal clear picture and audio?