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HDMI

The ancestry, glory and dereliction

HDMI stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface; a standard developed


by a conglomerate of consumer electronics manufactures and providers in 2013 to counter
issues that these providers had in existing analog video formats. Analog video formats were
prone to noises, needed additional A/D and D/A converters, and required 3 to 4 cables to
carry the video and audio data [Selvan and Green, 1994] - this was seen as somewhat inefficient.
Analog formats also allowed data to be sent between any devices that had the right plug,
allowing piracy and innocuous sharing - a harrowing idea to the corporate audio world.
HDMI is digital, and thus provides a platform for High-Definition Content
Protection (HDCP), which enables providers to limit consumers ability to copy and share
video content. This was a leading reason for its development, and some believe that consumer
interests like reliability, economy, and a secure connection have been compromised because of
corporate interest in copyright-protection [Blue Jeans Cable, n.d.].
HDCP requires an identifying handshake (which happens almost instantaneously)
from the source device to the playback system to implement this copyright-protection system.
This informs the devices that they operate within the HDCP structure and allows the signal to
pass [Lipscomb, n.d.], if the security verification fails then the signal would not pass through to
the playback system. This is done by storing an Extended Display Identification Data
(EDID) chip in each home theatre device. The source device then checks the authentication
key of the receiving device, and if both keys are accepted then the source device will generate
a new key and share it with the receiving device.
The data stream being sent is then encoded with the newly generated key and decoded
in the same way. If there is an unauthorised device intercepting the information then the
source device will stop transmitting, and it will check every few minutes that the generated
authentication key hasnt been changed.
Because of this system, hardware manufacturers often limit the resolution of analog
connectors (like component video, s-video or VGA) to standard definition, even though the
cables are capable of transmitting high definition video to devices that read HD signals. This
is so that HD content cant be intercepted and copied by consumers using HDMI-compatible
devices - as all HDMI-compatible devices are required to implement the HDCP system.

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There is no margin for loss or misinterpretation of the EDID information, and because
of this; HDMI is often affectionately referred to by engineers as Plug & Pray instead of Plug
& Play [Key Digital, n.d.]. As the EDID is so extensive with HDMI, there is more room for
mistakes, and thus it is a common issue for there to be a handshake failure between the
receiving and sending devices
HDMI uses Transition Minimised Differential Signalling (TMDS) technology to
encode and decode the signal (A two-stage process) [Abiri and Sahebdel, 2010]. One of the
reasons encoding is required when sending digital signals is that the electrical signal will
reduce in definition between the different voltages as the signal travels. The desired sharp
change in voltage can wear away and badly represent the original detail sent through the
wire. TMDS also offers high speed serial transmission and allows for robust clock and data
recovery at the receiving end [Roosevelt et al., 2009].
In essence, the HDMI format is a digital version of RGB analog video - with the main
part of the signal carried on four shielded twisted pairs of wire [Wilson, 2007]. This is
the red, green, blue and the clock signal. In some cases, instead of RGB video, HDMI carries
colour difference video (Y/Pb/Pr) which uses luma information to interpret colour [PC
Magazine Encyclopedia, n.d.a]. This ultimately transmits the same information, but is in a
different form. Sync pulses tell the display (or monitor) where a line or frame ends and
begins, and these are carried on the blue pair.
Having the pairs of wire twisted rather than coaxial (a centre wire surrounded by
insulation and then a grounded shield of braided wire [Beal, n.d.]) provides a lower overall
electrical interference; as interference picked up along the wire will only affect one of the
wires and thus can be eliminated using Low-Voltage Differential Signalling (LVDS). The
two signals in either wire of the twisted pairs are compared with each other instead o to
ground. This differential can be used to remove complications spawned from undesired noise
or signal getting onto one of the lines.
An advanced data encoding algorithm is used on each of the three data channels which
converts 8 bits of video/audio data into a 10-bit (8b/10b) transition minimised DCbalanced sequence [Murphy, n.d.]. This method is more reliable for transmitting data across
long distances as it minimises electromagnetic interference (EMI) in the copper cable and
makes the system very robust.
The DC-balancing component of TMDS involves adding a 9th and 10th bit to a byte
on the end of 8 bits of audio data. This is to counter issues that arise from sending multiple 1s

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or 0s consecutively at very high speeds; as this could result in charging a line. Charge can then
cause the cable to resist a subsequent change of data and thus result in data errors. To
counter this, the added 9th and 10th bit will instruct the following byte to invert polarity in
order to balance the total 1s and 0s in the data stream [Silicon Image, 2004].

