Why you need HDMI
As I work for a high-end custom integrator, I have a different relationship with HDMI at home and at work. At home, I love HDMI and Haven’t had a problem with it. At work, HDMI is a nightmare. I think it’s appropriate to discuss HDMI right now as it is a popular topic with a lot of confusion surrounding it.
So my first factoid concerning why you need HDMI: You don’t need HDMI. Component video is perfectly capable of handling the highest resolution video up to 1080p. Component, as a technology, is much more robust than HDMI and fits much more varied installation requirements. Some might argue the latest video codecs are only available via HDMI. That’s not true. All standalone Blu-ray Disc players output these codecs over analog cables to a surround receiver (if the player decodes the codec that is – but that’s the same caveat I give HDMI).
Just because you don’t need HDMI doesn’t mean you should avoid it.
HDMI is simple
As I mentioned earlier, I love HDMI at home. It works. Getting crisp high-def video and audio with one cable is great. It looks good, it’s fast to set up, and I don’t have a whole mess of cables behind the TV. The simple elegance of HDMI is its biggest draw.
At home you can have one cable from your HD DVD player, one cable from your satellite box, and one cable from your Playstation 3 into your A/V receiver and then one into your TV and that’s it. No more are you required to run bundles of cable from each device and deal with knots when trading out hardware.
With the new HDMI-CEC functionality a lot of new TVs and devices are coming with, it’s now possible to control your whole setup with one remote as well – without programming a thing!
HDMI is a pain
The problem with HDMI starts with its design. HDMI is the child of DVI, a perfectly capable interface for computer displays but poor for home installations. Component video is a coaxial cable with an analog RF signal. While this has problems of interference over long runs, the signal is usually still good at the display and you can cut the wire and terminate it wherever you want. DVI, on the other hand, is a twisted-pair cable with pre-terminated ends. The signal strength gets very weak in longer runs so the signal drops out. It’s also harder to pull a pre-terminated cable through a wall than a round cable and you can’t make custom lengths so you end up with short cables or long cables.
HDMI includes a couple more faults that DVI didn’t have. The DVI termination has screws giving a solid connection that can’t be shaken loose but HDMI’s connection is a slot which isn’t very firm at that. A heavier cable can wiggle its way out of an input on a TV, or in the back of a cabinet. HDMI also has increased the available bandwidth on the DVI cable to 10.2 Gbit/s which is nearly three times that of DVI causing longer runs to be even more prone to losing signal integrity.
At this stage in the game, HDMI is also difficult to distribute. Crestron, Control4 and other brands have Cat-5 distribution products that are very elegant and simple, but it’s based on the component technology. I’m sure in the next few years HDMI distribution will be standard, but right now we’re using very complicated means to distribute high-def disc players – and we’ll usually end up just using component from the player hoping the ICT flag is never turned on.
HDMI is the future
For most consumers, HDMI is the future. The compatibility problems we’ve seen in the past are practically non-existent now, and groups like SimplayHD are giving the industry confidence in the digital technology. Switches, distribution amps and even Cat-5 baluns are now available and practically every receiver and source device has HDMI. So what should you know about HDMI when you shop?
HDMI 1.3 is the latest specification available. The new features include:
- HDMI-CEC – I mentioned this previously.
- Deep Color & xvYCC – These refer to the increased color space used in modern displays. There are currently no sources supporting extended-gamut color space.
- Advanced Audio Codecs – With the advent of TrueHD and DTS:HD Master Audio, everyone is looking to get them. HDMI 1.3 is the easiest way to get it, and all it takes is a new receiver and Blu-ray and/or HD DVD player.
There were more additions, but these are the most important.
When you go to buy an HDMI cable, don’t be fooled by clever marketing gimmicks. Big, heavy cables aren’t necessary to prevent interference, it’s a twisted-pair cable. You don’t need gold connectors. And one of the most confusing – there is no such thing as an HDMI 1.3 cable. You can buy very inexpensive HDMI cables from some online retailers under $20 that work just as good as the $200 cable at Best Buy. If the cable works, you can’t improve the picture any more (unless you have spots on the screen, digitization or lines – but then the cable isn’t working). If you need long runs in your walls, we use active HDMI cables from Vizionware that work great. Lots of companies like Key Digital, Gefen and Tributaries also have HDMI extender amplifiers for use with passive HDMI cables for longer runs.