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HDMI Connector Guide: the Port and Cable Explained

The HDMI connector is the standard interface for connecting your audio-visual devices together.

However, many people are confused by this connection type, so here we look at some common issues and explain it in more detail.

What Does the HDMI Connector Look Like?

Two HDMI connections on a device

The HDMI connector on the back of your TV or Blu-ray player looks like this.

It's a bit like a USB port on your computer - but a bit taller and wider. Er, and it's not a rectangle. Ok, so it's nothing like a USB port on your computer!

The connection is designed so that HDMI cables will only fit one way around.

What Does the HDMI Cable Look Like?

HDMI cable

The HDMI cable that is used to connect two devices looks like this.

You just need one cable between devices to transfer the sound and the picture.

The HDMI connectors are often silver, although some brands come with gold-plated HDMI connectors. 

What Does an HDMI Connection Do?

HDMI cables transmit digital video and digital audio signals between devices.

They support high-definition and Ultra HD video signals plus surround sound audio. That is, 5.1 Dolby Digital/DTS and high-definition audio soundtracks found on Blu-ray players.

When Should I Use HDMI?

As a general rule, this is the best connection to use to link most modern audiovisual devices together... assuming each device has an HDMI port of course!

Most devices made in the last couple of years will probably have these, older devices may not. Remember, the HDMI connection sends the video and the audio signals, and so one cable is all that is required.

There may be some situations where you can't just use HDMI to connect all your devices. For example, you may have HDMI on one device and a DVI connector on another.

In this situation, then it is possible to buy DVI to HDMI adapters (pictured below) to change one end of a cable from one connection type to another. Therefore, you can use a normal HDMI cable, but put the adapter on one end of it and plug the adapter into the DVI connection. Bingo!

HDMI to DVI Gold-Plated Adapters HDMI to DVI Gold-Plated Adapters

Remember, if you use an adapter like this then you will only be able to transmit the picture as, unlike HDMI, DVI only supports video signals. In this particular instance, you would have to send the audio via another connection type like coaxial or optical audio.

The DVI device may also need to be HDCP-enabled in order to send certain signals like encrypted Blu-ray movies. All HDMI devices support HDCP.

What Is the Best HDMI Cable?

When you are looking to buy a new cable, there are a seemingly endless number of variations to choose from. It can seem impossible to choose the best HDMI cable. There are different colors, different lengths, different materials, different specifications and different prices.

It can make your head spin.

Fortunately, it's not too difficult once you just concentrate on the important stuff.

  • Colour? That's up to you - I'm not sure it will make much difference to the sound and picture! Some people will go for a colour that is unobtrusive and can be easily camouflaged amongst their equipment. Most will just get a black one!
  • Length? Very important. Please take a few seconds to think where the cable will need to run, and how far that will be. As a rule of thumb, the shorter the better, as really long cables can have a detrimental effect on the signal. If you get one too long, it might be hard to run the cable in a confined area. Get one too short and......
  • Materials? Some brands will come with fancy nylon braided cord. This should make the cable slightly more flexible and easier to manoeuvre in tight spaces. Otherwise, it just makes it looks nice. For most people it shouldn't really matter either way.
  • Specifications? These days, you just need a category 2 'high speed' HDMI cable. This will ensure that the cable has been certified to transmit data up to 4K resolutions - and all current audio formats.
  • Price? You can break the bank and buy a really expensive one if you like. However it won't perform any better than a decent quality budget cable. The AmazonBasics range will probably be sufficient - or if you want a braided model then these Twisted Veins HDMI cables are popular. 

Do I Need a Gold-plated HDMI Cable?

No.

Oh, you want more of an explanation?

The theory is that a gold-plated connector will be more resistant to oxidization, and will conduct the signal better. The truth is you are hardly likely to get much oxidization going on in your living room. Or is your HDTV in the garden? Anyhow, there is such a small amount of gold in the gold-plating that it won't make much difference anyway.

Still, it looks nice and shiny.

By all means, buy an HDMI cable with gold-plated connectors, but I really wouldn't pay extra just for this feature.

What Else Can You Tell Me About HDMI?

HDMI allows the transmission of all video signal types - including high-definition signals up to 4K Ultra HD/60. Plus, up to 8 channels of uncompressed digital audio - such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.

There have been different versions of the HDMI specification over the last few years. The most widespread versions are HDMI v.1.4, and the newer HDMI 2.0. The older versions have some limitations for the features they support. Therefore, the HDMI inputs and outputs on older devices may not have the same functionality as newer ones.

Dual HDMI output connections on a device

What Are the Different Versions of HDMI?

