For a long time the connections in home entertainment systems were getting more complicated, and more bulky as well. A VCR used to connect to a TV via the aerial cable. Later, a games machine used three cables – video and left and right audio. Later still, to achieve the best quality picture a DVD player used three component video cables for the picture alone, plus a digital audio connection.
At one stage we were fearful – if we can exaggerate only slightly – that the front of our home theatre receiver might tilt up into the air, given the sheer weight of numbers of the cables plugged into its rear.
Now a new innovation has eliminated this complexity, improved quality, and added a new level of user convenience, all at the same time.
That innovation is HDMI, which stands for ‘High-Definition Multimedia Interface’.
The wonder cable
There is no doubt about it, HDMI is the best way of connecting any device to your TV. If you are using a home theatre surround sound system, HDMI is the best for that as well. The reason is that with HDMI, one cable does everything for you. And does it as well as it can possibly be done. So with a simple clip in to a HDTV receiver (or DVD player, or Blu-ray player) at one end, and the TV at the other you get the best of everything.
The picture quality is in full digital format. By using HDMI you avoid the quality sapping digital-to-analog (and then analog-to-digital) conversions that occur when sound and picture is transferred from other equipment to a television for display. HDMI supports full high definition video, all the way up to the progressive scan version of 1080 video. No other cable can do this, so if you want the best picture that current technology allows, only HDMI delivers.
What’s more, HDMI also carries the highest quality audio – including the 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound formats found on DVD – in its purest digital form. In its most recent version it can even carry the new super-high resolution 7.1 channel digital formats from Blu-ray.
And HDMI supports ‘CEC’ – Consumer Electronics Control. This is a system for communicating remote control commands from one device to another. You can have your TV out where you can see it, for example, but your DVD player stuck away in the cupboard and the one remote controls them both – without you having to perform any programming on the handset.
The precise remote commands that can be carried vary from brand to brand, and from device to device, and some equipment with HDMI connections doesn’t support it at all. CEC goes by different names too – Anynet, Aquos Link, BRAVIA Theatre Sync, Regza Link, Simplink, Viera Link and Easylink, for example – and while it is intended to work across all equipment, regardless of brand, the most reliable compatibility is to be found between equipment of the same brand. So it’s best to stick to the one nameplate if you want to make use of this feature.
HDMI does come at one cost: limited length. Because it has to carry such huge volumes of audio and video data, the cable has to be of the highest quality, especially if you need more than a couple of metres to connect to your display. The practical maximum is about ten metres, or perhaps 15 metres with the very highest quality cables. Beyond that and ‘active repeaters’ are required. These are devices that take the signal and amplify it for the next stage of cable. The key here is to place your digital video and audio equipment close to the TV.
To ensure you’re getting a good TV in regard to connectivity, these are the things to look for:
A TV with at least two HDMI connections
HDMI connections with support for CEC
Good quality HDMI cable if equipment is located far from the TV