What are the Different Levels of HDMI Quality?

The different levels of High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) quality depend greatly based on both the equipment used and the cables used to connect the various devices. While, in general, HDMI quality depends on the age of the devices used, considering what version of HDMI the high-definition television (HDTV) and other devices were built to utilize, this can also be altered by the types of HDMI cables used to connect the various devices. Previously, customers were able to look for specific version numbers on devices, but moving forward manufacturers will be required to indicate what features and aspects of a certain version are utilized and supported by the device or connector.

First released in 2002, HDMI 1.0 primarily provided full compatibility with devices that used digital visual interface (DVI) connectors that were fairly standard at the time. As long as proper adapters were used, there was no signal loss between devices that used DVI and those that used HDMI. HDMI 1.1 was released in 2004 and added support for an audio format that utilized digital versatile discs (DVDs) and was called DVD-audio. In 2005, HDMI 1.2 was released and added support for super audio compact discs (CDs), the competing product with DVD-audio, and increased personal computer (PC) support through HDMI devices.

Real improvements to HDMI quality came with the release of HDMI 1.3 in 2006 that increased the bandwidth of the HDMI cables from the original 4.9 gigabits per second (Gbits/s) to 10.2 Gbits/s. These improvements in HDMI quality were intended to allow for HDMI devices like HDTVs to take advantage of innovations such as Deep Color and greater sound quality in home theater systems than ever before. Since then, most major version changes have come with an increase to what HDMI devices can support and are capable of allowing.

HDMI 1.4 was released in 2009 and introduced an HDMI Ethernet cable that allowed data transmissions and Internet connectivity through HDMI devices without the need of a separate Ethernet cable. An audio return channel was also introduced in the HDMI 1.4 cables that allowed for a single cable to enable audio transmissions “upstream” and “downstream” within a home theater setup. Version 1.4 also introduced two major improvements in HDMI quality with the increase in supported screen resolutions to what is called 4k, which is four times greater resolution than 1080p, and the establishment of industry standards and protocols for three-dimensional (3-D) HDTV sets.

Consumers looking for devices and HDTVs that will utilize these improvements in HDMI quality should look for specific features on the packages of devices. Not all products that support a particular version will necessarily also support every feature of that version. Manufacturers will be required to list what features the product does support, so consumers are not misled. Similarly, some of these features require high speed HDMI cables, or HDMI Ethernet cables, and these should be looked for accordingly.