HDMI 1.0 

  • The release version of the HDMI standard. An audio and video interface which allowed the transfer of standard and high-definition video
  • Up to 8 channels of uncompressed digital audio
  • Data transfer up to 4.9 Gb per second
  • Playback of standard Blu-ray disc video and audio at full resolution

HDMI 1.1

  • Added support for DVD Audio

HDMI 1.2 and 1.2a

  • Support for the One Bit Audio format such as SACD (up to 8 channels)
  • Fully specified support for Consumer Electronics Control (CEC)

HDMI 1.3

  • Increased bandwidth to 10.2 Gb per second.
  • Improved color - support for Deep Colour and x.v.Colour. These provide increased color depths and the ability to reproduce any color the eye can see
  • Lip sync - allows devices to automatically synchronize the picture and sound
  • Support for streaming high-definition Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio to an AV receiver for decoding
  • Defined two standards for HDMI cables - category 1 and 2 (see below)

HDMI 1.4

  • Support for increased resolutions - up to 3840 x 2160p at 25/30Hz and 4096 x 2160p at 24Hz
  • Support for an audio return channel. Allows the TV to send audio from an internal tuner to the AV receiver. Therefore, allowing an easy way to send this audio to a home theater sound system
  • Allowed for an ethernet connection over HDMI - therefore allowing an internet or home network connection through the cables
  • Support for 3D TV signals

HDMI 2.0

  • Supported bandwidth increased to 18Gb per second
  • Added support for 4K Ultra HD resolutions at 60 frames per second
  • Support for the BT.2020 standard for UHD TVs
  • Support for up to 32 audio channels
  • Support for up to 1536 kHz audio resolution
  • Support for dual video streams to the same screen
  • Added support for 21:9 aspect ratios
  • CEC extensions for controlling consumer electronic devices
  • The minimum standard required for HDCP 2.2 (copy protection for 4K video). However, if a device is HDMI 2.0, it doesn’t necessarily mean it supports HDCP 2.2. Unless there is HDCP 2.2 through the whole playback chain, then 4K video won’t play
  • No need for a new cable, just use a category 1 or 2 cable

HDMI 2.0a

  • Added support for High Dynamic Range (HDR) video

HDMI 2.0b

  • Added support for Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) video – a form of HDR

HDMI 2.1

  • Added support for Dynamic HDR
  • Support for 4K/120 and 8K/120 video resolutions
  • Specified a new cable type – 48G. This supports a bandwidth of 46 Gb/s and uses HDMI type A (standard), C (mini) and D (micro) connectors
  • Specified a new Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC). Allows the transfer of object-based audio from the TV to a home theater system

What Is a Category 1 HDMI Cable?

A 'standard speed' category 1 cable has been tested at speeds of 75 MHz.

An HDMI cable has 3 data pairs of wire that transmit the signal. The two different categories of HDMI cable are speed tested using just one data pair. Yet the bitrate you see quoted will often be the combined total for all three (to get a higher number to impress you with).

This means a 'standard speed' category 1 cable has been tested to transfer data at 742 Mb per second for a single data pair. Or, 2.2 Gb per second for the three combined. This is the equivalent of a 720p or 1080i video signal.

What Is a Category 2 HDMI Cable?

A 'high speed' cable that has been tested at speeds of 340 MHz. This is up to 3.4 Gb per second for each data pair of wires - or a maximum of 10.2 Gb per second for the three pairs combined.

This is the equivalent of a 1080p signal at 60 frames per second - or a 2160p signal at 30 frames per second. This would also include 3D video and any increased color depth signals.

There is a new certification for a 'Premium High-Speed HDMI Cable'. This is a category 2 cable that has been tested up to the theoretical maximum of 18 Gb per second - and should support any video up to 2160p/60Hz, BT.2020 and HDR. However, in reality, any ‘high speed’ HDMI cable will probably work fine.

Do I Need HDMI 1.3 Devices to Hear HD Audio?

No. The versions of HDMI before 1.3 fully supported the transfer of HD audio. However, this required the HD audio to be decoded by the playback device and then sent across the cable to the amplifier as a Linear PCM signal (LCPM). The amplifier/receiver also needed to support HDMI audio (not all did).

What was added by HDMI 1.3 was the ability to bitstream the HD audio to the amplifier/receiver. This means the HD audio signal is sent ('streamed') directly to the amplifier/receiver without being decoded first. The decoding is done by the receiver instead.

For this to work, all of the parts of the chain must be HDMI 1.3 compliant.

Do I Need an HDMI 1.4 or HDMI 2.0 cable?

Cables aren’t defined by the version numbers of the HDMI specification i.e. 1.2 or 1.3. These numbers refer to the capabilities of the hardware connections on your devices.

To transfer 4K Ultra HD video, 1080p video and 3D TV signals you should make sure you buy a category 2 'high speed' cable. This will ensure it will transfer the high data rates required. If you aren't sending the highest resolution signals, then a standard category 1 cable should be sufficient.

Do I Need to Buy a New Cable for My 3D TV?

Probably not. If you already have a 'high speed' category 2 HDMI cable, then this will support all the requirements of HDMI 1.4 and 3DTV signals (with one exception - see below). A standard category 1 cable hasn't been tested to support the higher data rates, and so may not be reliable enough. However, before you buy a new cable, give it a try and you may find it will work.

One part of the new HDMI 1.4 specification will require a new cable. The 1.4 update supports an ethernet connection through HDMI. To utilize this in your equipment, you will need a category 1 or 2 HDMI cable 'with ethernet'.

Do I Need to Buy a New Cable to Watch 4K UHD Video?

