HDMI Cables: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners
If you have shopped for a Blu-ray player, PlayStation 3, HD-DVD, or an HDTV, it’s likely that you’ve already heard about HDMI. It may seem like it’s one of the many connections on your home-theater receivers or televisions, but HDMI is more than a wire on the back of your TV. It’s a group of specifications that allow communication between high-definition electronic devices.
Today, we’re going to learn what HDMI is all about.
What Is HDMI?
HDMI, which stands for High-definition Multimedia Interface, was initially launched in 2003 with the association of some of the top companies including Panasonic, Hitachi, Silicon Image, Sony, Philips, Toshiba, and RCA. It also earned the support of giant film production houses, such as Warner Bros., Disney, Fox, and Universal.
It is a set of guidelines used to transmit uncompressed video and uncompressed or compressed audio data from an HDMI-compatible source device, such as display controllers, to compliant devices, such as video projectors, computer monitors, and digital televisions. HDMI is also used to control other devices remotely and share an internet connection among devices.
How Does HDMI Work?
HDMI uses Transition Minimized Differential Signaling or TMDS to transmit data from one place to another. TMDS is a means of encoding the signal to secure it from being corrupted as it goes down the cable’s length. Here’s what will happen:
- The sending equipment (source), such as a DVD-player, will encode the signal to decrease the transitions between one (on) and zero (off). Consider each transition as an acute drop-off – as the signal moves, it will begin to diminish, weakening the signal.The encoding phase will help secure the signal quality by decreasing the chances for the signal to weaken.
- One of the HDMI cables in the coiled pair transports the signal itself. The other one carries the inverse version of the signal.
- The receiving equipment, like an HDTV, will decode the signal. It measures the difference between the signal and its inverse. It uses the data to compensate for any signal loss along the way.
Comparing the HDMI Versions: What Do Those Numbers Mean?
Over the years, different HDMI versions have been released. The physical differences of the HDMI versions are not as significant. However, their capacities have evolved. The most current version released to the market is the HDMI 2.1.
The HDMI 2.1 was announced in the early months of 2017. However, it wasn’t made accessible for licensing and application until November of that same year. The products that combine some of the features of this version became accessible in 2018. However, the full access to this version will be sometime in 2019 or 2020.
The HDMI 2.1 offers the following features:
- Frame Rate and Video Resolution Support
- Color Support
- Improved HDR Support: While Hybrid Log Gamma, HDR10, and Dolby Vision are compatible with HDMI 2.0a/b, HDMI 2.1 will support other HDR formats that may or may not be supported by the old versions.
- Audio Support: All surround sound files are supported. Also, it has eARC, which is an upgrade of the Audio Return Channel. It offers improved audio connection for surround sound formats between compatible soundbars, home theater receivers, and televisions.
- Gaming Support: It supports the Variable Refresh Rate (VRR). This will allow 3D graphics processor to show images at the time they are transmitted promoting better details during gameplay. This will include frame tearing, stutter, and the decrease or removal of lag.
- Cable Support: The bandwidth capacity has been increased to 48Gbps.
The HDMI 2.0b was introduced in March 2016. It extends HDR support to the Hybrid Log Gamma format, which must be used in 4K Ultra HD TV broadcasting systems, such as the ATSC 3.0.
The HDMI 2.0a was introduced in April 2015. It comes with an added feature to support High Dynamic Range (HDR) technologies, such as the Dolby Vision and the HDR10.
For the consumers, this means that the 4K Ultra HD TVs, when combined with HDR technologies, can display better dimensions of contrast and brightness. This allows colors to appear more realistic than the standard 4K Ultra HD TV.
In order to enjoy the benefits of HDR, the content needs to be encoded with the required HDR metadata. The encoded content will then be transported to the TV. If the content came from an external source, it will be transported through a compatible HDMI connection.
HDR content is accessible through the Ultra HD Blu-Ray Disc format and chooses the streaming providers.
