1080p: For HDMI Only?

One of the big questions surrounding HDTV is whether HDMI is required for 1080p resolution. The answer is maybe. Many devices require HDMI for 1080p output. Others, though, can send 1080p signals over a component video cable.

HDMI Standards and Revisions

The first consumer products with HDMI connections hit the market in 2003. Since then, there have been several changes to the HDMI standard. For the most part, these standards have added support for specific types of content or applications. For example, the first revision, HDMI 1.1, added support for DVD Audio.

The most recent major revision -- the jump from version 1.2 to 1.3 -- got a lot of attention. New features included a massive increase in bandwidth, support for 16-bit color and support for the xvYCC color standard, which supports additional colors. A new lip-synch feature also reduced that sound and video would fall out of synchronization during playback, making an otherwise immaculate recording look badly-dubbed. Some reports even claimed that any devices that did not have HDMI 1.3 were obsolete.

In some ways, this was just as confusing as it was impressive. Some of HDMI's new abilities don't exist yet in the consumer marketplace. For example, the increased bandwidth -- from 4.9 Gbps to 10.2 Gbps -- can support a refresh rate of 120 Hz, or 120 frames per second. This is twice as fast as the maximum refresh rate in the current HDTV standard. HDMI 1.3 can support 30-, 36- and 48-bit color options known as deep color, but many media players and recorded video materials don't go beyond 16-bit color. Critics also claim that deep color allows HDTV screens to display colors that most people can't even perceive. In addition, while lip synch and one-touch control abilities can be handy, not all home-theater devices support them.

Fortunately, a lack of 1.3 capability doesn't mean your HDTV is useless. HDMI 1.3 is backwards compatible with previous versions. It's like when color TV debuted. People could watch color TV signals on their black-and-white sets -- the TV still worked, but the picture was still in black and white. If your HDTV has HDMI 1.2 but your new components have HDMI 1.3 capabilities, your TV will still work, but without the expanded 1.3 abilities. Since the bandwidth allotments of previous standards are generally enough for most high-definition applications, your picture should still have a pretty good quality.

­Another common concern about HDMI is cable length. Although the HDMI standard requires a minimum operable length of 32 feet (10 meters), some users report significantly shorter operable lengths in practice. This is particularly true when transmitting 1080p signals -- the increased demands on bandwidth speeds up the deterioration of the signal. Fortunately, there are amplifiers and extenders that can decode, re-set and re-encode the signal before sending it on the next leg of its journey.

For people who are concerned about HDMI's potential limitations, there may be another solution on the horizon. DisplayPort is a new high-definition standard that will cover connections inside devices, like within a laptop, and between devices, like from a media player to an HDTV. DisplayPort hasn't hit the market, though, so whether its quality will surpass that of HDTV is still to be determined.

You can find more information on home theater, HDMI and related topics on the next page.­