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HDMI 1.4 now comes with Ethernet

New HDMI Spec Adds Ethernet

The newest release of the High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) specification could help cable operators expand multi-room PVR capability and use the set-top box as an Internet gateway.

Under version 1.4, HDMI cables will include an Ethernet channel allowing for bi-directional communication, IP-based applications and speeds greater than 100 Mbps.

“(You can) do it all over HDMI,” said SteveVenuti, president of HDMI Licensing. “One device (like a) television can be hooked up to the Internet. It acts as a hub.” HDMI Licensing is a subsidiary of Silicon Image, which, along with Hitachi, Panasonic, Philips, Sony, Toshiba and Thomson, developed the HDMI specification.

The set-top could also be the hub. “The (1.4) HDMI cable can carry Ethernet traffic and uncompressed content,” said Waheed Rasheed, Silicon Image director of marketing.

Multiple devices connected via HDMI cables will facilitate content sharing. “Content com(ing) in through a cable box (can) be displayed on the TV or pushed up through the PVR,” Venuti said.

In addition, HDMI 1.4 supports a variety of 3D formats, adds an audio return channel, supports 4k2k resolution, adds color spaces, and allows for real-time content recognition. “The TV (can) optimize the picture setting based on content type,” Venuti said. The 1.4 spec also covers a smaller connector for portable consumer electronics devices that is still a full 19-pin design.
Quick adoption

HDMI has been a “tremendous success story.” Projections indicate that close to 400 million HDMI compatible products will ship in 2009, bringing the total to 1 billion in the six years since the publication of the first spec. “There is not one HDTV manufactured that doesn’t have an HDMI output,” Venuti said.

ARRIS Telewire Supply has seen an increase in the number of do-it-yourselfers purchasing HDMI cables. Requests by cable operators for HDMI cables have jumped since last year from 20 percent to 50 percent of the total. “That is a big change considering the amount of legacy set-top boxes that are standard-def boxes,” said Tom Williams, ARRIS Telewire VP of marketing and business development.

HDMI cables being sold today are tested to a version of the 1.3 spec, released in June 2006. “They are developing specs two to three years ahead of the equipment coming out,” said Jerry Patton, ARRIS Telewire product line manager.

The reason for such a lead time is that HDMI is an interface. “Unless a device can pass data or some feature or functionality to another device, (they) will never build it in,” Venuti said. To take advantage of the Ethernet capabilities, customers will have to buy 1.4 HDMI cables.

The full spec is expected to be publicly available at http://www.hdmi.org by June 30.

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DisplayPort-HDMI converter offers PC connectivity for DTV

Parade Technologies, a developer of digital video interface products, has introduced DisplayPort to HDMI/DVI converter device PS161. The PS161 is an integrated circuit that includes a full DisplayPort receiver, a full HDMI/DVI transmitter, and an optional HDCP repeater. Used inside an HDMI-or DVI-enabled digital TV (DTV) or monitor, the PS161 provides a solution for adding a DisplayPort input for computer-to-TV connectivity.

DisplayPort has been adopted by the PC industry to succeed VGA and DVI as the primary display connector. Leading manufactures have already introduced new notebooks, PCs and graphics cards that provide DisplayPort outputs. Market research firm In-Stat anticipates that there will be more than 600 million DisplayPort-enabled products sold annually by 2012, according to Parade.

Within a DTV or monitor application, the PS161 is typically placed between the DisplayPort input and HDMI/DVI receiver circuit, which is often integrated into the DTV or monitor system chip. If an HDMI/DVI switch is used to support multiple inputs, the PS161 can be used on one of the switched inputs. The HDMI switch allows selection between multiple HDMI/DVI inputs, or the DisplayPort input via the PS161 DisplayPort to HDMI/DVI converter. The PS161 also supports DisplayPort audio, which is part of the DisplayPort standard. Along with video data, digital audio received at the PS161 DisplayPort input is retransmitted on the HDMI output.

