HDMI 1.4 with Ethernet is Coming
IP-enabled A/V products no longer need an Ethernet cable to connect; HDMI 1.4 does it all, including two-way audio.
May 28, 2009 by Julie Jacobson

HDMI 1.4 delivers two big features that earlier specs lacked: data and bi-directional audio. The new capabilities could eliminate the need for extra Ethernet and audio cables—a single HDMI can do the trick.

Two-Way Data
With transfer speeds of up to 100 Mbps, the HDMI Ethernet Channel (HEC) will enable countless IP-based applications that previously required a dedicated Cat 5 cable connected to the home network.

Now, instead of running Ethernet to every component in an A/V stack, only one device needs to be connected to the network via Cat 5+. The rest of the devices get their IP connectivity over HDMI.

Internet connection sharing is one of the “clear” applications that will come out of the new feature set, according to Steve Venuti, president of HDMI Licensing LLC. “But I honestly think we don’t know all of the applications people will come up with.”

The HDMI group itself is not creating applications for the Ethernet channel. The functionality will come from UPnP and other providers, Venuti says. “This is pure pipe.”

Research firm Instat reports that 24 percent of all consumer electronic devices will require Ethernet in 2009. All game consoles and digital media adapters will be networked in 2009, along with 80 percent of Blu-ray devices and 72 percent of PVR/DVRs, Instat estimates.

Assuming all of those devices are also connected via HDMI to other components, consumers could eliminate that many Cat 5 cables from the clutter.

HEC requires much more than a firmware update or other quick fix. The solution will need to be implemented in HDMI cables as well as the components.

The architecture of the cable changes little. “The difference in cable is not visible to the naked eye,” Venuti says. “but you will need a cable that says ‘high-speed with Ethernet.’”

Upgrading devices to HDMI 1.4 will take some effort. Manufacturers will need a new chip and possibly some kind of Ethernet switching mechanism.

The group anticipates that some TV and set-top box manufacturers may “go all out,” Venuti says, possibly with built-in processors and software to stream content to and from other sources.

Two-Way Audio
As long as you’re losing an Ethernet cable, why not drop the audio cable as well? HDMI 1.4 provides for an audio return channel (ARC) that enables upstream audio over HDMI.

“What if you have a built-in tuner at the TV?” Venuti says. “How would you get the audio back to the receiver? You would need a separate cable like an S/PDIF.”

Not anymore. HDMI 1.4 can handle the audio both upstream and downstream … along with HD video and two-way data.

HDMI 1.4 Roll-out
The spec will be available for download by the end of June and and we’ll probably see some compatible products in time for CES in January 2010.

In addition to Ethernet and upstream audio, HDMI 1.4 supports:

  • HD resolutions up to 4096x2160
  • 3D up to 1080p definition
  • “Real-Time Content Recognition” (adjusting video settings automatically based on connected device)
  • Additional color spaces, especially for digital still cameras
  • Micro connectors
  • Automotive connectors

What a development! HDMI 1.3 didn’t bring anything discernible to the everyday TV viewer.

“1.3 was more about bandwidth, more of the same,” says Venuti. “This, I think, is a whole new paradigm. It gives us a whole new ability to do things we’ve never done before.

Click here to read the official HDMI 1.4 press release.

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Julie Jacobson - Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson is co-founder of EH Publishing and currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro, mostly in the areas of home automation, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. She majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. Julie is a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player with the scars to prove it. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

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