'No version numbers' for HDMI cables

The group responsible for setting the HDMI series of standards for connecting digital video has said it will not allow cable vendors to sell cables as compatible with different versions of the core HDMI standard to try to reduce confusion among consumers.

Steve Venuti, president of HDMI Licensing, claimed 2009 is the year that “every digital TV that ships has an HDMI port. We expect that to be followed by other categories very quickly”. Next year, the group expects all DVD players to carry an HDMI port, followed by Blu-ray players in 2011. All the current devices all support version 1.3  of the HDMI interconnect. However, version 1.4 interfaces are expected to appear on products next year. In principle, they will require an upgraded cable to work as expected.

The latest version of the standards adds an audio return channel – to allow TVs with a built-in decoder to send audio to a home-theatre system – higher potential datarates to support 3D TV and an optional 100Mb/s ethernet link carried on previously unassigned wires. Venuti said there will need to be multiple cables sold in shops to deal with the options but added: “We are pushing for names rather than version numbers. We will make it not allowable to use version numbers in cable descriptions.

Cables will be separated into ‘standard’ and ‘high-speed’ forms, with ethernet versions of each also expected to be available, although Venuti said  that many vendors may choose to only sell cables tested to the high-speed specifications, once those compliance tests become available at the end of the month. Graphic icons will show what each cable is able to support.

“I honestly do not believe you will see many standard cables on sale. The difference in manufacturing cost between standard and high-speed is essentially nothing,” said Venuti.

“The audio back-channel will work in any older cable,” Venuti claimed. “You will also be able to get ethernet but it may not work very well.”

Dedicated ethernet-plus-HDMI cables shield the wires used to carry the network data whereas they will be unshielded in the original cables. Venuti said the main difference between standard and high-speed cables is the compliance test to which they are subjected rather than any physical difference in design. “It’s just down to how well you manufacture them,” said Venuti.

Cable proliferation will increase further as mobile devices begin to incorporate a micro-version of the HDMI connector.

“We find more small, portable devices that are becoming sources of digital content. We will see this on mobile phones too. But the Type-C would not fit. So we came up with the Type-D,” said

The Type-D connector is roughly the same size as a micro-USB port but puts 19 pins into the space on two rows. “We jammed a lot of technology into a very small package,” claimed Scott Sommers, group product manager for I/O products and standards at connector-maker Molex. “It’s the smallest commoditised I/O in the world.”

As with version 1.4 systems, Sommers said: “We expect to see products demonstrated at CES in January.”

Although phone makers may be reticent to put a second connector next to a micro-USB port on their devices, Sommers said: “This is not going to be on a free-with-service phone. This is going to be on higher-end smartphones where cost is not a primary issue.”

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