The DisplayPort input of the PS161 accepts up to four main link lanes at up to 2.7 Gbit/sec per lane, the maximum configuration allowable by the current VESA DisplayPort standard. Parade’s proprietary advanced equalizer technology improves data transmission performance over long cables. Audio support includes up to eight channels of 24-bit LPCM data at a sample rate of 192kHz, and compressed audio according to IEC 60958. The HDMI/DVI output supports a maximum pixel clock of 165 MHz as allowed by the HDMI/DVI standard, with a color depth up to 12 bits per component for HDMI. The device is compliant with the latest HDMI 1.3a specification. An internal microcontroller, which handles the physical and link layer protocol conversion from DisplayPort format to HDMI/DVI format, is included so that no software changes are required in the host display.

The PS161 is currently sampling and is priced at US$3.75 in 100k volume. It comes in a 64-pin TQFP RoHS package.

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What’s So Great About LED-Backlit LCDs

 

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LED-backlit LCDs are where TV’s future and present meet—they’re the best LCDs you’ve ever seen, but they’re not as stunning as OLED displays, which will one day dominate all. They’re not cheap, but they’re not ludicrous either. Most importantly, they’re actually here.

I’ll CC You in the FL
With LCDs, it’s all about the backlighting. This defines contrast, brightness and other performance metrics. When you watch plasma TVs, OLED TVs or even old tube TVs, there’s light emanating from each pixel like it was a teeny tiny bulb. Not so with LCD—when you watch traditional LCD TV, you’re basically staring at one big lightbulb with a gel screen in front of it.

The typical old-school LCD backlighting tech is CCFL—a cold cathode fluorescent lamp—which is an array of the same kind of lights that make people’s lives miserable in offices around the world. The reason they aren’t the greatest as backlights for TV watching is that they light up the whole damn display. Because LCD is just a massive screen of tiny doors that open and close, light inevitably leaks through the closed doors, when they’re trying to show black, resulting in more of a glowy charcoal. Check out this shot from Home Theater mag to see what I mean:

ledpicshd2LEDs (light emitting diodes) are different from say, an old school incandescent bulb, which heats up a filament to generate light, in that they’re electroluminescent—electricity passes through a semiconductor and the movement of the electrons just lights it up. Instead of having one lightbulb in the bottom of the screen, shining up through all of the LCD pixels, you can have arrays of LEDs that shine through smaller portions of the LCD screen, leaving other portions in the dark, so to speak.

OLED—”organic light emitting diode”—is slightly different. Since the electroluminescent component is organic and not a chip, each point of light can be much tinier. That’s why an LED TV still needs the LCD screen in front: there’s no way to have a single LED per pixel unless the screen is huge, and mounted to the side of a building in Times Square. OLEDs don’t: HD OLED displays are made up of red, green and blue dots, no LCD panel required.

LED Is As LED Does
So, Samsung’s term “LED TV” is more accurately—and more commonly—described as an LED-backlit LCD. But not all LED displays are created equal.

ledpicshd3There are two major kinds of LED backlighting: Edge-lit and local dimming. Edge-lit displays are what they sound like—the LEDs are arranged in strips running along all four edges of the TV, like you can see in this gut shot from Cnet. A light guide directs the glowyness toward the center of the screen. The advantage of edge-lit displays is that they can get incredibly thin, are 40 percent more power-efficient than regular LCDs and are a bit cheaper than local-dimming TVs. But because they’re still shooting light indiscriminately across the LCD panel, they can’t pull off the black levels that a local dimming backlight setup can.

LED backlighting of the local dimming variety is how you build the best LCD TV in the world. It’s called local dimming, as you probably guessed, because there are a bunch of LED bulbs—hundreds in the Sony XBR8—arranged in a grid behind the screen. They can all be dark or brightly lit, or they can turn off individually or in clusters, making for the actual Dark Knight, rather than the Grayish Knight you’d see on many cheaper CCFL LCDs. Sets with local dimming are pricier than edge-lit—the Samsung’s local-dimming 46-incher started at $3,500, versus $2800 for one of their edge-lit models. They are thicker too.

What Color Is Your LED?
The color of the LEDs matters too, separating the best LED-backlit LCDs from the the merely great. Most LED sets just use white bulbs. The reason Sony’s XBR8 started out at $5,000—as much as Pioneer’s king-of-TVs Kuro—is because it uses tri-color LEDs in an RGB array. In each cluster, there are two green bulbs next to one red and one blue (greens aren’t as bright). The result is high contrast plus super clean, incredibly accurate color.