There are 19 pins in total contained in the HDMI Type-A connector. In addition to the
signal (+) and inverted signal (-); there is a ground (or data shield) for each channel. The
Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) channel can send command and control data
between connected devices. Display Data Channel (DDC) is a collection of digital
communication protocols between a graphics adaptor and a display, used for monitor
parameters like brightness and contrast [VESA, 2004]. DDC also communicates Extended
Display Identification Data (EDID), which contains information like the display size and
colour characteristics, as well as the HDCP encryption [Extron Electronics, n.d.]. Hot Plug
Detect (HDP) is used to monitor powering up/down and plug/unplug events, reinitialising
the HDMI link if necessary.
The 19 pins in a HDMI Type-A [See page 4 for information on HDMI type] connector are
arranged as follows [HDMI, n.d.a]:

Pin Function
1-9 Three TMDS RGB data channels (+ values, - values, and ground
10-12 TMDS clock channel (+ values, - values, and ground)
13 CEC
14 Reserved for future use in HDMI 1.0, utilised in HDMI 1.4 for ethernet
15-16 DDS and EDID
17 Ground for CEC and DDC channels
18 Power Supply (+5V)
19 HDP

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HDMI cables that run longer than around 15 metres (or 50 feet) can result in faulty
performance, but this issue can be resolved by using a HDMI Extender that regenerates the
HDMI signal to prevent losses. The extender is a pair of devices that converts HDMI cables
to CAT5/CAT6 cables (see [Gordon, 2013] for more information on cable types) which allows for

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longer runs. The devices amplify the signal to ensure that the level received at the far end is
sufficient. This system can extend the source sometimes up to 300 metres (980 feet) from the
monitor [eBay, 2014].
The HDMI standard implemented in devices is evolving to make more efficient use of
all the connector pins. At the time of writing HDMI is currently on version 1.4. This
introduced HDMI Ethernet Channel (HEC) and Audio Return Channel (ARC), as well
as a few other features.
There are currently 5 types of HDMI cables [HDMI, n.d.b]:
- Standard HDMI Cable (Capable of up to 1080i HD at 74.25MHz)
- Standard HDMI Cable with Ethernet (With HEC functionality)
- Standard Automotive HDMI Cable (This doesnt support HEC, but sends a
stronger signal than other cable types, and is tested to a higher performance standard)
- High Speed HDMI Cable (Capable of 1080p HD and beyond at 340MHz.
Includes 4K, 3D and deep colour)
- High Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet (With HEC functionality)

These cables can be implemented in 5 types of HDMI connector plugs [HDMI,


2006] [HDMI, 2011]:
- Type-A: Has 19 pins and sufficient bandwidth for all Standard-Definition
Television (SDTV), Enhanced-Definition Television (EDTV) and High-Definition
Television (HDTV) modes. This is the type most commonly utilised by consumers for
home use.
- Type-B: Has 29 pins (6 twisted data pairs instead of 3) for use in very high-resolution
displays (which are not yet available to the public).
- Type-C: A mini-connector thats smaller than the Type-A plug intended for portable
devices. This also has 19 pins, but the + signals of the twisted pairs are swapped with their
corresponding ground pin. The other pins are also rearranged.
- Type-D: A micro-connector about the same size as a micro-USB connector. This has
19 pins but the pin assignment is different from Type-A and Type-C connectors
- Type-E: The Automotive Connection System (ACS) has a locking tab to ensure
the cable doesnt unplug accidentally and an outer shell to reduce dirt and moisture
interfering with the signal.

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Digital Visual Interface (DVI) is one of HDMIs predecessor


and is used extensively for flat-panel Liquid-Crystal Display (LCD)
computer monitors, especially in the Personal Computer (PC)
environment. The connector for DVI has 29 pins as opposed to
HDMIs Type-A connector. This standard was developed by the Digital
Display Working Group (DDWG) to replace the traditional, purely
analog Video Graphics Array (VGA) standard.
The DVI connection between local monitors and computers
includes both a serial digital interface and a parallel interface format for
dual mode operation. The DVI port format varies depending on the
signal required; it can be a DVI-A (Analog data stream), a DVI-D
(Digital data stream) or a DVI-I (Analog or digital data stream)
cable [Diffen, n.d.].