The HDMI 2.0 was introduced in September 2013 with the following functions:
- Expanded Resolution: The HDMI 1.4/1.4a 4K resolution compatibility is expanded to allow either 50 or 60-hertz frame rates.
- Improved Audio File Support: It allows maximum support of 32 simultaneous audio channels which supports high-quality surround formats, such as the Auro 3D Audio.
- Double Video Streams: Lets you view two separate video streams on the same screen.
- Four Audio Streams: It can deliver a maximum of four independent audio streams to different listeners.
- Expanded HDMI-CEC Abilities
- Enhanced HDCP Copy Protection
The HDMI 1.4 was introduced in May 2009 with the following features:
- HDMI Ethernet Channel: This will add home network and internet connectivity to HDMI cables.
- Audio Return Channel (ARC)
- 3D Over HDMI: The HDMI 1.4 was designed to support the standards for 3D Blu-ray Disc. It has the scope to pass two simultaneous 1080p signals while using only one connection.
- 4K x 2K Resolution Support: It can support up to 4K resolution at a frame rate of 30-Hertz.
- Expanded Color Support for Digital Cameras: It enables better color duplication when digital-still images are displayed from HDMI-connected digital-still cameras.
- Micro-connector: The micro-connector was built for small devices, such as smartphones. The micro-connector can accommodate up to 1080p resolution.
- Automotive Connection System: It is designed to handle increased heat, noise, and vibration which can impact the audio and video reproduction quality.
HDMI 1.3/ HDMI 1.3a
The HDMI 1.3 series was introduced in June 2006 with several features including:
- Improved transfer speed and bandwidth: To keep up with HD-DVD and Blu-ray disc, this version added faster data and wider color support.
- Expanded resolution for resolutions between 1080p to 4k.cv/’zs’
- Improved audio support: It can support the DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby TrueHD, and Dolby Digital Plus surround-sound audio formats.
- Lip sync: To make up for the effects of video and audio processing time between the audio/video components and video displays.
- Mini-connector: The mini-connector was introduced to further accommodate compact source equipment, such as cameras and digital camcorders.
The HDMI 1.2 was introduced in August 2005. It can transmit SACD (Super Audio CD) audio signals in digital form from a compatible device to the receiver.
The HDMI 1.1 was introduced sometime in May 2004. Aside from transferring two-channel audio and video over a single port, it can also transfer DVD-audio, DTS, and Dolby Digital surround signals and up to 7.1 channels of PCM (Pulse-code modulation) audio.
The first HDMI version was introduced in 2002. It started by supporting the transfer of the digital video signal, which can either be standard or high-definition, with a two-channel audio signal over a single port, such as between a TV or projector and an HDMI-equipped DVD player.
For more details regarding the different HDMI versions, check this post. It provides clarifications on specific issues regarding the versions of HDMI.
The Different Features of HDMI
CEC or Consumer Electronics Control is an HDMI feature that lets you control a CEC-compatible device through a remote control. For example, you have a DVD-player connected to your smart TV through HDMI. You can control the playback on your player using your TV’s remote control instead of using the DVD player’s remote and vice-versa. This is useful as it helps you keep your room organized by using one remote control for everything.
ARC is the short term for Audio Return Channel. It’s the audio link that transmits audio from your smart TV to a loudspeaker. Before this feature, you require a different way to connect your TV and loudspeaker, such as using a coax cable.
With ARC, you will only use a single HDMI connection to transmit audio from your TV to the AV receiver or sound bar. This will simplify the setup and will decrease the number of cables required.
HDMI ETHERNET CHANNEL
You can now share an internet connection between connected devices through this feature. For example, you have an Xbox One connected to your TV, which is also connected to your WiFi. If your game needs some online updates, you can directly connect it to the TV’s internet connection, instead of manually connecting to your WiFi. This feature offers data link up to 100 Mbits per second, which is fast enough to complete those updates.