LED displays are getting cheaper, more quickly than originally expected, so we could see them go mainstream sooner. You already see the lower-end edge-lit LED tech used in mainstream stuff—MacBook Pro and Dell’s Mini 9 to name a couple. Which is a good thing, since the prophesied ascendancy of OLED in 2009 completely failed to happen. So we’ll have to make do with LED in the meantime. Just be sure to find out what kind when you’re buying.

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The Zune HD: a new hope for Microsoft?

Microsoft has announced the Zune HD, a multitouch device with a 16:9 OLED screen, a Web browser, and HD radio support. We dig through the details and talk with Microsoft about why the Zune “platform” will soon be as important as the Zune “device.”

mszunehd

Microsoft last night announced (officially) the Zune HD, even though the device won’t be available for several months. While the product itself looks nice, it’s the “platform” behind it that is finally coming to fruition and may be Microsoft’s best chance at capturing a bigger slice of those home entertainment dollars.

We spoke with Brian Seitz, the group marketing manager for Zune, about the new product and Microsoft’s larger strategic ambitions. Here’s everything you need to know:

Zune questions

Old accessories: Yes, accessories for other Zune models will interface with the Zune HD, which features the same connector plug.

Multitouch: Yes, Zune HD has it.

Web browser: A full Web browser will be included. It will use now-standard multitouch gestures like double-tap, pinch, and stretch. Seitz told us it would be a “cool browser for the finger.” My digits are tingling already.

(Update: Microsoft tells us it is a “version of IE 6 that has been highly customized and optimized for multitouch.” As for an e-mail client… this is it. No app is available, but “common e-mail services like Hotmail will be accessible via the browser.”)

Flash: The Zune HD Web browser is still in early builds, but Seitz says that Flash support doesn’t look likely. “From what I’ve seen, no,” he said, but that might still change before release.

HD: Zune HD has an OLED 16:9 touchscreen with a resolution of 480×272. That sounds sweet, but it’s not high-def. The “HD” in the product name refers to support for HD radio on the one hand and, on the other, support for outputting HD video to TVs over an HDMI connector.

HD radio: Past Zune research has shown that owners used the radio feature an average of twice a week, so Microsoft hopes to capitalize on that popularity by adding support for HD radio. Like digital TV, HD radio is a digital format that supports multicasting—one station can now offer multiple subchannels. With few portable HD radio receivers on the market, Microsoft hopes this will set it apart.

HD video: If you thought getting that HD video (720p max) off the device and onto a TV would be cheap and easy, you’re half right. The HDMI connection needed to do this will only interface with an external Zune dock, which is sold separately (and if history is any indication, at outlandish prices).

Internet connection: As with past Zunes, the Zune HD features a WiFi connection but no cellular radio. The decision positions the device quite obviously against Apple’s iPod touch, though Seitz makes it clear Microsoft is “not trying to play copycat.”

Original Xbox games: Some early rumors around the device suggested that it could play 3D games from the original Xbox. Microsoft has “nothing to announce” about games at this time, but clearly has plenty of ideas in the works. More details will be forthcoming over the summer.

An app store: One of the touch’s key features is Apple’s App Store. Microsoft sounds ready to launch something similar for games, but what about other applications? Seitz says that the company looked at the top 20 apps people used on the touch and found that most were games. Without a cell radio and constant Internet, this makes sense. The Zune team also wants to avoid duplicating work being done by the Windows Mobile team, and it doesn’t make sense to have two separate app stores.

Zune death: Are the smaller flash Zunes going away? Seitz says that no final decisions have been made beyond the fact that Microsoft wants to focus more on its next-gen product. Reading between the lines, though, if you want one of the smaller flash Zunes, picking one up this summer is probably a good idea.

Xbox Live: The Xbox Live Video Marketplace will be replaced by some kind of “Zune Marketplace” later this year. Microsoft has spent the last year (finally) doing some heavy lifting on the backend with the goal of combining its sprawling services. While specifics haven’t yet been announced, the company does want to move to a model where purchased content resides in the “cloud” and can then be viewed on any device (Xbox, Zune, Windows PC). This would be a welcome and long-overdue change to the current, more limited approach.

