What Is HDMI and How Do You Use It?

What you need to know about HDMI versions 1.0 through 2.1

HDMI
HDMI Male Connector. Getty Images - AlesVeluscek - Collection: E+

HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) is the acknowledged connection standard used for transferring video and audio digitally from a source to a video display device or other compatible home entertainment devices.

HDMI Connection In Hand

HDMI also includes provisions for:

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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 Connections Example
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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 you purchased an HDMI-enabled component in determines the HDMI version your device has.
  • Each successive version of HDMI incorporates all the features and is backward compatible with previous versions; you just aren't able to 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 can pick and choose the features from the selected HDMI version that it wants to incorporate into its products.
  • As of 2019, the most current version available for use is HDMI 2.1, but devices using older versions are still on the market and operating in homes so that is why they 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 most recent version and ends 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, 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 already 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: Just 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 at the moment it is rendered allowing for more fluid and better-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 supports 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 much 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. This metadata, if coming from an external source, 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 (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 more-immersive surround formats, such as Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and Auro 3D Audio.
  • Double video streams: Capability to send two independent video streams for viewing on the same screen.
  • Four audio streams: Capability to send up to four separate audio streams to multiple listeners.
  • Support for the native 21:9 (2.35:1) aspect ratio.
  • Dynamic synchronization of video and audio streams.
  • Expansion of HDMI-CEC capabilities.
  • Enhancement of HDCP copy-protection referred to as HDCP 2.2.

HDMI 1.4

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

  • HDMI Ethernet channel: This 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: This may be the most practical application of HDMI 1.4. Audio return channel (HDMI-ARC) provides a single HDMI connection between a TV and a home theater receiver that cannot only pass audio/video signals from the receiver to the TV but also pass 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 is designed to accommodate 3D Blu-ray Disc standards, with the capacity of passing two simultaneous 1080p signals using one connection. An update (HDMI 1.4a – released March 2010) incorporates additional 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 further by allowing transfer of 3D video at 120Hz (60Hz 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: This 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/video devices, HDMI 1.4 can handle the more demanding 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: To coincide with the introduction of Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD, version 1.3 added 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 implements the ability to accommodate the Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound audio formats.
  • Lip sync: Addition of automatic lip-sync to compensate for the effects of audio and video processing time between video displays and video/audio components.
  • Mini-connector: Introduction of 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 not only video and two-channel audio over a single cable, but also added the ability to transfer Dolby Digital, DTS, and DVD-Audio surround signals, as well 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 are shopping 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
  • High- Speed with Ethernet 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 being updated to meet evolving video and audio format needs.

  • If you have components that feature older HDMI versions, you won't be able to access features from subsequent versions, but you will still be able to use your older HDMI components with newer components, you just won't have access to 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, keep in mind that DVI only transfers video signals. If you require audio, you need an additional analog or digital connection that purpose.