HIGH-BANDWIDTH DIGITAL CONTENT PRODUCTION (HDCP)
The main purpose of this feature is to protect digitally copyrighted content as it crosses from a particular device to your TV, which is usually through HDMI and DVI connections. This is needed by streaming companies, such as YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Amazon among others so people can stream content from the devices connected to their TVs.
The Different HDMI Connector and Cable Types
When we say HDMI, we are referring to the set of guidelines that combine both video and audio signals in a single digital interface that will be used in various audio-visual devices, such as DVD players and digital televisions (DTVs).
On the other hand, HDMI cables are responsible for transferring these signals between devices.
More so, HDMI connectors are those that you can find at the back of your TVs and Blu-ray players . They are quite similar to the USB ports on your computer, but a bit wider and taller.
Each time technology takes a step forward, new devices are invented. The standard model was made to decrease the connections needed on the back portion of a device. However, electronics now even have more connections. As a result, HDMI cables and connectors are being developed.
HDMI Cable Types
This is how an HDMI cable looks like:
There are various types of cables used. However, they don’t have any significant differences in the quality, except on how they are going to be used.
The HDMI specifications emphasize the requirements for performance features of the cables, not the specific materials, sizes, and manufacturing techniques. This means that you must only buy your HDMI cables from a quality and reliable manufacturer to ensure high-end performance.
Before the release of HDMI 1.4 standard in 2009, HDMI cables were branded according to the version they were created to support. However, after version 1.4, it was explicitly prohibited to include the version number on the label. This requirement was developed to simplify the process of product selection among consumers. According to Steve Venuti, the president of HDMI Licensing, LLC, phasing out the version numbers and standardizing the cable labeling is helpful for consumers to identify the proper products for their needs.
Instead, the HDMI cables now belong to one of the five different categories:Standard HDMI Cables
They were designed to accommodate the requirements of many home applications. These cables can transmit 1080i or 720p video including surrounding sounds.
Standard HDMI Cables With Ethernet
These cables accommodate the same needs as the standard HDMI cables. However, it has an added feature, which is the committed Ethernet channel for sharing internet connection between device networking and devices.
Standard HDMI Automotive Cables
This HDMI cable also meets the same requirements as those mentioned above, except that they are exclusively built for automotive applications.
High-speed HDMI Cables
This HDMI cable is built to handle high video resolutions of at least 1080p. It also includes advanced video technologies, such as 4K and 3D.
High-speed HDMI Cables With Ethernet
It accommodates the same requirements as the High-speed HDMI cable, except that it comes with a committed Ethernet channel for sharing of internet connection between device networking and devices.
HDMI Connector Types
Today, there are four different types of HDMI connectors. It would’ve been nice to have a one-connector-fits all, but that would be unrealistic. The original HDMI 1.0 had two connectors only; to meet the needs of the industry, the others have been added.
HDMI Type A – Standard
This connector was released with the original standard form and has been the chief support of the HDMI standard ever since. It has outside dimensions of 13.9mm x 4.45 mm, and the receptacle has inside dimensions of 14mm x 4.55mm.
HDMI Type B – Extended Pin
The HDMI version 1.0 made supplies for an extended 29-pin connector, which hasn’t been used yet. This type is a bit wider compared to the original type, with a 21.2 mm-wide shield.
HDMI Type C – Mini
The mini connector was created in HDMI version 3.0 to respond to the need for smaller connectors in portable devices. This HDMI connector type reduces to 11.2mm wide, around 60% of the original version.
HDMI Type D – Micro
The newest addition to the HDMI connector family is the micro type. It was released in version 1.4 to enable HD video connection for small electronic devices, such as cell phones. The micro connector is about 6.4mm wide, which is only 1/3 the width of the Type A connector.
Reading all the information above can be overwhelming. It could be a challenge trying to determine which cable you should buy for your system. The following are the details you must focus on to help you figure out which cable you need:
Where are you going to use the cable? Are you going to use it in your vehicle? Are you going to use it with 3D or other equipment that might hinder you from using the standard port? If so, it should be stated readily in the installation instructions for your device.
