HDMI Backers Ready For Challengers
If you have a high definition TV or plan to be adding a 4K Ultra HD in the near future, you should be familiar with the HDMI digital connector.
The interface was developed in 2002, a few years after the first digital HDTVs arrived in the market as a backward compatible (with an adapter) digital connection for DVI, bringing a range of convenience solutions to consumers, not the least of which was a single jack for both audio and the latest HDTV video standards. Through constant evolution the interface remains the primary connector for HD and 4K Ultra HD video sources today.
Now, the HDMI LCC, which administers licensing, compliance testing, promotion and other issues, is fending off challenges from experts and organizations like MHL (super MHL) and VESA (DisplayPort) backing interfaces that claim to be more robust in handling next-generation 4K Ultra HDTV, high frame rates and even 8K signals with ancillary data requiring faster speeds.
We spoke with Jeff Park, HDMI LLC senior product manager and evangelist, for an update on where HDMI is today and where it might be headed next:
Read the interview after the break:
Park, whose organization is a subsidiary of Silicon Image, which last month was acquired by Lattice Semiconductor, and also reports to the seven founding HDMI companies, pointed out that one of the biggest attributes HDMI offers is a long legacy with an extensive penetration rate of HDMI supporting products.
Almost 2000 adopters have signed up for the latest HDMI 2.0 specification that brought support for up to 60 frames per second of 4K Ultra HD video (among other things). It also required licensees of the previous HDMI 1.4 specification to sign an addendum to the original license agreement. In 2015, over 100 million HDMI 2.0 products, not including cables, are expected to ship, and according to IHS iSuppli data almost 900 million HDMI products are expected to ship by 2016, contributing to a total installed base of almost 4 billion HDMI products world wide.
The following is a Q&A interview with Park:
Q: Some critics and potential competitors for the consumer electronics market have challenged HDMI technology saying that it has started to reach the limits of its capabilities for new technologies on the horizon, like 8K and even higher frame rates. What is your response to that?
A: If you look at the evolution of HDMI, we’ve always provided the features to the market when they’ve needed it at the right time in a reasonable and practical way. We could have features that support 16K today. But how practical is that? If you provide all of that future capability it might cost $20,000 to buy that TV, for example. In terms of the market going forward, if you look at all of the content that’s available, everything in 4K is at 24 to 30fps today. There is no content being produced at 60fps. But in the future, if content producers want to start putting out content at 60fps or even higher, HDMI is definitely going to be there. At CES 2015, we announced that we are definitely going to increase bandwidth. We add support for new features such as HDR. We add more power to the HDMI interface as well. The HDMI standard is not created in a vacuum. We are constantly talking to industry players, content owners and content producers to understand what’s coming next.
While it’s great to be able to add new high-bandwidth features, on paper our belief is that it doesn’t do anybody any good to add something to the specification so far ahead that it’s not practical or not needed for five to 10 years. If and when the time comes for higher frame rate content, or higher quality content features, HDMI will be there to support it. If more bandwidth is needed, we can add that. History has proven that we are always there at the right time when the market needs us.
Q: One of the next-generation enhancements to 4K will involve greater bit depth than the commonly used 8 bits. What does HDMI 2.0 provide for today?
A: HDMI today can support up to 16 bits, and that’s been available since 2006 (HDMI 1.3). At CES we demoed an upscaling Blu-ray player and 4K UHD TV, sending a 4K/60p signal at 12 bits. The issue is that with anything higher than 8 bits today, there is no content being produced that is readily available to consumers. There are some professional applications and some custom content at 10 bit, but the need for 12 and 16 bit content is still being determined. We also support 4:2:0, 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 chroma subsampling. But if content owners decide they want to support 10 or 12 bit content and 4:4:4 that is something that HDMI can support today.
Q: What’s your reaction to criticism that some of the latest next-generation 4K Ultra HD TVs may be premature because they lack the ability to handle the speeds and data rates coming in the near future?
A: Some of that criticism may be valid because there might be individual device limitations. The HDMI 2.0 specification may define certain things but some manufacturers may have made business decisions to release certain products with some limitations because they made first-to-market tradeoffs. The exact support capabilities of each product are determined by the individual manufacturers. Just because a feature is handled by the HDMI specifications doesn’t mean it is necessarily supported by every device.
Q: What did you think of the announcement at 2015 CES of a new “super MHL” specification that will support up to 8K video with higher speed capacities as the solution to some of the limitations of HDMI? It sounds like you have a roadmap that will cover these extra issues as they are needed.
A: You hit the nail on the head. Everything they’ve done sounds great on paper, but the last time I checked I’ve not seen an announcement of a single super MHL product, plans for a product, or even availability. I think that’s a big difference with other technologies that say they all work great on paper. With HDMI 2.0, which was released in September 2013, within six to nine months of that release you saw products on the market at a reasonable price. HDMI 2.0 enabled 4K/60p TVs to be sold at $5,000 or less, and I don’t think that’s something any other standard can say. We add things to the spec as they become practical and available.
