What Is HDMI and How Do You Use It?

What you need to know about HDMI versions 1.0 through 2.1

HDMI (high definition multimedia interface) is the acknowledged connection standard for transferring video and audio digitally from a source to a video display device or other compatible home entertainment devices.

HDMI connection in hand

AvailableLight / Getty Images

HDMI Features

HDMI includes provisions for:


How to Troubleshoot HDMI Connection Problems

HDMI is found on TVs and other devices from a variety of manufacturers, including, but not limited to, those made by LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, and Vizio.

Devices that may incorporate HDMI connectivity include:

  • HD and Ultra HD TVs, video and PC monitors, and video projectors.
  • Home theater receivers, home-theater-in-a-box systems, and soundbars.
  • Upscaling DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra HD Blu-ray players.
  • Media streamers and network media players.
  • HD cable and satellite boxes.
  • DVD recorders and DVD recorder/VCR combos (for playback only).
  • Smartphones (in combination with MHL).
  • Digital cameras and camcorders.
  • Desktop and laptop PCs.
  • Game consoles.
Home theater receiver HDMI slots
Onkyo USA

It's All About the Versions

Several versions of HDMI have been implemented over the years. In each case, the physical connector is the same, but capabilities have been added.

  • The time period in which you purchased an HDMI-enabled component determines the HDMI version the device has.
  • Each successive version of HDMI incorporates all the features and is backward compatible with previous versions. However, you can't access all the features of a newer version on older equipment.
  • Not all TVs and home theater components touted as being compliant with a specific version of HDMI automatically provide all the features of that version. Each manufacturer chooses the features from the selected HDMI version that it wants to incorporate into its products.
  • As of 2020, the current version is HDMI 2.1. Devices using older versions are still on the market and operating in homes. That is why these are included, as the version affects the capabilities of HDMI devices that you may own and use.

The HDMI versions are listed and explained below, starting with the recent version and ending with the oldest version. If you want, work your way up from the oldest version to the most recent version, start at the end of the list and scroll back up.

HDMI 2.1

HDMI version 2.1 was announced in early 2017 but wasn't made available for licensing and implementation until November 2017. Products incorporating several or all HDMI version 2.1 features became available beginning with the 2019 model year.

HDMI 2.1 supports the following capabilities:

  • Video resolution and frame rate support: Up to 4K 50/60 (fps), 4K 100/120, 5K 50/60, 5K 100/120, 8K 50/60, 8K 100/120, 10K 50/60, and 10K 100/120.
  • Color support: Wide color gamut (BT2020) at 10, 12, and 16 bits.
  • Expanded HDR support: While Dolby Vision, HDR10, and hybrid log gamma are compatible with HDMI 2.0a/b, HDMI 2.1 supports any forthcoming HDR formats that may not be supported by HDMI version 2.0a/b.
  • Audio support: As with HDMI 2.0 and 2.0a, all surround sound formats in use are compatible. HDMI 2.1 also adds eARC, which is an audio return channel upgrade that provides enhanced audio connection capability for immersive surround sound formats between compatible TVs, home theater receivers, and soundbars. eARC is compatible with Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS-HD High-Resolution Audio/DTS HD Master Audio, and DTS:X.
  • Gaming support: Variable refresh rate (VRR) is supported. This enables a 3D graphics processor to display the image when it is rendered, allowing for a fluid and detailed gameplay, including the reduction or elimination of lag, stutter, and frame tearing.
  • Cable support: Bandwidth capability increased to 48 Gbps. To access the full capabilities of HDMI 2.1 enabled devices, an HDMI cable that supports a 48 Gbps transfer rate is required.

HDMI 2.0b

Introduced in March 2016, HDMI 2.0b extends HDR support to the hybrid log gamma format, which is intended to be used in 4K Ultra HD TV broadcasting platforms, such as ATSC 3.0 (NextGen TV broadcasting).

HDMI 2.0a

Introduced in April 2015, HDMI 2.0a added support for high dynamic range (HDR ) technologies such as HDR10 and Dolby Vision.

What this means for consumers is that 4K Ultra HD TVs that incorporate HDR technology can display a wider range of brightness and contrast, which makes colors look more realistic than the average 4K Ultra HD TV.

For you to take advantage of HDR, the content has to be encoded with the necessary HDR metadata. If coming from an external source, this metadata is transferred to the TV via a compatible HDMI connection. HDR-encoded content is available via the Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc format and select streaming providers.

HDMI 2.0

Introduced in September 2013, HDMI 2.0 provides the following:

  • Expanded resolution: Expands the 4K (2160p) resolution compatibility of HDMI 1.4/1.4a to accept either 50- or 60-hertz frame rates (a maximum 18 Gbps transfer rate with 8-bit color).
  • Expanded audio format support: Can accept up to 32 simultaneous channels of audio that can support immersive surround formats, such as Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and Auro 3D audio.
  • Double video streams: Can send two independent video streams for viewing on the same screen.
  • Four audio streams: Can send up to four separate audio streams to multiple listeners.
  • Support for 21:9 (2.35:1) aspect ratio.
  • Dynamic synchronization of video and audio streams.
  • Expansion of HDMI-CEC capabilities.
  • Enhancement of HDCP copy-protection is referred to as HDCP 2.2.

