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- February 2005 -
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HDMI - Smaller Connector, Bigger Options
For the ultimate in image quality, everyone knows that digital connectivity blows away the old analog approach. Since much of today's latest content is created and stored digitally, it only makes sense that the signal's "digital fidelity" is preserved all the way to your display device. If routed properly with high quality cables, switching and distribution equipment, digital sources deliver the HIGHEST possible image quality.
We're getting closer and closer to the day where those three digital letters D-V-I become a household word, right? Well, not so fast.
One of the hottest new digital connectivity topics is the appearance of the new HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) connector on some of the latest plasmas, projectors and DVD players. HDMI development is overseen by the HDMI Working Group that includes: Sony, Hitachi, Silicon Image, Panasonic, Philips, Thomson, and Toshiba as members. However, Pioneer has been the manufacturerthat has become the catalyst for the availability of products in the HDMI arena. They've released numerous plasma displays with HDMI inputs and some of the first HDMI-enabled DVD players.
So what exactly is HDMI?
First, the connector for the HDMI standard is much smaller than the DVI connector. The connector more closely resembles a USB-type connector than a computer video (VGA, DVI, etc.) type connector. Second, the HDMI spec supports digital video over a wide range of resolutions. HDMI also fully incorporates HDCP (High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection), which is designed to minimize the piracy of digital content, but can limit connectivity to devices that are not HDCP compliant. Third, HDMI supports up to 8 channels of digital audio. And fourth, HDMI supports bi-directional remote control using the CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) protocol. What is truly powerful is that HDMI allows for interconnection of sources, receivers and displays, all using a single cable type for digital audio, video and control.
Though its connector size is smaller, HDMI has capabilities that go far beyond the scope of DVI. The most important of these capabilities is the ability to carry digital multi-channel audio in addition to digital video. The HDMI specifications allow for up to 5 Gbps bandwidth, which leaves it open to future technology expansion, as current uncompressed 1080i movies only require 2.2 Gbps for both multi-channel audio and video. Currently most HDMI applications only take advantage of the video capabilities, but soon enough, you'll see products from many HDMI adopters that use its high-bandwidth video AND audio capabilities.
The HDMI standard uses PCM digital audio which allows it to work with other PCM audio systems such as Toslink (optical) and digital coaxial commonly found on consumer audio receivers, satellite systems and set-top cable TV boxes.
Although HDMI contains virtually the same DVI signal that's been around since 1999 and still has the same signal routing and distribution distance limitations that beset all digital connectivity standards, the HDMI specification allows for signals to be driven up to 15 meters or approximately 50 feet.
So, if everything so far concerning HDMI is theoretically "better" than DVI, why would manufacturers continue to forecast DVI based products? There is one major reason - analog. DVI-I connections allow for both analog and digital video transmission across the connector or cable. A PC manufacturer can eliminate the VGA connector on the back panel and add a DVI-I connector - thus allowing both new flat-panel LCD monitors to be used on the same computer. By providing an adapter that goes from DVI-I to VGA, PC makers can satisfy those who live in the analog world and those who are embracing the digital technology that is available. With HDMI, it is all digital. At sometime in the future, everything will become digital-only (PCs and consumer video products), but for now it appears that DVI-I will be common on PCs and laptops with HDMI revolutionizing the consumer video market.
It is important for anyone investing in digital electronic devices to note that DVI and HDMI are adaptable standards. Cables and adapters are available for relatively inexpensive prices that will allow for connection of devices of these different standards. A DVI source can work fine with an HDMI display and an HDMI source will work fine with a DVI display, provided the DVI display is HDCP compatible. However, there are some limitations of connecting two devices of different standards. For example, with a DVI DVD player connected to an HDMI device, you will not have audio capabilities since the DVI standard does not support audio.
As you might imagine, there are many new HDMI products on the horizon from a variety of manufacturers. More and more DVD players now offer an HDMI output. Scientific Atlanta (SA), TiVo and Samsung now offer HD-DVRs with HDMI output connectors, and even Sony is rumored to be changing its DirecTV receiver from DVI to HDMI in the upcoming HD-400 model. Both Motorola and SA will include HDMI connectivity on their next-generation set-top boxes.
Looking ahead, the future seems bright for HDMI. According to a recent report from In-Stat/MDR, a high-tech market research firm, DVI-enabled devices will grow rapidly at a rate of 34.3% between 2003 and 2008. However, the annual growth rate of HDMI-enabled products will be a stratospheric 462.3% over the same period, though starting from a much lower base point. In-Stat/MDR's report states that HDMI in CE began in 2004, and should accelerate significantly in 2005 in part due to the backing of many large consumer electronics manufacturers.
DVIGear manufactures a complete range of high quality HDMI and DVI cables, from: Super High Resolution copper cables - for distances up to 20-30 meters, to long distance fiber optic cables - that allow for distances over 100 meters. DVIGear also manufactures a complete line of switchers, scalers, distribution amplifiers and repeaters for DVI and HDMI applications.
While HDMI clearly has the more robust feature set, whether you invest in either HDMI or DVI connectivity, you will have made a sure step into the future.
If you are interested in learning more about digital connectivity or have a special application request, please contact DVIGear for more information.