The HDMI cables that you have in your media center or home theater are some of the most important accessories that you can have. These cables transmit audio and video signals of the highest quality that are currently available and are one of the formats that are utilized the most frequently in digital media. These cables can connect a wide variety of electronic devices to a television, including a Blu-ray player, a TV set-top box, or a gaming console. They also have the capability of connecting a desktop computer, monitor, or laptop to a television. Because there are a variety of specifications and capabilities, it is essential to be aware of the specific type of HDMI cable that is required to connect the device that is being used.
What is HDMI?
HDMI stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface. It is a standard that supports high-definition digital video and multi-channel digital audio on a single cable. The HDMI cable connection transmits both video and audio data in a digital format. HDMI connections stand in contrast to analog VGA or DVI connections, which transmit only video data.
Everything about HDMI cables
An HDMI cable is a type of cable that connects a device such as Blu-ray player, game console, or streaming device like a Roku player (and more) to a TV, monitor or projector. It then carries both audio and video signals from the device to the TV. The main difference between an HDMI cable and other cables is that it can carry both uncompressed digital audio and video signals over one cable. There are different versions of HDMI cables, such as HDMI 1.4a, HDMI 2.0a or HDMI 2.1.
HDMI Cables Overview
Most of the confusion about HDMI cables comes from the HDMI standards and their characteristics.
Important: The HDMI licensor prohibits certified HDMI cable manufacturers from using the version number such as 2.0 or 2.1 in the product content. Instead, predefined designations must be used.
The overview below shows versions, designations and basic properties.
|Version Number||Designation||Year||Max. Resolution and Refresh Rate||Max. Bandwidth||HDR||Audio Support|
|1.0||n/a||2002||1080p@60Hz||4.95 Gbps||No||8 Audio Channels|
|1.1/1.2||n/a||2005||1440p@30Hz||4.95 Gbps||No||DVD-Audio, One-Bit-Audio|
|1.3/1.4||High Speed HDMI / High Speed HDMI with Ethernet||2009||4K@30Hz||10.2 Gbps||No||ARC, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD|
|2.0||Premium High Speed HDMI||2013||4K@60Hz / 5K@30Hz||18 Gbps||Yes||HE-AAC, DRA,32 Audio Channels|
|2.1||Ultra High Speed HDMI||2017||4K@120Hz / 8K@60Hz||48 Gbps||Yes||eARC|
HDMI Cables Length
A regular (read: passive) HDMI cable should be no longer than 49 ft. (15 m). Note that with this length you have to accept limitations in resolution.
A resolution of 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) is possible up to approx. 24 ft. (7.5 m). Go anywhere beyond that and the maximum resolution is limited to 1080p (1920 x 1080 pixels). However, this limitation only applies to passive HDMI cables.
Higher resolutions and more frames per second are also possible over long distances. For this you need an active HDMI cable or an HDMI extender.
HDMI Connector Overview
There are three sizes of HDMI plugs in consumer electronics. Each size also has a type designation: Standard (Type A), Mini (Type C) and Micro (Type D). All three are 19-pin.
What is an HDMI adapter?
The HDMI standard defines five different connectors that are based upon a 19-pin layout. To convert between different HDMI connectors, you are going to need an HDMI adapter.
The one thing all HDMI adapters or adapter cables have in common is that there is no signal conversion taking place. The HDMI adapter simply makes sure that the 19 pins of the connectors are connected properly on each end. For example, to connect a GoPro to an HDTV requires a Micro HDMI to Standard HDMI adapter. HDMI adapters are also available as HDMI cables with different connectors on each end.
What is an HDMI converter?
Unlike HDMI adapters which do not convert the signal, HDMI converters are specifically designed to do just that. An HDMI converter is a device that converts an HDMI signal to another format — and vice versa — so it can be displayed on a monitor or TV. For example, if you have a computer with an HDMI output but your monitor only has VGA input, you will need an HDMI to VGA converter to connect the two. Another common scenario is to connect a DisplayPort-equipped laptop or desktop PC to an HDMI display, for which you will need a DisplayPort to HDMI cable or converter.
These are three common types of HDMI converters:
- HDMI to DisplayPort converter – converters the HDMI signal to a DisplayPort signal
- HDMI to VGA converter – converters digital HDMI to analog VGA
- HDMI to DVI converter - changes the input signal from HDMI to DVI
What is HDMI Alt Mode?
If your USB-C device supports it, HDMI Alt Mode is a standard that can connect an external monitor from the USB-C port without an additional converter in between. This means you can connect your laptop to an HDMI-enabled TV or display and get a clear, uncompressed video feed. However, the standard has not been widely adopted, with many more devices using the far-more popular DP Alt-Mode (which also supports USB-C to HDMI connections).
Applications for HDMI Alt Mode
Connect a USB-C equipped laptop, smartphone, tablet, or desktop PC to an HDMI display, such as a PC monitor, HDTV or projector. HDMI Alt mode is perfectly suited to display the output from your laptop on a 4K big screen TV for video playback. As far as gaming is concerned, the lack of 4K 60 fps (and HDR) may rule out its use for serious fast-paced 4K gaming. On the other hand, if you are limiting yourself to city builders and the likes, you will get great results with HDMI Alt Mode.