Do you require the Ethernet capacity in the port? If your device can’t use this feature, it will be a waste of money buying a port that has this capacity, although it would still work perfectly fine. This should also be stated in the installation instructions.
This will all depend on you and where you’re going to install it.
Make sure that you inspect both pieces of the equipment you’re trying to connect. There’s a chance that they may not use the same HDMI cables, particularly if you’re trying to connect portable equipment to a stagnant one.
Learning More About HDMI Cable Lengths
HDMI cables come in different specifications for standard, high-speed, premium high-speed, and ultra high-speed. In turn, these connectors come in different sizes including the standard, mini, and micro sizes for different device applications. They are prone to signal deterioration beyond specific lengths. A huge downside of HDMI cables, when compared to the traditional ones, is its relative inability to transport signals over long lengths without further support. Many of the cables are considered to keep their reliability at lengths up to fifty feet.
That is why it’s hard to find cables that are longer than twenty-five feet on the market. However, there are specially-designed cables that can extend up to a hundred feet. Also, you can use an HDMI extender to reestablish the signals for longer lengths of the connectors.
Using Long Cable Lengths
Like all HDMI-equipped components, the cables must also be tested to pass the Compliance Test Standards made by the HDMI Licensing Administration, Inc. They must successfully achieve a signal of a particular strength (Standard cable must generate a signal of 17 Mhz, while high-speed should generate a 340 Mhz signal) to meet the compliance.
The HDMI qualification doesn’t dictate the requirements for cable lengths. Various connectors can successfully deliver HDMI signals at different distances, depending on the construction and design quality.
Moreover, HDMI compliance will assume worst case scenarios, where they will test with components that have poorly-performing HDMI electronics.
This is the reason why you’ll see connectors in the market claiming they have successfully passed an HDMI signal at long lengths. This might be true if high-quality CE components are being used on both ends, but doesn’t mean it will work in every case. It’s always best to test all of the systems first before installation.
Active Boosters and Cables
When you use active devices to clean up and enhance the signal, it will double the range of the standard twisted-copper HDMI connector. The cable run (the route used by a cable on cable racks or another form of support from one end to another) that has up to 30 meters is the standard for this kind of solution. It may be released as a stand-alone signal management component.
For instance, a booster or repeater box, or combined into the production of the connector itself. These boxes are available in different configurations, typically incorporating both the equalization and booster functions, and may also function as switches or repeaters. A repeater box will look like this:
On the other hand, active cables enclose the signal-enhancement electronics in the connector itself, with chips enclosed in the cable housings. They’re unidirectional, using various modules at the send and receive ends of the connector. All of the technologies in this classification will need external power.
Beware of products that get power from the +5V power line. Even though they may work in specific applications, various components get different amounts of power from that line to connect.
HDMI Over Cat 5/ 6
Cable runs with a maximum length of 50 meters is attained by delivering the HDMI signal over a networking cable run of Cat 5/6, with the use of special adapters specifically designed for this function.
Cat 5 cables can handle a maximum of 10/100 Mbps at a 100 Mhz bandwidth, while Cat 6 cables can handle a maximum of 10 Gigabits of data with bandwidth not beyond 164 feet.
The active cable solutions mentioned above will incorporate equalization and booster electronics at both ends of the path and will need external power. Because of its tight production endurance, the Cat 6 connector is usually preferred over the Cat 5 in these functions.
HDMI Over Coax
This method is made of a transmitter-receiver pair that converts HDMI signals for transference over RGBS or RGBHV coaxial cables. The advantages of this solution are:
- An easy upgrade route for existing RGBS or RGBHV coaxial office and commercial installations.
- Can easily remove transmissions in the field
- Long reach, up to 300 ft. at 1080 resolutions
HDMI Over Fiber
The longest HDMI cable runs ever seen have been attained through the use of fiber-optic cables. They are less exposed to interference and attenuation compared to copper. Electrically speaking, a fiber-optic cable is the same as an active cable or a Cat 5/6 solution.
