The newest release of the High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) specification could help cable operators expand multi-room PVR capability and use the set-top box as an Internet gateway.

Under version 1.4, HDMI cables will include an Ethernet channel allowing for bi-directional communication, IP-based applications and speeds greater than 100 Mbps.

"(You can) do it all over HDMI," said SteveVenuti, president of HDMI Licensing. "One device (like a) television can be hooked up to the Internet. It acts as a hub." HDMI Licensing is a subsidiary of Silicon Image, which, along with Hitachi, Panasonic, Philips, Sony, Toshiba and Thomson, developed the HDMI specification.

The set-top could also be the hub. "The (1.4) HDMI cable can carry Ethernet traffic and uncompressed content," said Waheed Rasheed, Silicon Image director of marketing.

Multiple devices connected via HDMI cables will facilitate content sharing. "Content com(ing) in through a cable box (can) be displayed on the TV or pushed up through the PVR," Venuti said.

In addition, HDMI 1.4 supports a variety of 3D formats, adds an audio return channel, supports 4k2k resolution, adds color spaces, and allows for real-time content recognition. "The TV (can) optimize the picture setting based on content type," Venuti said.  The 1.4 spec also covers a smaller connector for portable consumer electronics devices that is still a full 19-pin design.

Quick adoption

HDMI has been a "tremendous success story." Projections indicate that close to 400 million HDMI compatible products will ship in 2009, bringing the total to 1 billion in the six years since the publication of the first spec. "There is not one HDTV manufactured that doesn’t have an HDMI output," Venuti said.

ARRIS Telewire Supply has seen an increase in the number of do-it-yourselfers purchasing HDMI cables. Requests by cable operators for HDMI cables have jumped since last year from 20 percent to 50 percent of the total. "That is a big change considering the amount of legacy set-top boxes that are standard-def boxes," said Tom Williams, ARRIS Telewire VP of marketing and business development.

HDMI cables being sold today are tested to a version of the 1.3 spec, released in June 2006. "They are developing specs two to three years ahead of the equipment coming out," said Jerry Patton, ARRIS Telewire product line manager.

The reason for such a lead time is that HDMI is an interface. "Unless a device can pass data or some feature or functionality to another device, (they) will never build it in," Venuti said. To take advantage of the Ethernet capabilities, customers will have to buy 1.4 HDMI cables.

The full spec is expected to be publicly available at http://www.hdmi.org by June 30.

– Monta Monaco Hernon

Read more news and analysis on Communications Technology‘s Web site at www.cable360.net/ct/news/.

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