How to use HDMI Alt Mode
First, the USB-C device must support the HDMI Alt Mode. Not all USB-C equipped devices do, so this must be confirmed first. Second, you will need a USB Type-C to HDMI adapter cable that supports the standard. This is not a converter, but a simple adapter, and that means that no signal conversion is taking place.
Features of HDMI Alt Mode
The HDMI Alt mode provides the same functionality as HDMI 1.4b. That means you can transmit 4K@30Hz video with 3D, Consumer Electronic Control (CEC), Audio Return Channel (ARC), HDMI Ethernet Channel (HEC) and Dolby 5.1 surround sound audio.
Limitations of HDMI Alt Mode
As the HDMI Alt mode only supports HDMI 1.4b, it lacks features introduced in later HDMI 2.x standards. That includes 4K HDR video, 4k@60Hz and anything higher than that.
HDMI for Gaming – Considerations
Two aspects are particularly important for demanding gamers:
A high resolution for the best possible graphics and a high frame rate (FPS) for a smooth and lag-free display.
High-performance desktop PCs often have gaming monitors attached that support a higher refresh rate than most living room TVs. Hertz numbers of over 60 or even over 120 Hz are common, provided the hardware can also handle these speeds in high resolutions. Which HDMI cables are suitable for this?
Even for demanding gaming, Premium High Speed HDMI cables (HDMI 2.0) are still suitable in many cases. Especially with full details and ray tracing, 4K resolution pushes even highly equipped PCs to their limits and does not exceed 60 frames per second. At least 144 Hz is possible in the compromise resolution of 1440p (2560 x 1440), which is popular with gamers. HDR is also supported.
However, the successor HDMI 2.1 in the form of Ultra High Speed HDMI cables is already a worthwhile investment for real future proofing the cabling and also for current high-end PCs. This enables 4K gaming at ultra-fast 120 Hz, 1440p even up to 240 Hz. On the console side, there are already a few games on the Microsoft Xbox® Series X that reach 4K@120Hz. Televisions with HDMI 2.1 can also already be found in living rooms, even if they are still a long way from the mass market.
Common HDMI Acronyms
Consumer Electronics Control (CEC)
Control of up to 15 connected HDMI devices by using one of their remote controls. As an example, thanks to CEC, you can use your Roku remote to control the volume of your TV, or your home theater system.
Audio Return Channel (ARC)
ARC allows HDTVs with smart apps such as Netflix to send the audio stream from the TV back to the home theater system by using the same HDMI cable that is already connecting them. Thanks to ARC, you do not need additional audio specific cables like coax or TOSLINK.
HDMI Ethernet Channel (HEC)
HDMI Ethernet Channel technology combines audio, data and video streams into a single HDMI cable. HEC enables IP-based applications over HDMI and provides a bidirectional Ethernet communication.
High-dynamic-range (HDR) imaging is a technique that captures a greater range of luminosity than a traditional camera, which allows for images with more depth and richer colors. HDR video is a relatively new trend that makes colors more vibrant and realistic. You can see the difference between HDR and normal video by comparing a scene shot in daylight to one shot with an overcast sky. The colors in the daylight scene are brighter and more vivid, while the colors in the overcast scene are duller.
In PC and console gaming, HDR has become a fixture in recent years with the latest generations of consoles all supporting HDR@4K, including PlayStation 4/5 models, Xbox Series S/X and others. Note that you will need to have an HDR-capable display to take advantage of this technology.
HDMI Standards and Technical Specifications
The HDMI 2.1 standard is the latest update to the HDMI specification, and it offers several significant improvements over its predecessor. The first is that it supports resolutions up to 8K (7680 x 4320 pixels), which is four times the resolution of 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels). This is important for future television technologies that are being developed now. The second improvement is that the new standard can support data rates up to 42.6 Gbps, which means that HDMI 2.1 can transmit 4K video with a 120 Hz refresh rate, or 8K video at 60 Hz.
|Name||Specification||Year||Max. Resolution @ Refresh Rate||Max. Transmission Rate||Max. Data Rate||HDR||Audio Support|
|Standard HDMI Cable||1.0||2002||1080p @ 60 Hz||4.95 Gb/s||3.96 Gb/s||no||eight audio channels|
|Standard HDMI Cable||1.1/1.2||2005||1440p @ 30 Hz||4.95 Gb/s||8.16 Gb/s||no||DVD-Audio, One-Bit Audio|
|High Speed HDMI Cable||1.3/1.4||2009||4K @ 30 Hz||10.2 Gb/s||8.16 Gb/s||no||ARC, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD|
|Premium High Speed HDMI Cable||2.0||2013||5K @ 30 Hz||18.0 Gb/s||14.4 Gb/s||yes||HE-AAC, DRA, 32 audio channels|
|Ultra High Speed HDMI Cable||2.1||2017||8K @ 60 Hz||48.0 Gb/s||42.6 Gb/s||yes||eARC|
The table below shows the video resolutions and refresh rates of the various HDMI standards. With this information you can quickly know which HDMI standard and, by extension, what kind of HDMI cable you need.
