Next-gen HDMI turns your TV into an Internet hub

The next generation of High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) cables are going to give your HDTV a boost with a maximum 100Mb-per-second Internet connection, audio upstream capability and HD images at four times the resolution of 1080p. Lost amid this week's Bing and Google hype, was an announcement from HDMI Licensing -- the group responsible for managing the HDMI specification -- that the next generation of HDMI cables will provide new functionality, and do away with separate Ethernet connections for your various devices. Instead of a having tangled mess of cables behind your TV, the HDTV itself will act as an Internet hub for all those wired goodies in your living room. The new specification is called HDMI 1.4, and aims to take television's Internet connectivity to the next level. Here's a breakdown of the new features:

HDMI Ethernet Channel

HDMI 1.4 will give High-def televisions a maximum 100Mb/s Internet connection that can be shared with other devices including Blu-ray players, gaming consoles and set-top boxes. This means you will be able to download content for your PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 through your TV's Internet connection instead of needing a separate Ethernet cable for your console.

Audio Return Channel

Devices like Blu-ray players connected to your television will no longer need a separate cable to deliver audio and video. It will all be wrapped up in HDMI 1.4.

3D and Super Hi-def support

HDMI 1.4 will support many 3D formats up to 1080p resolution. If you want to go beyond high-def, the new HDMI also supports 4K x 2K resolution which is four times sharper than 1080p.

Better Still Image display

Digital photos will look better than ever with HDMI 1.4. The new specification will be able to display more life-like colors when connected to your digital camera, HDMI licensing says.

HDMI for your Car

Now your car can join in the HDMI fun, with HDMI 1.4's Automotive Connection System. This is a set of standards designed to overcome car-specific problems like heat distribution, vibration and noise to deliver HD images to in-vehicle displays.

The downside to HDMI 1.4

The new HDMI will only work with devices specifically designed for the new standard. HDMI 1.4 will have a 19-pin connector head that is 50 percent smaller than current HDMI cables. You also shouldn't expect any devices based on the new standard to hit store shelves any time soon. HDMI Licensing is set to release the new specifications to manufacturers between now and June 30. That means we probably won't be seeing any 1.4-enabled toys until some time in 2010. While HDMI 1.4 brings us closer to the goal of having one cable to connect all your devices, I wonder if HDMI cables will be around much longer? The future is going to be wireless, and we've already seen TVs, gaming consoles and a variety of other devices with wireless capability. The push for wireless connectivity is also coming from a range of wireless standards like Bluetooth 3.0, wireless USB, and Wireless HD. There's been talk of wireless HDMI for years, and LG recently presented what it claimed to be a Wireless HDMI TV at this year's Consumer Electronics Show. However, that set required a separate media box to plug your devices into, and then the box would transmit information to the TV. That's not quite the goal we're looking for, but it shows that manufacturers are scrambling towards a wire-free world where even one cable is one too many.

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Ian Paul

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