Storage space: Not yet announced.

The Zune as “platform”

Beyond the spec sheet, the bigger news is that Microsoft has thrown in the towel on its original Zune strategy. The goal was to pump out devices in different form factors while keeping the hardware features the same; that way, every Zune would have the same features and older devices could get feature upgrades via firmware.

That approach has ended. The Zune HD adds HD radio, a new screen in a different aspect ratio, and multitouch. The older devices were nice but never gained much traction in the marketplace, and Microsoft is shaking things up with a serious hardware refresh.

The company has also said for years that Zune would be a “platform” and not just a device, and it finally looks set to deliver on that vision. It has all the tools to be compelling—Windows, Windows Mobile, Xbox, the Zune player, and content partnerships. In a utopian future, the prospect of buying a TV episode through the 360, then watching it on a PC, Zune HD, or WinMo cellphone is powerful.

Right now, a “Zune pass” for music doesn’t allow streaming directly to a WinMo phones or the 360, while Netflix support is only available on the 360 and Windows, but not the Zune or WinMo. When every service comes to every screen, the Zune hardware truly will be just one piece in a huge ecosystem, but it will gain tremendous value from all that integration.

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Sapphire preps Radeon HD 4890 Vapor-X

Sapphire looks set to roll out another derivative of AMD’s ATI Radeon HD 4890, as a picture of its Vapor-X edition has made its way online.

The card, pictured below, slots in below the existing range-topping ATOMIC edition and is believed to be stock-clocked at 850MHz for the core and an effective 3,900MHz for its 1GB of GDDR5 memory.

radeon4890hd

We’d expect decent overclocking headroom as a result of Sapphire’s custom Vapor-X cooler, and the card’s also equipped with a wide array of connectivity options. Moving away from the standard dual-DVI outputs found on most Radeon HD 4890 cards – including Sapphire’s own ATOMIC edition – the Vapor-X will feature DVI, VGA, HDMI and DisplayPort, too.

There’s no word on availability or pricing just yet, though.

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Wireless HDMI by Cablesson

mg1Wireless HDMI

The world of HiDef is fab but as someone who has just had the builders in to open the ceiling to run an HDMI cable up to our projector, it can be frustrating too.  If you’re in a similar position and want a more convenient solution then Cablesson may have the answer with their new i90.  It sends an uncompressed HD signal wirelessly from up to four connected HD devices to your HDTV or projector.

 

Wireless HDMI was announced by various suppliers a few years ago but, until now, very little had happened in practice. Or, to be more specific, the products that were introduced did not meet up to quality expectations or, until now, they have not actually been ready for delivery. With the introduction of the i90 HDMI, Cablesson has proved that high quality, wireless HDMI really is possible and it is available now.

Flexible positioning of your TV screen or projector – Enthusiasm about a beautiful TV mounted on the wall as if it was a painting is slightly diminished when you realise that the cabling is difficult to hide. Also, awards for beauty are not generally forthcoming for the cables that run to your projector on the ceiling. The Cablesson i90 HDMI means that this issue can be consigned to history. You mount the receiver, simply and invisibly, on the wall behind your TV or on the ceiling next to your projector. An ingenious system allows you to continue to operate the connected HD devices even though they are installed out of sight.

Uncompressed – This wireless HD signal bridges a distance of up to 20 metres to your HDTV or projector, using the i90 HDMI. The Cablesson i90 HDMI sends the HD signal without first compressing it. The wirelessly received signal is sent on without any delay (perfect for game consoles) and has exactly the same properties as a signal that is sent via a high quality HDMI cable.

 

 

Four devices – The i90 HDMI comprises two beautifully styled cabinets that serve as transmitter and receiver respectively. The receiver is connected to the TV, while the transmitter can be connected to a maximum of four (HD) devices. This includes Blu-ray® players, digital video recorders (DVRs), HD set–top boxes, game consoles (Wii, PS3™ or Xbox® 360), Media Centre PCs or standard DVD players/recorders. Switching between these devices is simply done by pressing a button on the remote control provided. An important advantage of the i90 HDMI is that it is no longer necessary to constantly switch the cables from your HD devices to the HDTV or the projector.