However, the main difference is on the quality of optical connection between the receiver and transmitter ports.
HDMI over fiber is a highly durable solution which is useful in cable runs of up to 100 meters and up.
Other Aspects of HDMI Cables
HDMI Input and Output
The inputs and outputs of HDMI are identical. These multi-pin connectors can be seen on the sides, back, and sometimes, in front of new electronic devices.
Not all electronics have inputs and outputs, so it’s essential that you know what you exactly need before buying.
An HDMI output will feed high-definition audio and video signals into an HDMI-equipped display through the HDMI inputs. For example, the back portion of your Apple TV has an HDMI output that links to the HDMI input on your home theater receiver.
Typically, HDMI inputs are found on AV receivers, projectors, and HDTVs. They can receive the signal that goes out from your game console, cable box, media streamer, or Blu-ray player and displays it.
Some devices only have a single HDMI input, while many have more. Whether you’re going to plug a device into a TV receiver, it’s vital that you have enough inputs to support all of your electronics.
Clearly, electronics distributors are aware that upgrades are bound to happen. If for instance, you have three inputs and four devices, consider getting an HDMI switch, which is a small box that can add more inputs to the combination.
Check If You Have HDMI
When you shop for audio and video products, such as a Blu-ray player and media streamer, read through the specs to check if they come with HDMI inputs and outputs, as well as how many they have.
If you already have the device, you can check at the back and sides. Many of the receivers have their HDMI ports at the back portion. However, some products, such as televisions, have their ports placed on the front area.
HDMI ports have unique shapes. Also, they are labeled “HDMI” in your devices. If you have multiple ports, they will be labeled as “HDMI1,” “HDMI2,” and so on.
How to Connect Your HDMI Cables
- Some devices come with their own HDMI cables. However, it’s most likely that you’re going to buy your connector separately.
- Once you already have the cable, all you have to do is run the cable from the HDMI output of your device to the HDMI input of your TV.
- If there’s a receiver, you’ll need to run different connectors for each component you want to connect into your receiver. This means that you’re going to need three different connectors for your Blu-ray player, media streamer, and cable box.
- Each of those devices should be connected using an HDMI wire in their corresponding output with the other ends of the wire into the receiver’s HDMI input.
- Then, you’ll need one wire from the receiver’s output connected to the TV’s HDMI input.
Remember, it’s essential that you have the right numbers of inputs and outputs. Meaning, if your TV only has a single HDMI port, you can’t connect a media streamer or cable box. This is the purpose of the receiver since it comes with several inputs. The receiver functions as a switch box to route the devices that you wish to use with your tv. Fortunately, new TV models now come with multiple HDMI inputs.
Check this simple demonstration from YouTube on how to connect your cable box into your TV using an HDMI cable properly.
Common Questions About HDMI Cables
There are a lot of HDMI adapters working on HDMI solutions that can extend the effective distance of the cable from the usual range of 10 m to longer lengths. Manufacturers have come up with different solutions including active cables, amplifiers, repeaters, fiber solutions, and Cat5/6.
All products of HDMI are required to be certified by the manufacturers as required by the HDMI Compliance Test Specification. But, there might be times when the cables marked with the HDMI logo become available even without being tested properly.
HDMI Licensing Administrator, Inc. will investigate these incidents to make sure that the HDMI logo is not abused in the market. It’s highly recommended that you only purchase your cables from reliable sellers.
HDMI Licensing Administrator, Inc. announced that the cables would undergo testing as standard and high-speed connectors.
- Category 1 or Standard HDMI connectors have been examined to perform speeds at 7.5Mhz or 2.25Gbps, which is equal to a 720p/1080i signal.
- Category 2 or High-speed HDMI connectors have been examined to perform speeds at 340Mhz or10.2Gbps. This is the highest bandwidth available on an HDMI connector that can handle 1080p signals successfully, including those at enhanced color depths and increased refresh rates.
