Why HDMI 1.4 Cables Don't Exist

You’re probably reading this right now because you don’t believe me. Undoubtedly you’ve seen row after row of neatly packaged HDMI cables at your local electronic store labeled as being a “HDMI 1.4 cable”. Maybe you’ve been convinced that you must buy a 1.4 compatible cable to work with your newer HDTV, Blu-ray, or receiver so you scrapped your older cables for ones labeled “1.4”. Perhaps you even tossed a high quality “1.3 cable” aside for an inexpensive “1.4 cable”. Stay tuned and see if this article will change your thinking regarding HDMI cables.

HDMI with ethernet

When shopping for HDMI cables, you may see some that are advertised as HDMI with Ethernet. These have a dedicated Ethernet channel for internet connection sharing and device networking capabilities. When fully functional, this would eliminate the need to run a separate Ethernet cable to your A/V devices for an internet connection. Few, if any, electronics manufacturers are currently choosing to implement HDMI Ethernet channel on their products. Nonetheless, many individuals are buying these cables now so future devices can take advantage of this convenience.

HDMI cable speeds

Currently, HDMI.org recognizes only 2 different speed categories of HDMI cables: Standard & high speed.
  • Standard Speed: Cables tested to perform at speeds of 75Mhz or up to 2.25 Gbps (720 or 1080i signal).
  • High Speed: Cables tested to perform at speeds of 340 Mhz or up to 10.2 Gbps (1080p & beyond).
HDMI cable ratings only specify performance of a cable, not the maximum cable length. HDMI cables use copper wire for transmitting the digital signal through the cord. Longer cables will require more copper to cover the distance. Basic physics reveals additional copper will increase resistance, drop bandwidth, and decrease voltage resulting in a compromised signal. If your cable is too long and the signal cannot travel from point A to point B intact, then you’ll get a black screen or an inconsistent picture. If you plan on running a long cable or are transmitting heavy bandwidth signals (4K), then you’ll want to be sure to choose a high speed HDMI cable.

Does better materials result in a better cable?

There are many bloggers publishing articles about HDMI cables and how they’re all the same. They advocate buying $5.00 cables to connect a HDTV that costs thousands of dollars. While it’s true that HDMI cables transmit a digital signal consisting of ones and zeros, cable material can play an important role in signal transmission at longer lengths. Thicker wires carry the digital signal better over longer distances. In addition, the integrity of a digital signal is only as good as the purity of the material it’s transmitted through. Copper cable with a high impurity rate will work great at shorter distances, but the signal voltage and integrity will fail at longer lengths. HDMI.org makes this observation:
  • "With any long run of an HDMI cable, quality manufactured cables can play a significant role in successfully running HDMI over such longer distances."
Manufacturers such as AudioQuest use silver-coated or solid silver conductors in some of their cables as it is a superior conductor of copper. Perfect surface copper and silver increase the raw material cost for the manufacturer thus raising cable cost for the consumer. On longer HDMI cables, however, this may be a wise investment by consumers.

Should I spend money on a better cable?

Every customer has to answer this for themselves, but here are some things to consider:
  • Better cables user higher quality materials ensuring top transmission speeds.
  • Better cables are often overbuilt and are less likely to fail.
  • Better cables have reinforced tips to maintain solder joints as the cable hangs from your equipment.
  • Better cables user thicker, lower gauge wires and will be more successful transmitting data over long distances.
  • Better cables are shielded to completely eliminate the possibility of electromagnetic interference.
  • Better cables will handle high-bandwidth 4K signals, especially with longer cable runs.
  • Pulling cables through wall cavities for customer installs is not fun, and you’ll want to purchase a cable that is durable, high bandwidth, and as future-proof as possible.
When choosing an HDMI cable, it’s best to just use common sense. Take a moment to think about the type of equipment you own and how far the HDMI cable will have to travel. If you’re connecting a lower resolution HDTV to a cable box that’s three feet away, then a basic cable will probably suffice. If you’re hooking up a projector or large HDTV that will be receiving 1080p or a 4K signal at longer distances, you’ll want to seriously consider a better built HDMI cable.

What new features does the HDMI 1.4 standard offer?

The latest HDMI 1.4 standard offer the following possible enhancements (courtesy of hdmi.org):
  • HDMI Ethernet Channel: Adds high-speed networking to an HDMI link, allowing users to take full advantage of their IP-enabled devices without a separate Ethernet cable.
  • Audio Return Channel: Allows an HDMI-connected TV with a built-in tuner to send audio data "upstream" to a surround audio system, eliminating the need for a separate audio cable.
  • 3D: Defines input/output protocols for major 3D video formats, paving the way for true 3D gaming and 3D home theater applications.
  • 4K Support: Enables video resolutions far beyond 1080p, supporting next-generation displays that will rival the Digital Cinema systems used in many commercial movie theatres.
  • Content Type: Adds support for additional color models used in digital photography and computer graphics.
  • Additional Color Spaces: Some TVs have a built-in web cam which allows users to make Skype calls on their TV.
  • HDMI Micro Connector: A new, smaller connector for phones and other portable devices, supporting video resolutions up to 1080p.
  • Automotive Connection System: New cables and connectors for automotive video systems, designed to meet the unique demands of the motoring environment while delivering true HD quality.
Device manufacturers only have to implement one of the above enhancements to be considered 1.4 compatible. The number of features manufacturers choose to integrate is completely up to their discretion. Because of this, you will want to carefully select your devices to be sure they have the features you require. For example, when shopping for a new A/V receiver. If you’ve decided that audio return channel is a feature you would really like to use, you’ll need to ensure both the HDTV and Receiver have this feature for it to work. If your new receiver supports audio return channel but your TV does not, you’ll be out of luck.

Update: HDMI 2.0 was recently annouced. Click here to explore the features and benefits that HDMI 2.0 devices will offer.