HDCP – The Cablesson i90 HDMI supports all digital resolutions, including 480p, 576p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p True Cinema. The product 100% satisfies the HDCP standard. High-bandwidth Digital Copy Protection (HDCP) is a system for preventing piracy. Decoders with HDCP only provide a digital signal to equipment that is also supported by HDCP, such as the Cablesson i90 HDMI.

Price and availability – The Cablesson i90 HDMI has a recommended retail price of 499,– Pounds incl. VAT and is available for immediate delivery.”

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Cypress releases CYP DCT-4 Analogue to Digital Audio Converter

May 15, 2009 — Oxford, UK. – CYP., Cypress Technology is highly recognised as a pioneer within the AV industry and offers an extensive AV product range that is now widely used throughout the AV industry internationally. The  CYP DCT-4 Analogue to Digital Audio Converter helps to convert left/right stereo audio to coaxial and toslink outputs simultaneously.

The DCT-4 convertor Analogue to Digital Audio and Supports uncompressed 2-channel LPC digital audio signal output
Toslink output cables up to 5 meters without signal loss. The unit includes support for electromagnetic noise-free transmission. It is one the most easy to use units we have seen in the market as yet.

Fore more information on  CYP DCT-4 Analogue to Digital Audio Converter  click here

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Source announces Warpia wireless USB-to-HDMI adapter

We’ve been waiting for an inexpensive wireless USB-to-HDMI solution for what seems like forever now, and it sounds like we’ll finally have some options soon: Source R&D has just announced that it’s going to be shipping the Warpia Wireless USB Adapter set at the end of May for an estimated $129-$149.

Just like the Atlona AT-HDAiR, the Warpia kit is just a rebranded OEM unit from Wisair, so most of the same caveats apply: max resolution is 1400 x 1050, range is about 30 feet, and HDMI and VGA are the only output options. Still, we can’t really think of a better way to do some quick’n'dirty Hulu watching, so we’ll be on the hunt for one of these soon — keep an eye out.

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DVI vs. HDMI vs. Component Video — Which is Better?

As DVI and HDMI connections become more and more widely used, we are often asked: which is better, DVI (or HDMI) or component video? The answer, as it happens, is not cut-and-dried.

First, to clear away one element that can be confusing: DVI and HDMI are exactly the same as one another, image-quality-wise. The principal differences are that HDMI carries audio as well as video, and uses a different type of connector, but both use the same encoding scheme, and that’s why a DVI source can be connected to an HDMI monitor, or vice versa, with a DVI/HDMI cable, with no intervening converter box.

The upshot of this article–in case you’re not inclined to read all the details–is that it’s very hard to predict whether a digital DVI or HDMI connection will produce a better or worse image than an analog component video connection. There will often be significant differences between the digital and the analog signals, but those differences are not inherent in the connection type and instead depend upon the characteristics of the source device (e.g., your DVD player) and the display device (e.g., your TV set). Why that is, however, requires a bit more discussion.

What are DVI, HDMI and Component Video?

DVI/HDMI and Component Video are all video standards which support a variety of resolutions, but which deliver the signal from the source to the display in very different ways. The principal important difference is that DVI/HDMI deliver the signal in a digital format, much the same way that a file is delivered from one computer to another along a network, while Component Video is an analog format, delivering the signal not as a bitstream, but as a set of continuously varying voltages representing (albeit indirectly, as we’ll get to in a moment) the red, green and blue components of the signal.

Both DVI/HDMI and Component Video deliver signals as discrete red, green, and blue color components, together with sync information which allows the display to determine when a new line, or a new frame, begins. The DVI/HDMI standard delivers these along three data channels in a format called T.M.D.S., which stands for “Transmission Minimized Differential Signaling.” Big words aside, the T.M.D.S. format basically involves a blue channel to which horizontal and vertical sync are added, and separate green and red channels.