- High-speed connectors can also support displays with higher resolutions, such as the WQXGA cinema monitors, which has a resolution of 2560×1600.
For now, there isn’t a way to achieve this. Any upgrade like this will require firmware and hardware upgrades. However, if there are such conversions, it will directly come from the manufacturer. It’s best to check with them.
Today, we notice more inputs and outputs on electronics as more people prefer to use HDMI. It’s common for people to have about three to four inputs on their HDTVs. Many of them have one input placed on the front or side. They are used to connect to game consoles or other devices, such as camcorders and digital cameras.
Think about how many displays and sources that might become parts of your home entertainment system. Make sure that the device you’re assessing has enough inputs and outputs to accommodate your needs long term.
Since it’s an upgraded version of DVI or the Digital Visual Interface, HDMI is compatible with it only. They use similar signals, and there’s no need to change anything while the two of them are connected.
Basically, HDMI is DVI with the following added features:
- Audio (up to eight channels uncompressed)
- Consumer Electronics Control (CEC)
- Smaller cable
- CEA-861B Frames
- To learn more about DVI, please check this page.
Yes, they have. One is Displayport, which is a digital display interface developed by VESA or the Video Electronics Standard Association. It’s not compatible with HDMI in any way, so it won’t work on HDMI cables.
Choosing the Appropriate HDMI Cable for Your Device
It doesn’t have to be complicated when you shop for HDMI cables. However, you need to remember some essential points.
Buy for the features, and not the HDMI versions
Some people have this wrong idea that they must be buying for a specific HDMI version. This should not be the case. Instead, you must buy according to the features you need and want, and be sure that they are supported in every HDMI device you’re going to use.
Choose HDMI products From Licensed HDMI Adopters
As mentioned above, most HDMI products are tested for quality and performance. Unfortunately, there are still scammers. You must learn how to distinguish legit products from the fake ones. Also, always purchase from reliable sources.
Don’t Purchase Thin Wires
Don’t choose cables that are thin, regardless of what brand they are. The conductor’s material and the shielding layer thickness are essential to the connector’s signal quality.
HDMI cables have four common types of wire gauge: 22AWG, 24AWG, 26AWG, and 28AWG. So, the bigger the number, the shorter the transmission distance is and the thinner the wire core.
Choose HDMI Cables That Have Pure Copper Conductors
The HDMI connector core material will play a significant role in the cable’s performance. HDMI connectors that adopt copper clad aluminum or copper clad steel conductor will have high-resistance and clear signal attenuation in the route of transmitting signal, particularly in long-distance transmissions.
Choose HDMI Cables With Gold-plated Connectors
The HDMI cables that you can be assured that have excellent quality are those that adopt the 24K gold-plated cables, which can successfully solve cable loose contact issues after repetitive plugging and unplugging, to ensure perfect images and prevent signal loss.
Check the HDMI Port and Cable Length
Don’t forget to inspect the HDMI connector type of your components before you purchase an HDMI cable. The standard connector width of HDMI is 15mm; for the mini HDMI connector, it’s 10.5mm; and for the micro HDMI connector, its 6mm.
Also, purchase the cables according to the actual length requirement. Make sure that you choose the one with the right length by measuring the cable upon purchasing.
Here’s an informative post about which HDMI cables you should buy. You can see there various HDMI connectors and their specifications.
The Bottom Line
Your choice of HDMI connector will vary on the HDMI components you have – they have to be compatible with the features you desire. For example, if you want a high-resolution 1080p video, your source device and your TV must have the capacities of 1080p displays.
If your TV can support 1080p resolution, but your source device, such as a DVD player, can only support 720p resolution, your TV will still display videos at 720p resolution even if your HDMI cable has high-speed.
So, before buying HDMI cables, check this guide first if you have everything covered, so as not to waste time in buying the wrong HDMI connectors.