Anyone waiting to install future-friendly long HDMI 2.1 cable runs supporting full Ultra High Speed 48 Gbps bandwidth got some good news Wednesday with the announcement that optical link start-up Silicon Line has launched a HDMI 2.1 active optical cable modules sampling program to help cable OEMs and 8K TV manufacturers quickly get up to speed.

Silicon Line said it has played an integral role in the HDMI Forum’s Test Subgroup to incorporate active optical cables and other technologies into the final compliance test specification (CTS) for 48 Gbps Ultra High Speed Cable runs.

The company said it has a high degree of confidence that its modules will help OEMs produce HDMI 2.1 over optical cable solutions that will pass CTS because it has field-tested its modules through its regular participation in HDMI plug fests where engineers have been able to evaluate the modules with more than 100 combinations of next-generation sources and display products.

CTS is expected to be ready in (late) summer time and the first certified Ultra High Speed optical HDMI 2.1 cable systems are now expected at retail in October time frame.

Silicon Line said the CTS for copper HDMI 2.1 Ultra High Speed cables is currently getting amended so both copper and the active optical CTS should arrive on about the same schedule.

According to a statement announcing the program, “Silicon Line is confident its modules will be in full and speedy compliance once the CTS is released as it has conducted extensive laboratory research and evaluated them with more than 100 combinations of next-generation sources and display products at HDMI plug fests and other industry events.”

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Through the cable modules sampling program OEMs and 8K TV manufacturers should be able to get products in production and ready to ship just as soon as the CST is confirmed, giving them a competitive edge, the company said.

Ruud van der Linden, Silicon Line CEO, stated: “this provides a great opportunity for cable manufacturers and partners to accelerate their time to market. Our HDMI 2.1 active cable modules sampling program enables our partners to order our modules now with a high level of confidence that they are getting a head start on being able to deliver fully compliant cables to the market once the Ultra High Speed HDMI Cable Certification Program for Category 3 HDMI cables will be operational.”

Silicon Line said its HDMI 2.1 modules support all features of the standard’s latest spec, including 48 Gbps bandwidth, eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel) and a reduction in video latency for gaming consoles. In addition, the upcoming HDMI 2.1 compliant cables running off the modules have an added advantage of not requiring external power while being backwards compatible in supporting the previous HDMI 2.0 and HDMI 1.4 specifications.

“Active optical cables are going to be a much larger part of the HDMI 2.1 ecosystem due to limitations in terms of length and diameter of copper cables and the need for consistent and reliable performance,” explained van der Linden.

The Silicon Line HDMI 2.1 active optical cable modules (SLM47996T transmitter and SLM47996R receiver) are backward compatible with HDMI 2.0 and HDMI 1.4 connections, support four optical channels for HDMI high-speed signals, use standard Type A HDMI connectors, offer a small and compact module size of 14.5 x 12.5 mm, and include the Silicon Line HDMI ASIC and optical sub assembly.

It also supports optical fiber with an outer diameter 255 um and core diameter 55 um with provisions for the attachment of 8 electrical wires to transport low speed HDMI signals with power and grounding for fast and easy assembly with compatible HDMI bulk cable, the company said.

Silicon Line expects its active HDMI 2.1 Ultra High Speed optical cable solution to be made available at prices competitive to equivalent length copper cable. The company, which is not a cable vendor, said it expects that there will be a premium for HDMI 2.1 vs .HDMI 2.0 of 50% at introduction at the end of this year. By next year HDMI 2.1 is expected to cannibalize HDMI 2.0 market and get close to today’s HDMI 2.0 price levels.

Among the advantages of HDMI over optical cable is that the cable thickness remains at a fixed thin diameter regardless of the length of the cable run.

HDMI 2.1 copper cables are assumed to work up to 9 feet max with a thick outer diameter. Some cables are already available in the market at that length. However, based on the tough CTS, Silicon Line said it believes that 9-feet certified copper cable will be challenging. For active optical cable, length can be more than 50 meters.

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By Greg Tarr

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