Component Video is delivered, similarly, with the color information split up three ways. However, component video uses a “color-difference” type signal, which consists of Luminance (the “Y”, or “green,” channel, representing the total brightness of the image), Red Minus Luminance (the “Pr,” or “Red,” channel), and Blue Minus Luminance (the “Pb,” or “Blue,” channel). The sync pulses for both horizontal and vertical are delivered on the Y channel. The display calculates the values of red, green and blue from the Y, Pb, and Pr signals.

Both signal types, then, are fundamentally quite similar; they break up the image in similar ways, and deliver the same type of information to the display, albeit in different forms. How they differ, as we’ll see, will depend to a great extent upon the particular characteristics of the source and display devices, and can depend upon cabling as well.

Isn’t Digital Just Better?

It is often supposed by writers on this subject that “digital is better.” Digital signal transfer, it is assumed, is error-free, while analog signals are always subject to some amount of degradation and information loss. There is an element of truth to this argument, but it tends to fly in the face of real-world considerations. First, there is no reason why any perceptible degradation of an analog component video signal should occur even over rather substantial distances; the maximum runs in home theater installations do not present a challenge for analog cabling built to professional standards. Second, it is a flawed assumption to suppose that digital signal handling is always error-free. DVI and HDMI signals aren’t subject to error correction; once information is lost, it’s lost for good. That is not a consideration with well-made cable over short distances, but can easily become a factor at distance.

So What Does Determine Image Quality?

Video doesn’t just translate directly from source material to displays, for a variety of reasons. Very few displays operate at the native resolutions of common source material, so when you’re viewing material in 480p, 720p, or 1080i, there is, of necessity, some scaling going on. Meanwhile, the signals representing colors have to be accurately rendered, which is dependent on black level and “delta,” the relationship between signal level and actual as-rendered color level. Original signal formats don’t correspond well to display hardware; for example, DVD recordings have 480 lines, but non-square pixels. What all of this means is that there is signal processing to go on along the signal chain.

The argument often made for the DVI or HDMI signal formats is the “pure digital” argument–that by taking a digital recording, such as a DVD or a digital satellite signal, and rendering it straight into digital form as a DVI or HDMI signal, and then delivering that digital signal straight to the display, there is a sort of a perfect no-loss-and-no-alteration-of-information signal chain. If the display itself is a native digital display (e.g. an LCD or Plasma display), the argument goes, the signal never has to undergo digital-to-analog conversion and therefore is less altered along the way.

That might be true, were it not for the fact that digital signals are encoded in different ways and have to be converted, and that these signals have to be scaled and processed to be displayed. Consequently, there are always conversions going on, and these conversions aren’t always easy going. “Digital to digital” conversion is no more a guarantee of signal quality than “digital to analog,” and in practice may be substantially worse. Whether it’s better or worse will depend upon the circuitry involved–and that is something which isn’t usually practical to figure out. As a general rule, with consumer equipment, one simply doesn’t know how signals are processed, and one doesn’t know how that processing varies by input. Analog and digital inputs must either be scaled through separate circuits, or one must be converted to the other to use the same scaler. How is that done? In general, you won’t find an answer to that anywhere in your instruction manual, and even if you did, it’d be hard to judge which is the better scaler without viewing the actual video output. It’s fair to say, in general, that even in very high-end consumer gear, the quality of circuits for signal processing and scaling is quite variable.

Additionally, it’s not uncommon to find that the display characteristics of different inputs have been set up differently. Black level, for example, may vary considerably from the digital to the analog inputs, and depending on how sophisticated your setup options on your display are, that may not be an easy thing to recalibrate.

The Role of Cable and Connection Quality

Cable quality, in general, should not be a significant factor in the DVI/HDMI versus Component Video comparison, as long as the cables in question are of high quality. There are, however, ways in which cable quality issues can come into play.

Analog component video is an extremely robust signal type; we have had our customers run analog component, without any need for boosters, relays or other special equipment, up to 200 feet without any signal quality issues at all. However, at long lengths, cable quality can be a consideration–in particular, impedance needs to be strictly controlled to a tight tolerance (ideally, 75 +/- 1.5 ohms) to prevent problems with signal reflection which can cause ghosting or ringing.

