HDMI 1.4 Brings Ethernet, 3D, 4K Support To A/V

Remember the days when we weren't even sure if Sony's PlayStation 3 would rely on HDMI to output its high-definition content? Seems like an eternity ago, right? Today, HDMI is a home theater mainstay, and a practical guarantee on any piece of new A/V equipment. We're even seeing it pop up on lower-end notebooks these days, which certainly goes to show just how pervasive the format has become.

This week, the HDMI Licensing group announced the next logical step in the protocol, with HDMI 1.4 being revealed. Obviously, this takes over where HDMI 1.3 (the existing specification) left off, and we definitely have mixed feeling on the whole thing. For starters, we're thrilled to see such advancements delivered to HDMI. This new spec promises networking capabilities with Ethernet connectivity, not to mention an Audio Return Channel to enable upstream audio connections via the HDMI cable. Furthermore, it will support 3D over HDMI and 4K x 2K resolution. Finally, it'll support an array of expanded colors and even a microHDMI connector that is approximately 50% smaller than the size of the existing HDMI Mini Connector.

HDMI 1.4 is even tailored to automobiles...if you buy the right cable. You see, for as many things as HDMI 1.4 does right, it gets one thing very wrong. Consumers don't need any more confusion in their lives, especially when it comes to A/V. Instead of having just one cable that does it all (like HDMI 1.3), HDMI 1.4 will arrive in five different versions for varying needs. We appreciate the chance to choose, but in this industry, we can't see this going over well with unseasoned cable buyers.

The specification should be fully available to cable makers and equipment designers by the end of June, and while there's no time line given as to when we'll see HDMI 1.4 certified cords, we'd guess they'll be infiltrating Best Buy within the year. More details on the new features and five cable options are below.

The HDMI 1.4 specification will offer the following enhanced functionalities:

  • HDMI Ethernet Channel

The HDMI 1.4 specification will add a data channel to the HDMI cable and will enable high-speed bi-directional communication. Connected devices that include this feature will be able to send and receive data via 100 Mb/sec Ethernet, making them instantly ready for any IP-based application.

The HDMI Ethernet Channel will allow an Internet-enabled HDMI device to share its Internet connection with other HDMI devices without the need for a separate Ethernet cable. The new feature will also provide the connection platform to allow HDMI-enabled devices to share content between devices.

  • Audio Return Channel

The new specification will add an Audio Return Channel that will reduce the number of cables required to deliver audio upstream for processing and playback. In cases where HDTVs are directly receiving audio and video content, this new Audio Return Channel allows the HDTV to send the audio stream to the A/V receiver over the HDMI cable, eliminating the need for an extra cable.

  • 3D Over HDMI

The 1.4 version of the specification will define common 3D formats and resolutions for HDMI-enabled devices. The specification will standardize the input/output portion of the home 3D system and will specify up to dual-stream 1080p resolution.

  • 4K x 2K Resolution Support

The new specification will enable HDMI devices to support high-definition (HD) resolutions four times beyond the resolution of 1080p. Support for 4K x 2K will allow the HDMI interface to transmit content at the same resolution as many digital theaters. Formats supported include:

  • 3840x2160 24Hz/25Hz/30Hz
  • 4096x2160 24Hz
  • Expanded Support For Color Spaces

HDMI technology now supports color spaces designed specifically for digital still cameras. By supporting sYCC601, Adobe RGB and AdobeYCC601, HDMI-enabled display devices will be capable of reproducing more accurate life-like colors when connected to a digital still camera.

  • Micro HDMI Connector

The Micro HDMI Connector is a significantly smaller 19-pin connector that supports up to 1080p resolutions for portable devices. This new connector is approximately 50% smaller than the size of the existing HDMI Mini Connector.

  • Automotive Connection System

The Automotive Connection System is a cabling specification designed to be used as the basis for in-vehicle HD content distribution. The HDMI 1.4 specification will provide a solution designed to meet the rigors and environmental issues commonly found in automobiles, such as heat, vibration and noise. Using the Automotive Connection System, automobile manufactures will now have a viable solution for distributing HD content within the car.

Consumers will have a choice of the following HDMI cables:

  • Standard HDMI Cable – supports data rates up to 1080i/60;
  • High Speed HDMI Cable – supports data rates beyond 1080p, including Deep Color and all 3D formats of the new 1.4 specification;
  • Standard HDMI Cable with Ethernet – includes Ethernet connectivity;
  • High Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet – includes Ethernet connectivity;
  • Automotive HDMI Cable – allows the connection of external HDMI-enabled devices to an in-vehicle HDMI device.