[Image 1 - DVI Connectors.


Diffen, n.d.]

DVI-A includes a digital-analog converter, with the analog


elements of the data being sent along the four pins around the flat blade [Img 1].
DVI-D and DVI-I both come in single link (SL) and dual link (DL) mode; the dual
link form provides double the power and delivers data more rapidly than single link form, so
might be used for larger monitors. DVI SL uses one 165MHz transmitter for screen
resolutions up to 1920x1080 pixels at 60Hz, if higher resolutions like 2560x1600 pixels are
required then DVI DL needs to be used [PC Magazine Encyclopedia, n.d.b].
The digital video data that DVI sends is almost identical to HDMI but without the
inclusion of audio and without using HDCP. Because DVI doesnt support HDCP; it means
that it cannot play some HD protected content.
It can be seen that there are many different types of connector and this was confusing to
the consumer, this is the result of computer engineers designing the specifications, as opposed
to broadcast engineers. Most computer displays are mounted close to the CPU; so it wasnt a
priority for DVI to work well over a distance. This lack of concern for length coupled with
common use of twisted cables like the CAT5 led to DVI being developed as a twisted-pair
cable. This, in turn, influenced the development of HDMI to be a twisted-pair design, which
was not the optimal outcome.
While twisted-pair cables are economical and small, their impedance performance
characteristics are poor and must be engineered around to function well. Having a twisted
pair of cables means that controlling manufacturing within certain technical limits is a

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challenge, and a slight impedance mismatch between the source and load circuits can cause
portions of the signal to be reflected along the cable [Mardiguian, 2010]. Likewise with
impedance variations within sections of the cable - as slight variation is very common when
using two twisted cables contained in a bendable outer layer. This can result in twisted-pair
cables having a 10/15% impedance tolerance. Coaxial cables, on the other hand, have
excellent impedance control and can be seen to practically have around 1% impedance
tolerance [Blue Jeans Cable, n.d.].
This wouldnt be an issue if the bitrate demands of HDMI werent so onerous,
especially as HDMI 1.4 now features Deep Colour, 3D, and other features that require more
bits per pixel at 1080p/60fps with no change to the HDMI hardware architecture. Variations
in impedance along a cable carrying all this data can cause the signal to degrade substantially
over distance, resulting in dropouts and potentially outright signal failure.
When the broadcast engineers needed to develop a system to route digital video from
point to point, the result was Standard-Definition Serial Digital Interface (SD-SDI).
This ran on one, 75 coaxial cable (or optical fibre) and could carry signals hundreds of
metres without errors, without the use of repeaters. SDIs first form was StandardDefinition Serial Digital Interface (SD-SDI), but soon upgraded to EnhancedDefinition Serial Digital Interface (ED-SDI) and High-Definition Serial Digital
Interface (HD-SDI) to suit growing demands for television resolutions. These developments
were made by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), and
they proceeded to make multiple forms of HD-SDI. The latest and most advanced form
being 3G-SDI which is built on the dual-link HD-SDI standard to allow up to 3 gigabits per
second of data transfer [Lander, 2014].
The SDI standard uses data words that are 8 or 10 bits in length, sending uncompressed
(originally), self-synchronising signals between the source device and the receiving device. The
majority of errors caused by noise or interference can be detected and recovered by use of
the Hamming code [Ram, 2010]. SDI will send video and audio, and can send up to 4
independent digital audio signals with one video signal [Rouse, 2005]. SDI has a bitrate of
270MHz and is sent using a Non-Return to Zero Inverted (NRZI) channel code, as
opposed to HDMIs TMDS.
There is a lot more depth to be gone into regarding the data words and colour coding
of the digital formats explored in this essay, which can be read up on in the HDMI
specifications [HDMI, 2011]. However, it can be seen that the development of digital audio

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cables and connectors was a smooth transition from analog; in the interest of copyright
protection and ease-of-use. As HDMI develops further and more data is being pumped
through the unchanging cables; it will become less and less reliable over distance. HDMI also
seems to be becoming more and more exclusive for HD content because it has settled as the
industry standard connector for digital video and sound - which is especially frustrating when
its rude enough not to perform a correct handshake upon connection.

Sources
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