The letters HDMI are instantly recognizable after spending any time looking for TVs, computers, or entertainment centers. While most casual shoppers understand the code has something to do with video, the HDMI cable frequently becomes a nebulous mystery — and often a far too expensive purchase.
Since an HDMI connection is one of the most important steps on the path to the highest quality picture and sound, learning what this tech means is vital to good buying decisions. In today’s high-definition, integrated electronics age, the definition and performance factors behind HDMI should be common knowledge.
What Does HDMI Mean?
HDMI stands for “High-Definition Multimedia Interface.” It is a specific connection protocol that helps deliver High Definition images, sounds and videos between devices. You would be hard pressed to find an electronics device these days that does not use an HDMI port for delivering or receiving HD quality content. Most tablets and mobile devices skip on HDMI compatibility, but most modern TVs, desktop computers, and entertainment systems make regular use of them.
The most common use of the HDMI cable is transmitting video and sound from a receiver or DVR to a compatible TV. This allows HDTVs to showcase the 1080p, 60 frames-per-second movie quality that so many have grown used to. Without the HDMI protocol, this quality would be far more complicated to obtain.
The HDMI Cable
HDMI cables are simple products. They look like an oversized USB cable, with one end designed for the “screen” device and the other end designed for the hardware where the content resides. The female end of the cable uses 19 different pins, with different pin groups taking on different tasks. Some pins change analog signals to digital, some regulate data, and some work on transferring and interpreting the data. At the core of the cable itself are several twisted wires that carry the signals.
Some variations do exist, such as mini HDMI cables designed for select devices, such as HD camcorders. Outside of these rare cables, however, all HDMI cables function the same way. Periodically there are upgrades to the cables as technology improves and a better, faster version is crafted. Additions such as 3D, Ethernet channels, 4K resolution, Deep Color, xvYCC, and many other fancy names have enhanced HDMI cables since their creation back in to the early 2000s. These additions are automatic to the interface. You never have to pay extra to have them included, they are the base standard by which HDMI products are created. HMDI 2.0 is the most current version being developed by the governing organization HDM Licensing, LLC, but version 1.4 works with most modern devices.
HDMI has risen to the forefront of the cable world because of its inherent simplicity and quality. Its approach to data transfer allows users to adopt the highest quality in entertainment without worrying about multiple cables, confusing connections, and separate ports for sound and video. HDMI cables support a wide variety of resolutions, including multiple HD formats and old-fashioned standard video definitions. They also play nice with most related technologies, and unlike wireless connections, they are not at the mercy of competing signals or physical walls.
As king of the hill, HDMI cables have to endure some strange treatment, and one of the strangest concerns — the cost of HDMI cable. Many sellers have tried to sell HDMI by charging exorbitant amounts by the foot for no clear reason, making ridiculous infomercial claims that had nothing to do with data quality and putting the price range near $100 for a simple length of cable. While these tactics have failed in the face of Internet-savvy consumers, some brands still try it.
Here is a simple rule of thumb: A 6-foot HDMI cable should cost you around $10. More than that, and you are paying extra for no reason. Multiple tests by dozens of tech industry brands have proven that all HDMI cables within any given version (1.4, etc.) function the same, no matter who makes them or what special features they are advertised to have.
Apart from this snake oil pitfall, HDMI cables have very few downsides. The longer cables do tend to suffer from some slight interference, which means a little quality may be lost if you are connecting devices on separate sides of the room. Fortunately, entertainment systems usually keep HDMI-ready devices within only a couple feet of each other. Additionally, HDMI has no wireless iteration, so tablets, smartphones and wireless signals will typically have lower quality than HDMI connections, a necessary trade for their greater mobility.
Where Can I Find HDMI Cables?
HDMI is so often used that nearly any electronics store or department store carry HDMI cables. Before visiting a nearby store or supermarket, check with online retailers to see if they are offering deals or interesting promotions. Also noteworthy: Many new TVs or entertainment devices are bundled with free HDMI cables, saving you an extra purchase.
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