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HDMI 1.4 Includes Ethernet, 2-Way Audio

Additional details regarding the upcoming High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) 1.4 specifications were revealed today, listing several features that enhances the current video standard used by gaming consoles, Blu-ray players, HDTVs, and more.

HDMI was originally designed back in 2002, and over the years has adopted additional compatibilities including Super Audio CD support, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD Master Audio. With the latest version of HDMI (1.3c), the technology can generate imagery up to 2560x1600p75, and a maximum color depth of 48-bit/pix. On a single cable, HDMI currently provides high-definition, standard, and enhanced video outputs and up to 8 channels of audio.

The updated specs call for an impressive new data pipe--the HDMI Ethernet Channel (HEC)--that can actually replace a hardware Ethernet connection. In addition, HDMI 1.4 will also provide reverse-direction for sound called the Audio Return Channel (ARC), removing the need for a separate optical cable when sending compressed surround sound to a home theater receiver or other intermediary device. Outside the new data channel and ARC support, HDMI 1.4 will offer support for future resolutions up to 4096x2160, color spaces used by digital cameras, and even support 3D.

The big news surrounding HDMI 1.4 is the HDMI Ethernet Channel, enabling data transfers up to 100 Mbps between supported devices. This means that a HEC-enabled device--such as a broadband-connected television--can provide internet connection sharing with another HEC-enabled device such as a DVR or a future gaming console. There will be other future applications for HEC as well that may allow device-to-device content distribution through a home HEC-enabled network.

The drawback to the new HDMI 1.4 specs is that current HDMI cables aren't compatible. Consumers will need to purchase a new cable designed specifically for v1.4; unused wires found in current cable will be replaced with a twisted pair wire structure. As it is, current HDMI cables aren't exactly cheap, and to make matters worse, the upcoming HDMI 1.4 specs will come in two flavors: low-data rate and high-data rate. Hopefully, third parties will swoop in and provide cost-effective versions once HDMI 1.4 overtakes the market.

Despite the new cables however, the group reported that 1.4's Audio Return Channel support will not require the new 1.4 cables, working on existing cable setups. While the upcoming ARC feature eliminates the optical connection, end-users will not have access to DTS HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD formats, but rather all current lossy audio formats instead.

As previously mentioned, the new 1.4 specs will ramp up the output resolution, add color space used by digital cameras (for correct image presentation), and even provide future 3D support, all done through 1.4's Automatic Content Enhancement (ACE) feature. The HDMI group also said that a heavy-duty version of HDMI technology is heading to automobiles for high-def audio and video distribution. Called the Automotive Connection System (ACS), this version of HDMI will offer an inter-locking connector and cables built to withstand excessive heat, cold, vibrations, and other in-car conditions.

On a final note, Silicon Image has already announced that two upcoming HDMI parts will support the latest 1.4 features: the Sil9387 Port Processor and the Sil9334 Transmitter. The company expects to send out a round of samples by the end of spring, and ship HDMI 1.4 enabled products sometime next year.

HDMI Licensing LLC posted a press release today claiming that the information has not been confirmed by the licensing body and may change.

[Via Engadget]