Q: Another interface, DisplayPort 1.2, has been out for a while offering some of these higher data rate features, and they were offering an open rate for a while. What’s your feeling about the challenge it presents?
A: That’s funny because MPEG-LA has announced a DisplayPort licensing program with royalties attached to it. If you compare the royalty rate carefully, we are lower.
Q: You recently introduced the HDMI 2.0a specification bringing support for HDR metadata. Does that require a separate license on top of HDMI 2.0?
A: No. Adopters sign an addendum known as 2.x. After HDMI 1.4, this is a one-time agreement for the HDMI 2.x set of specifications.
Q: How important is the installed base of legacy HDMI products to maintaining your wins with forthcoming technologies?
A: Any technology that cannot evolve to meet the market needs will be replaced. That’s been proven over and over again.
Q: You just recently released the HDMI 2.0a spec supporting high dynamic range. Can you shed some light on what might be coming down the road?
A: Talking in a broad sense, we will definitely increase bandwidth. We will definitely add HDR, and have already made the first step in adding it from CEA specifications. We will continue to add features, and one of them that we’ve announced is power. We don’t have a lot of detail we can speak to yet. But we are always looking forward, and more power and greater bandwidth is definitely something we can see in the future. There are a lot of other things we can’t really talk about today, because they are in constant development and what we are looking at today might not be what is actually included in the future. Some people talk about the need for 8K support because of what NHK is doing in Japan. That may be true, but we don’t know yet. The market hasn’t decided. We are still transitioning to 4K and once the 4K transition has been completed I think there will be more clarity on where the industry wants to go next.
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Q: Do you have any insight on the evolution of HDCP 2.2 and the next capabilities of any new content protection or management systems that might be coming?
A: That’s a great question and if you could find out for us that would be great. The reality is that we are closely tied together. When HDMI first came out the Hollywood studios were understandably nervous, because we created a digital interface that could send a pure studio-quality output to a consumer device. This was especially troubling at the peak of Napster and all of the other peer-to-peer networks that were emerging. That’s how HDCP came about and how it got tied at the hip with HDMI. But the reality is that HDCP is not our technology. It is not part of our organization or even connected with the same company. HDCP is actually run by an organization called Digital CP, which is owned by Intel. They were the originators and creators of HDCP technology and are the ones who are constantly evolving that technology. HDCP was hugely successful with HDMI until version 1.4 was hacked by a high school kid. That’s why they created HDCP 2.2, which is a lot more robust and flexible in terms of what it can run over. So now it can run over IP, it can run over HDMI and all the other interfaces so it’s a lot more flexible.
Q: But don’t the limitations of HDCP 2.2 directly impact on your interface? One of the criticisms is that the millisecond timing required by the content protection system for authentication of a device in the handshake process is too fast for some products, leaving users with a blank screen.
A: You would have to ask [Digital CP] about that, but in general, those kinds of issues are very dependent upon implementation. What that means is that certain manufacturers are better than others. I’ve seen the issue you’re talking about in real life, and I know that certain manufacturers do a much better job of handling those startup and shutdown implementations.
Q: But what responsibility does HDMI LLC have in the way of testing for compliance and capability to ensure that these types of hiccups aren’t occurring?
A: At HDMI we constantly do that. In terms of HDCP, that is something they do at the Digital CP group as well. But in terms of HDMI everything that ships is required to go through compliance. There is a separate specification called the Compliance Test Specification that details out every little thing that needs to be tested, how it should be tested and what the requirements are that must be met by each and every HDMI device. But you’re right. The perception is that if there is an HDCP problem people tend to look at the interface and blame it on HDMI. So we do what we can and what we have control over. But if it’s a problem with HDCP it’s a problem that is really out of our hands. And Hollywood has made it clear that HDCP is required for any digital interface, and it is something that everyone will have to deal with. The robustness that has now extended HDCP 2.2 for digital output beyond just video will probably see more of HDCP and probably other interfaces, including IP and pending applications.
Q: What sort of policing efforts do you use to stop manufacturers that have not met compliance testing?
A: With anything there are always bad apples, and I think our compliance team does a great job of policing the market. This year alone we are going to have 800 million HDMI products shipped and that is not including cables, and some things fall through the cracks. Even if we had a team of thousands we couldn’t stop every bad apple, but if we do see anything or find anything we definitely take action. We’ll do anything from using border patrols to seizures with our legal team. If we find anything we always take an action. A lot of our tactics aren’t visible to the public. We work with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to find and stop shipments of products that are not licensed or not compliant from entering or leaving the U.S.
Q: As HDMI 2.0 is being adopted, some TV manufacturers are electing to include only one HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 interface in new 4K TVs with a number of additional HDMI 1.4 ports. Is this due to the licensing cost?
A: Royalties are based on each device and not per port. Those choices are usually made based on the architecture of the product design and business reasons of the manufacturer. Each manufacturer has its own philosophy on how to do things. A TV is a very complex device. Most people don’t realize that the interface itself is a very small part of the overall design.
By Greg Tarr
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