HDMI and its stupid labelling requirements

HDMI and its stupid labelling requirements

HDMI cabling is already an area in which confusion drives people to spend more than they need to. But official naming guidelines which ban version numbering make things even more messy

In many ways HDMI has revolutionized the way we connect devices. By unifying video and audio into a single cable manufacturers have been able to make their products easier to setup than ever before. Until recently there hasn't actually been much difference in HDMI cables. Price and packaging are definitely factors in deciding between different products, but this is changing with the introduction of HDMI 1.4.

Although by the 1st of January 2012 manufacturers of products with HDMI ports won't actually be able to call HDMI 1.4 by its real name. In fact, come November 18 this year those selling cables won't be able to use HDMI 1.4 or HDMI 1.3 to delineate between different products. Instead cables that support version 1.4 of the HDMI standard will have to use one of five different labels.

The specifics are outlined in a 38 page document on the HDMI website. At the most basic level cables are split into 'Standard' and 'High Speed' versions. Standard cables are tested to support video up to 720p/1080i. High Speed cables on the other hand are tested to 1080p resolution. Within these categories come the inevitable subcategories. Standard is split three ways into Standard HDMI Cable, Standard HDMI Cable with Ethernet and Standard Automotive HDMI cable. High Speed Cables come in two versions - High Speed HDMI Cable and High Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet.

Not only do the regulations cover the actual naming of cables, they also quite specifically state what can and can't be used to describe supported features. For example, High Speed HDMI cables support resolutions up to cinema-quality, known as 4K. Products can only be labeled with the term 4K if they support a resolution above the standard 4K. Despite the fact that 4K x 2K is used in engineering (and the resolution supported by Youtube) and technical documents it cannot be used on HDMI related packaging. So we wonder whether this Panasonic cable from our labs, which sports 4K2K on the box is violating the agreement?

This cable from Panasonic complies with the labelling guidelines, except it uses the term 4k2k instead of the sanctioned 4k.

Because HDMI is a proprietary technology that can only be used under license, these terms are going to become more and more common. One of the primary benefits of HDMI was the reduction in cable complexity, but this system just makes things confusing. Ultimately the aim of these guidelines are to make things easier for the consumer, but it will also cause a new level of confusion.

Take this Belkin Standard Speed cable for example. Despite the fact that the HDMI website outlines that Standard Speed is capable of 720p/1080i Belkin's cable says 1080P on the front (the reality is that all the HDMI cables we have encountered, even the ones that cost $10 and come in a Ziploc bag, support 1080P). 

Not only that, the high speed cable is labelled as perfect for high definition games consoles. This is in spite of the fact that the Xbox 360 and PS3 have been out for nearly five and four years respectively, well before the High Speed HDMI specification came into effect.


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Belkin is also complying with the labelling recommendations, although if it is capable of 1080P the standard cable should work fine with game consoles and (non-3D) Blu-Ray players.

Ultimately we will all have to learn to live with this overtly complex naming scheme. In reality it not only causes confusion, it also makes things tough to write about. The vernacular when talking with technology companies and engineers revolves around HDMI 1.3 and 1.4 but from a marketing perspective these terms cannot be used. Add to this the fact that the HDMI organisation keeps the specifics of its specifications secret and translation between version numbering and marketing speak is nigh on impossible.  

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