The Many Faces of HDMI – Which Version Do I Have Again?
When it comes to video display, there are two primary connection types that sit at the top of the signal transfer pyramid. Nearly all modern laptops, docks, consoles, and capture cards use either DisplayPort or HDMI. We’ve covered everything you need to know about DisplayPort in a recent blog post, but for those of us who opt more often for its widely used counterpart, here is our breakdown of everything you need to know about HDMI.
What is HDMI?
A proprietary A/V signal transmitter, HDMI stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface. HDMI standards transmit uncompressed video data and digital audio data from an HDMI-compliant video source device such as a display controller to a compatible computer monitor, video projector, digital television, or digital audio device.
Key HDMI Features
High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP)
HDCP describes an authentication protocol that helps to verify credentials via an instantaneous handshake that ensures an unauthorized device would be unable to intercept data transferred between devices. This authentication is possible through credentials stored on each device’s Extended Display Identification Data (EDID) chip.
Display Data Channel (DDC)
HDMI includes support for a set of protocols allowing a source to communicate with a monitor about its audio/visual capabilities adjusting specific settings such as brightness and sharpness on the fly to match. This communication transmission is labeled Extended Display Identification Data (EDID).
High Dynamic Range (HDR)
An elevation from standard dynamic range, HDMI’s HDR provides more video signal information that contributes to better color accuracy, higher brightness, and clear contrast for video displays.
Audio Return Channel (ARC)
An HDMI Audio Return Channel is designed to enable a TV to send audio back to an A/V receiver through the same signal delivery cable. Specifically, this means and A/V signal to the TV can return audio back to a sound bar or other audio receiver, enabling remote TV audio control and higher resolution sound quality. Enhance Audio Return Channel (eARC) supplies higher-quality audio signal transfer and speed, but requires High-speed HDMI cables with Ethernet or Ultra High-speed.
Display Stream Compression (DSC)
With the introduction of HDMI 2.1, Display Stream Compression (DSC) 1.2a brought about lossless visual compression for ultra-high definition (UHD) video. Through DSC, an HDMI 2.1 cable can support a maximum compressed bandwidth of 128 Gbps whereas previously an HDMI signal was limited to a lower maximum threshold for resolution, color depth, and frame rate.
DVI and CEC
Compatible with Digital Visual Interface (DVI) signals, HDMI is a natural progression from the previous standard with more features such as better performance in resolution and color, as well as Ethernet data connection, and Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) extensions. CEC allows HDMI-connected devices to be controlled using a single remote controller.
It’s important to know which version of HDMI you’re using and what your display can support in order to truly understand the full breadth of your host machine’s video signal capabilities.
So are all HDMI standards the same? Over the course of its nearly 20-year tenure, HDMI has seen a number of iterations, each of which providing a slightly different or moderately improved set of specifications.
|Specification||Name||Max Resolution||Max Data Rate||HDR||Audio Support|
|HDMI 1.0||Standard||1080P 60Hz||4.95 Gb/s||No||8 Audio Channels|
|HDMI 1.2||Standard||1080P 60Hz|
|4.95 Gb/s||No||DVD Audio, One-Bit Audio|
|HDMI 1.3/1.4||High Speed||1080P 144Hz|
|10.2 Gb/s||No||ARC, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD|
|HDMI 2.0||Premium High Speed||1440P 144Hz|
4K 60 Hz
|18 Gb/s||Yes||HE-AAC, ARA 32 Audio Channels|
|HDMI 2.1||Ultra High Speed||4K 120Hz|
8K 60Hz *
*DSC 1.2 - Display Stream Compression
The classic HDMI version is now obsolete. Taking its place is High-speed HDMI as the current "base" technology used for most HDMI operations, and though Standard HDMI can be used for some legacy products, it is not recommended due to limitations with high resolutions, bandwidth requirements, and refresh rates.
As the true basic standard for HDMI, High-speed HDMI is simply a Full HD capable interface that sometimes supports 3D, Deep Color, and 4K at 30Hz. This is the true “starting point” for HDMI video display. High-speed HDMI saw widespread use through its utilization for HD video devices like Blu-ray DVD players and gaming consoles like the Xbox and PlayStation. Newer console games rely on more sophisticated A/V connections, but High-speed HDMI is now a staple due to its ability to be reliably found in multimedia tech for years.
High-speed is also available as High-speed HDMI with Ethernet which is a version that adds an additional data channel for networking devices. Functioning only if both linked devices are HDMI with Ethernet compatible and enabled, the connection also functions as a simple HDMI connection or non-Ethernet version if needed. Though not regularly used in many real-life environments, this feature is now seen in many high-speed cables.
Premium High-Speed HDMI
The 'Premium' High Speed HDMI Standard is simply another HDMI specification offering fully reliable performance for 4k / UHD up to 4K60 (4K @ 60frames per second) and support for HDR (High Dynamic Range) and expanded color spacing. Providing 18Gbps data for higher-spec products, the Premium High-Speed HDMI standard must meet all the criteria to be labeled “premium”.
Fully-verified Premium HDMI cables are covered by a Premium HDMI Cable Certification Program, which authenticates products by ensuring they support full 18Gbps bandwidth from the HDMI 2.0b specification with an EMI test to ensure cables minimize interference with wireless signals.
Ultra High-Speed HDMI
The actual premium high-speed standard for HDMI is the top of the current proverbial food chain labeled as ultra high-speed. The latest displays and consoles are using Ultra High-Speed HDMI as these cables pass much higher rates of data. Supporting 8K at 60Hz and 4K at 120Hz with a bandwidth of up to 48Gbps, Ultra High-Speed checks the resolution boxes while also offering variable refresh rate (VRR), HDR, eARC and all HDMI 2.1 features.
An Ultra High-Speed sticker on packaging indicates that (like the premium high-speed designation) a cable contained within is compliant with the Ultra Certification Program and often includes an Ultra-certified QR code.
This specification is what we see in new gaming console releases or tech requiring HDMI connections such as the Xbox Series X or PS5. With VRR offering a dynamic display that can continuously and seamlessly change its refresh rate without user input, and auto low latency, smooth, lag-free uninterrupted video is available.