DVI and HDMI, unfortunately, are not so robust. The problem here is the same as the virtue of analog component: tight control over impedance. When the professional video industry went to digital signals, it settled upon a standard–SDI, serial digital video–which was designed to be run in coaxial cables, where impedance can be controlled very tightly, and consequently, uncompressed, full-blown HD signals can be run hundreds of feet with no loss of information in SDI. For reasons known only to the designers of the DVI and HDMI standards, this very sound design principle was ignored; instead of coaxial cable, the DVI and HDMI signals are run balanced, through twisted-pair cable. The best twisted pair cables control impedance to about +/- 10%. When a digital signal is run through a cable, the edges of the bits (represented by sudden transitions in voltage) round off, and the rounding increases dramatically with distance. Meanwhile, poor control over impedance results in signal reflections–portions of the signal bounce off of the display end of the line, propagate back down the cable, and return, interfering with later information in the same bitstream. At some point, the data become unrecoverable, and with no error correction available, there’s no way to restore the lost information.

DVI and HDMI connections, for this reason, are subject to the “digital cliff” phenomenon. Up to some length, a DVI or HDMI cable will perform just fine; the rounding and reflections will not compromise the ability of the display device to reconstruct the original bitstream, and no information will be lost. As we make the cable longer and longer, the difficulty of reconstructing the bitstream increases. At some point, unrecoverable bit errors start to occur; these are colloquially described in the home theater community as “sparklies,” because the bit errors manifest themselves as pixel dropouts which make the image sparkle. If we make the cable just a bit longer, so much information is lost that the display becomes unable to reconstitute enough information to even render an image; the bitstream has fallen off the digital cliff, so called because of the abruptness of the failure. A cable design that works perfectly at 20 feet may get “sparkly” at 25, and stop working entirely at 30.

In practice, it’s very hard to say when a DVI or HDMI signal will fail. We have found well-made DVI cables to be quite reliable up to 50 feet, but HDMI cable, with its smaller profile, is a bit more of a puzzle. Because the ability to reconstitute the bitstream varies depending on the quality of the circuitry in the source and display devices, it’s not uncommon for a cable to work fine at 30, 40, or 50 feet on one source/display combination, and not work at all on another.

The Upshot: It Depends

So, which is better, DVI or component? HDMI or component? The answer–unsatisfying, perhaps, but true–is that it depends. It depends upon your source and display devices, and there’s no good way, in principle, to say in advance whether the digital or the analog connection will render a better picture. You may even find, say, that your DVD player looks better through its DVI or HDMI output, while your satellite or cable box looks better through its component output, on the same display. In this case, there’s no real substitute for simply plugging it in and giving it a try both ways.

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New HDMI standard brings Internet to TV

Awhile ago I said all HDMI cables are basically created equal, regardless of price. That’s about to change.

HDMI Licensing, the body responsible for licensing the High-Definition Multimedia Interface specification (widely known as HDMI) announced Wednesday the features that will be incorporated in the upcoming HDMI 1.4 specification.

Among other advancements, the latest HDMI specification will offer networking capabilities with Ethernet connectivity and will add an Audio Return Channel to enable upstream audio connections via the HDMI cable.

According to HDMI Licensing, the detailed HDMI specification 1.4 will be available for download on its Web site no later than June 30.

Personally, I’m most interested in the networking capability, which is said to cap at 100Mbps; not as fast as Gigabit Ethernet but still plenty fast for virtually any IP application.

It’s safe to say that in the very near future, you’ll be able to conveniently surf the Internet, as well as check e-mail and instant messaging with your TV. It also means your entertainment corner will be less cluttered, as this spares you from the need for a separate Ethernet cable, currently a must if you have a setup that allows for Internet access from your TV.

There’s a downside, however: the new standard will require a new HDMI cable. Existing HDMI cables, including the Monster Cables that you paid hundreds of dollars for, will not be compatible with the new standard as they are designed to deliver sound and graphics only.

Even if the existing cable could handle the new standard, in many cases you will still need to get a new cable as HDMI 1.4 also comes with a new connector called Micro HDMI, which is about 50 percent smaller than the current connector. This new connector will be used in portable devices and support resolution up to 1080p.

New devices that support HDMI 1.4 are expected to be available by the end of the year.

—— By Dong Ngo

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