Only if you currently have a category 1 HDMI cable. A category 2 ‘high speed’ HDMI cable will support up to 4K/60 UHD video. Although only ‘Premium High-Speed HDMI cables’ are tested up to the required limit, any category 2 cable should be fine. Try your existing cables first, and if you have a problem, you can buy new ones.

The cables pictured below are certified Premium High Speed HDMI cables:

Monoprice Certified Premium High Speed HDMI Cable

Do I Need to Buy a New Cable for My HDMI 2.0 Device?

Maybe, but probably not. An interesting point has been reached where the maximum data rate specification of the HDMI 2.0 specification has overtaken that of the 'fastest' HDMI cable.

HDMI 2.0 devices are designed to transfer data up to 18 Gb per second, whereas a 'high speed' category 2 cable is only designed to support a maximum of 10.2 Gb per second.

However, a well-made category 2 cable will probably handle data rates far higher than it has been tested to. To be sure, the HDMI licensing authority has introduced an optional 'Premium HDMI Cable' certification, which is allowed to be used on category 2 cables which have been tested up to 18 Gb per second.

The same rule applies to that mentioned above. Try the cable you have already, and if you get picture drop-outs or interference, then maybe consider getting a 'Premium HDMI Cable'.

What Is an Ultra Speed HDMI cable?

It is just marketing smoke and mirrors. The actual cable specifications are either category 1 (standard speed) or category 2 (high speed).

What Is the Maximum Cable Length for HDMI?

There is no defined maximum cable length for HDMI cables - only a required performance. The ability of a cable to accurately reproduce signals over a long distance is very much dependant on the build quality of the cable. And, the quality of the circuits in the devices. However, in practice, a high-quality cable should be able to transfer data successfully over about 10 meters. Then, a repeater or amplifier may be needed to boost the signal.

Over a short distance, like less than 3 meters, almost any cable should be able to transfer the required data. Don't be fooled into buying over-priced HDMI cables.

Are the New Versions of HDMI Compatible with the Old Versions?

Yes. HDMI is fully backward compatible with older versions.

What Is the Difference Between HDMI and DVI?

They are essentially the same, except HDMI has:

  • Support for 8 channels of audio
  • Support for the YUV color space
  • CEC (wiring to enable remote control of devices)
  • A different connector

Is HDMI Compatible With DVI?

Yes - although not DVI-A. You can buy HDMI to DVI cables and send video signals between devices. However, this will not send audio, and so you will need to make a separate connection for the sound.

BlueRigger High Speed HDMI to DVI Adapter Cable

What Is the Difference Between HDMI and Component Video Cables?

HDMI cables are audio/video interconnects that send digital signals between AV devices. Component video cables send component analog signals between devices and are restricted to video only - they do not send audio signals.

Can I Convert a Component Video Output to HDMI?

Yes, you can. One way is to use your AV receiver. Many AV receivers can upconvert a component input to an HDMI output. However, you will need to check the manual for the AV receiver as not all of them will do this.

Another way is to use an adapter or converter. There are plenty to choose from. The Portta Component to HDMI Converter pictured below will do the job.

Portta YPbPr Component RGB + R/L to HDMI Converter

You just need to check that the converter you use will deliver the signal that you need. The one above supports resolutions up to 1080p. Also, you need to be clear what you want to convert from and to. The converter above will only convert from component video (+ stereo audio) to HDMI i.e. sending a picture from an old games console to the HDMI input on a TV.

If you need to do something different, then you need to look for the correct converter for that job. This is something that many people get wrong, and end up buying the wrong device.

What Are HDMI Right-angle Adapters Used For?

In some situations you may find it difficult, or even impossible, to plug your HDMI cable into your device. The most common scenario is where you have your flat screen TV mounted on a wall.

Unless the HDMI ports are on the side of the TV, there will often be no room between the back of the TV and the wall itself to plug in your cable. Oops.

Drum roll, please. Step forward, the life-saving right-angle HDMI adapter!

HDMI 90 Degree/Right Angle Adapter HDMI 90 Degree/Right Angle Adapter

This useful little device will connect on the end of your existing HDMI cable and create a 90-degree connector. Thus, allowing you to plug in the cable even in the tightest of areas.

If you are really on-the-ball - and I don't doubt it for a minute - you can also buy HDMI cables with a right-angle connection already fitted on the end. So, saving the added expense of buying adapters.

Can I Connect HDMI to VGA?

It's your lucky day, indeed you can.

If you have a device with an HDMI output, like a laptop, for example, you may need to connect it to a projector that only has a VGA input. On the face of it, you're a little bit stuck.

However, thanks to the wonders of modern science, there's a fairly easy solution to the problem. There are a number of HDMI to VGA converters available that will suck in the HDMI signal and spit it out disguised as VGA.

Did I mention I'm not too technical?

HDMI to VGA Adapter/Converter

All you need to do is plug the HDMI connection into the HDMI output of your laptop - or whatever device you need to send the signal from. Then, connect the VGA to your display device. Be that a projector, computer monitor or TV.

The model above supports resolutions up to 1920x1080 at 60Hz. It also comes with an external power supply which can be useful if you are connecting to a device that is low powered.


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