HDMI 1.4

Introduced in May 2009, HDMI version 1.4 supports the following:

  • HDMI Ethernet channel: Adds internet and home network connectivity to HDMI. In other words, both Ethernet and HDMI functions are available within a single cable connection.
  • Audio return channel: Audio return channel (HDMI-ARC) provides a single HDMI connection between a TV and a home theater receiver. It passes audio/video signals from the receiver to the TV and also passes audio originating from the TV's tuner to the receiver. In other words, when listening to audio accessed by the TV's tuner, you don't need a separate audio connection going from the TV to the home theater receiver.
  • 3D over HDMI: HDMI 1.4 accommodates 3D Blu-ray Disc standards. It can pass two simultaneous 1080p signals using one connection. An update (HDMI 1.4a, released March 2010) adds support for 3D formats that may be used in TV broadcasts, cable, and satellite feeds. An added update (HDMI 1.4b, released October 2011) extended 3D capability by allowing the transfer of 3D video at 120 Hz (60 Hz per eye).
  • 4K x 2K resolution support: HDMI 1.4 can accommodate 4K resolution at a 30-hertz frame rate.
  • Expanded color support for digital cameras: Allows better color reproduction when displaying digital still photos from HDMI-connected digital still cameras.
  • Micro-connector: Although an HDMI mini-connector was introduced in version 1.3, as devices continued to get smaller, an HDMI micro-connector was introduced for use in even smaller devices, such as smartphones. The micro-connector supports up to 1080p resolution.
  • Automotive connection system: With the increase of in-car digital audio and video devices, HDMI 1.4 can handle the vibration, heat, and noise that may affect the quality of audio and video reproduction.

HDMI 1.3 / HDMI 1.3a

Introduced in June 2006, HDMI 1.3 supports the following:

  • Expanded bandwidth and transfer speed: With the introduction of Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD, version 1.3 adds wider color support and faster data support (up to 10.2 Gbps).
  • Expanded resolution: Support is provided for resolutions above 1080p but below 4K.
  • Expanded audio support: To further support Blu-ray and HD-DVD on the audio side, version 1.3 accommodates the Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound audio formats.
  • Lip sync: Adds automatic lip sync to compensate for the effects of audio and video processing time between video displays and video/audio components.
  • Mini-connector: Introduces a new mini-connector to better accommodate compact source devices, such as digital camcorders and cameras.

HDMI 1.3a added minor tweaks to version 1.3 and was introduced in November 2006.

HDMI 1.2

Introduced in August 2005, HDMI 1.2 incorporates the ability to transfer SACD audio signals in digital form from a compatible player to a receiver.

HDMI 1.1

Introduced in May 2004, HDMI 1.1 provides the ability to transfer video and two-channel audio over a single cable, as well as the ability to transfer Dolby Digital, DTS, and DVD-Audio surround signals up to 7.1 channels of PCM audio.

HDMI 1.0

Introduced in December of 2002, HDMI 1.0 started off by supporting the ability to transfer a digital video signal (standard or high-definition) with a two-channel audio signal over a single cable, such as between an HDMI-equipped DVD player and TV or video projector.

HDMI Cables

When you shop for HDMI cables, there are eight product categories available:

  • Standard HDMI cable
  • Standard with Ethernet HDMI cable
  • Standard automotive HDMI cable
  • High-speed HDMI cable
  • High-speed with Ethernet HDMI cable
  • High-speed automotive HDMI cable
  • Ultra high-speed (8K applications) HDMI cable

For more details on the capabilities of each cable category as well as the different types of HDMI connections available, refer to our companion article: Everything You Need to Know About HDMI Cable Types.

The Bottom Line

HDMI is the default audio/video connection standard that is continually updated to meet evolving video and audio format needs.

  • If you have components that feature older HDMI versions, you can't access features from subsequent versions. However, you can use your older HDMI components with newer components, but you can't access the newly added features (depending on what the manufacturer incorporates into a specific product).
  • HDMI can be used in conjunction with Ethernet and wireless transmission for extended range applications.
  • HDMI is also compatible with the older DVI connection interface via a connection adapter. However, DVI only transfers video signals. If you require audio, you need an additional analog or digital connection for that purpose.
  • When did HDMI CEC come out?

    HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) was introduced as a feature of HDMI 1.2 back in 2005. Today, HDMI CEC is part of such modern streaming devices as Rokus, Amazon Fire TV devices, Android TV devices, and the fourth-gen Apple TV.

  • What is HDMI ARC?

    HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) is a feature introduced in HDMI version 1.4. It's a way to simplify sending audio from a TV to another external speaker or home theater receiver. With HDMI ARC, you don't need extra audio cables between the TV and the home theater system because the HDMI cable can transfer audio in both directions.

  • What is HDMI eARC?

    HDMI eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) is HDMI ARC's next generation, which offers speed and bandwidth enhancements. With HDMI eARC, you can send higher-quality audio from your TV to your home theater system.

  • How do I connect a phone to a TV with HDMI?

    To connect your Android phone to a TV with HDMI, if your phone has a USB-C port, use a USB-C to HDMI adapter. Plug the adapter into your phone, then plug one end of the HDMI cable into your phone and the other into your TV. For this to work, your phone must support HDMI Alt Mode

Was this page helpful?