New Connector Could Further Confuse DTV
by Jim Bray
It seems as if it were only yesterday that the best way to patch
an HDTV receiver to an HD-ready TV was component video.
Wait, it was only yesterday!
Well, almost. Early adopters of HDTV, which is only a few years
old, never imagined that within a couple of years their expensive TV's would
sport obsolete interfaces.
But along came DVI (Digital Visual Interface) to rub their noses in
the fact that they paid through the nose for early HDTV. And now that
DVI-equipped DVD players, set top boxes and HDTV-ready televisions are
in stores, you can make your purchases confident that that's it, interface-wise,
for the foreseeable future. Right?
Dream on! Yet another new digital interface is already rearing
its head, offering just what the HDTV market needs: more confusion!
More convenience, too, fortunately, at least in some ways.
This interface is called HDMI, for High Definition Multimedia
Interface, and it combines video and audio signals into a single digital
The interconnect manufacturers and sellers - must be
beside themselves with joy at the prospect...
On the other hand, since HDMI is supposed to work with A/V
receivers as well as the other components, one would think it'll be possible to
daisy chain all the components together, stringing a single cable
between each one. So you'd have one HDMI cable running from the
programming source to A/V receiver, and another one from the
receiver to the TV.
Of course this also means you can expect to see a whole new line
of A/V products sporting the HDMI interface much to the chagrin of
consumers who just bought or upgraded their home theatres under the impression
they'd be set for the foreseeable future.
Just like the early HDTV adopters with their
state-of-the-art component video inputs.
Do you see a pattern here? I wonder if (or when) consumers are
going to get fed up with all this jerking around at the hands of the industry
and just say to hell with it and stay home from the stores.
I hope it doesn't happen, even if only for the selfish reasons of
"tech pundit job security," but I couldn't blame people for voting with their
Anyway, HDMI uses the core technology of DVI as its jumping off
point, including the High Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) system.
HDCP is a copy protection system designed to prevent the unauthorized
recording or transmission of digital programming content transmitted via
DVI-compliant displays. It's a kiss up to Hollywood who, as usualy, want to
have their cake and eat it, too. They're freaked out at the possibility of
people making perfect digital copies of the crap (and the odd good thing) they
churn out, thus undermining their profit base.
Of course, if they just lowered retail prices they could fight
this supposed scourge by encouraging people to buy rather than pirate (and most
pirating supposedly isn't done by the ordinary consumer anyway), but that would
take vision and guts. But I digress...
While HDMI piggybacks on the DVI interface it not only adds
digital audio to the mix, it sports a smaller and more convenient USB-like
plug. It's also supposedly forward and backward compatible with DVI, which
makes one wonder what the point is other than consumer convenience of adding
audio to the single cable (which, of course, isn't a bad thing).
Still, I guess if you have to have such an interface, HDMI may be
If nothing else, it's versatile. The interface transmits all ATSC
HDTV standards including 1080p, which is good, and supports 8-channel digital
audio with bandwidth to spare for future enhancements and requirements.
The HDMI web site's FAQ (http://www.hdmi.org/what/faq.asp)
also lists these benefits:
1. Superior, uncompressed digital video
and audio quality"
2. Simple, user-friendly connector that replaces
the maze of cabling behind the entertainment center"
4. A popular interface enabling the transmission of
high-definition content. HDMI opens the floodgate of digital content from major
motion picture producers
That last sentence, of course, is the thinly veiled reference to
ensuring there's sufficient copy protection built into the system to mollify
the movie moguls.
HDMI's claimed bandwidth is up to five gigabytes per second,
which is pretty good. Today's HDTV broadcasts use much less than that, so HDMI
has considerable elbow room for whatever comes down the pipeline next. And HDMI
supposedly allows for far longer cables than DVI, which might not be a big deal
for normal consumer applications, but could come in handy in commercial or
larger home theater installations.
HDMI's development was overseen by the HDMI Working
Group and includes such usual suspects as Sony, Hitachi, Philips, and
Toshiba. Programming providers Fox and Universal, and program delivery
operators such as DirecTV, Dish Network, also have their fingerprints on
HDMI-saddled devices were first shown at the January 2003
Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and there were even more on hand at the
CEDIA (Consumer Electronics Design and Installation Association) show I
attended in September 2004 in Indianapolis. They're also starting to appear in
The part that bugs me is that the bottom line seems to be that
yet again the industry is muddying the waters, confusing and possibly
antagonizing consumers in its quest to balance technological efficiency with
Hollywood's obsession for control.
And no one seems to be asking the consumers' opinions.
At least HDMI does offer exquisite video quality - at least potentially (you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, after all).
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think