|Refresh rate (Hz)||Required data rate||HDMI 1.3–1.4b||HDMI 2.0||HDMI 2.1|
|1080p||1920 × 1080||30||1.58 Gbit/s||supported||supported||supported|
|1080p||1920 × 1080||60||3.20 Gbit/s||supported||supported||supported|
|1080p||1920 × 1080||120||6.59 Gbit/s||supported||supported||supported|
|1080p||1920 × 1080||144||8.00 Gbit/s||supported||supported||supported|
|1080p||1920 × 1080||240||14.00 Gbit/s||only 4:2:0||supported||supported|
|1440p||2560 × 1440||30||2.78 Gbit/s||supported||supported||supported|
|1440p||2560 × 1440||60||5.63 Gbit/s||supported||supported||supported|
|1440p||2560 × 1440||75||7.09 Gbit/s||supported||supported||supported|
|1440p||2560 × 1440||120||11.59 Gbit/s||only 4:2:0||supported||supported|
|1440p||2560 × 1440||144||14.08 Gbit/s||only 4:2:0||supported||supported|
|1440p||2560 × 1440||240||24.62 Gbit/s||no||only 4:2:0||supported|
|4K||3840 × 2160||30||6.18 Gbit/s||supported||supported||supported|
|4K||3840 × 2160||60||12.54 Gbit/s||only 4:2:0||supported||supported|
|4K||3840 × 2160||75||15.79 Gbit/s||only 4:2:0||only 4:2:0||supported|
|4K||3840 × 2160||120||25.82 GBit/s||no||only 4:2:0||supported|
|4K||3840 × 2160||144||31.35 Gbit/s||no||no||supported|
|4K||3840 × 2160||240||54.84 Gbit/s||no||no||only DSC|
|5K||5120 × 2880||30||10.94 Gbit/s||only 4:2:0||supported||supported|
|5K||5120 × 2880||60||22.18 Gbit/s||no||only 4:2:0||supported|
|5K||5120 × 2880||120||45.66 Gbit/s||no||no||only DSC|
|8K||7680 × 4320||30||24.48 Gbit/s||no||only 4:2:0||supported|
|8K||7680 × 4320||60||49.65 GBit/s||no||no||supported|
|8K||7680 × 4320||120||102.2 Gbit/s||no||no||only DSC|
There are currently 5 different HDMI connectors: HDMI Type A, B, C, D and E. The most important connectors are the 19-pin HDMI Type A, Mini HDMI Type C and Micro HDMI Type D.
|HDMI Type A||19||Regular||DVD/Blu-ray/Ultra HD players, computers, media streaming boxes such as Roku or FireTV, |
cable/satellite boxes, and video game consoles
|HDMI Type B||29||Regular||Obsolete|
|HDMI Type C||19||Mini||Portable devices such as laptops, tablets or cameras|
|HDMI Type D||19||Micro||Small portable devices, incl. smartphones, GoPro type action cameras, small video recording devices and portable media players|
|HDMI Type E||19||Regular||Automotive|
While all HDMI connectors have 19 pins, the pinout is not always identical.
HDMI Type A Connector Pinout
By far the most popular HDMI connector, the HDMI Type A connector can be found in most TV sets, media players and streamers, PC graphics cards as well as gaming consoles.
|HDMI Pin Number||Signal|
|1||TMDS Date 2+|
|2||TMDS Data 2 shield|
|3||TMDS Data 2-|
|4||TMDS Data 1+|
|5||TMDS Data 1 shield|
|6||TMDS Data 1-|
|7||TMDS Data 0+|
|8||TMDS Data 0 shield|
|9||TMDS Data 0-|
|11||TMDS Clock shield|
|15||SCL (Serial Clock for DDC)|
|16||SDA (Serial Data Line for DDC)|
|17||DDC / CEC / HEC Ground|
|18||+5 V Power (50 mA max)|
|19||Hot Plug Detect (1.3) / HEC Data+ (1.4)|
Mini HDMI Type C Connector Pinout
Not nearly as common as the HDMI Type A connector, the Type C connector is still widely adopted in laptops, DSLRs and full-size tablets.
|HDMI Pin Number||Signal|
|1||TMDS Data2 Shield|
|4||TMDS Data1 Shield|
|7||TMDS Data0 Shield|
|10||TMDS Clock Shield|
|15||SCL (DDC lock)|
|16||SDA (DDC data)|
|18||+5 V Power (power EDID/DDC)|
|19||Hot Plug Detect/HEC-|
Mini HDMI Type D Connector Pinout
Bringing up the rear, the HDMI Type D connector is the least popular of the three. It can be found on GoPro action cameras and select smartphones.
|HDMI Pin Number||Signal|
|1||Hot Plug Detect/HEAC-|
|2||Utility/HEAC+ (NC on device)|
|4||TMDS Data2 Shield|
|7||TMDS Data1 Shield|
|10||TMDS Data0 Shield|
|13||TMDS Clock Shield|
|17||SCL (DDC clock)|
|18||SDA (DDC data)|
|19||+5 V Power (power EDID/DDC)|