Archive for June 11, 2009

New HDMI 1.4 connection adds Internet, 3D, and 4K video

HDMI audio video connections cables tangle interconnects jumble av wires

HDMI helped to clear up cable-clutter by sending digital audio and video through a single cable. The new HDMI 1.4 spec now adds Ethernet, too.

Later this year, new HDMI 1.4 connections will likely start showing up on HDTVs and Blu-ray players, and perhaps later, cable and satellite set-top boxes, and digital receivers.

The 1.4 specification offers much different capabilities than earlier versions. Perhaps the most game-changing feature is the addition of an Ethernet channel, which allows a single HDMI cable to carry Internet data (up to 100 megabits per second) along with digital audio and video. That means the growing number of TVs and Blu-ray players that connect to the Internet won't require a separate Ethernet jack.

HDMI 1.4 also supports 3D (which needs two separate 1080p video streams), and video resolutions four times greater than the best resolution offered today, 1080p. One day, home displays will be able to support the "4K (4096×2164/24Hz and 3840×2160/30Hz) resolutions" now found in many digital movie theaters.

The downside to a new HDMI spec, of course, is more confusion for consumers, as there will now be four different "versions" of HDMI 1.4 cables: standard and high speeds, both with and without the Ethernet channel. That means you'll have to read the labels carefully in order to get the cable you need and avoid paying more for one you don't.

Q&A with Steve Ventui about HDMI 1.4

To get some insight into what the new HDMI spec means for consumers, we asked Steve Venuti, president of HDMI LLC, a few questions:

CR: Does HDMI 1.4 have advantages other than an Ethernet channel, new color spaces, 4K video and 3D, as mentioned above?

VENUTI: Yes. "HDMI everywhere" also increases functionality. With the two new connectors—the smaller 19-pin Micro HDMI Connector for portables and the HDMI Auto Connection system for use in vehicles—HDMI is now wherever HD is, including much smaller and more portable devices, as well as in the automobile.

CR: Will products with HDMI 1.3 connections continue to be made and offered after the debut of HDMI 1.4?

VENUTI: This is something that can only be answered by the market, but history tells us that top-tier manufacturers will start to implement 1.4 features on their higher-end product lines. Second-tier manufacturers will follow as the 1.4 features make their way into the mid-level of the top-tier manufacturers’ lines. At some point, most products will adopt these features as they become mainstream.However, there is always a market for low-end products that are not burdened with all the optional features that HDMI helps to enable, and these products will continue to be sold as the entry line and/or in markets that are more likely to buy cheaper products.

CR: What will happen with legacy HDMI 1.3 products when they are connected to an HDMI 1.4 device?

VENUTI: The HDMI specification is fully backwards compatible, so that any 1.4 device will work with any previous version of HDMI, to the highest common denominator of shared features.

CR: Are the HDMI 1.4 connectors the same as those used with HDMI 1.3?

VENUTI: Yes, the connector remains the same, so that any 1.4 cable can plug into legacy 1.3 (or previous) receptacles, and legacy cables can connect into 1.4 devices as well. The products are completely backwards compatible.

CR: In previous iterations, manufacturers were given a menu list of HDMI features, and then elected to include or ignore specific features. Will HDMI 1.4 be similar?

VENUTI: Yes. HDMI is built upon the premise that manufacturers are the best ones to decide which features to include or exclude. HDMI has so much potential functionality; if we were to mandate features the cost to implement [them] could be very high.

CR: How will consumers know if the device they purchase is fully compliant with all the HDMI 1.4 features?

VENUTI: It is unlikely that a device will implement all the features. For example, 1.4 includes the Automotive Connection System—clearly something that will not be implemented by an HDTV. We are looking at ways to make this clearer to consumers by requiring that products that use the version number (HDMI 1.3 or 1.4) also list the features that are enabled by the version number.

CR: Could you talk about the different HDMI 1.4 cables, and the branding and certification requirements?

VENUTI: Sure. There are five types of cables, and we will be requiring all those marketing HDMI cables to label not only the package, but also the cable itself.

  • Standard HDMI Cable. Supports data rates up to 1080i/60;
  • High Speed HDMI Cable. Supports data rates beyond 1080p, including Deep Color and all 3D formats of the new 1.4 specification;
  • Standard HDMI Cable with Ethernet. Includes Ethernet connectivity;
  • High Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet. Includes Ethernet connectivity;
  • Automotive HDMI Cable. Allows the connection of external HDMI-enabled devices to an in-vehicle HDMI device.

CR: When will we see the first products with HDMI 1.4 connections?

Venuti: It depends on which features, but we should see some [products] by the holiday selling season this year. More will be introduced at CES in January, and 2010 should see the beginning of broader adoption.

CR: What do you see as the biggest challenge?

Venuti: The biggest challenge is making this make sense to the consumer. It is a never-ending battle, but here is how we look to make this as easy as possible:

  • Guidelines—so those who use the HDMI logo and talk about HDMI features do so clearly and consistently.
  • Cable markings and labeling requirements–new with 1.4, this will make the world of cables much more understandable.
  • website. We added a consumer section last year to address the educational needs of the average consumer.

For more information about the new HDMI 1.4 specification, see the official release, or the HDMI 1.4 FAQ. —James K. Willcox

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Readers How-To: Cancel Cable and Get Free DTV

Here is a word from our reader “Bill”. How he proceeded to cancel cable and get free DTV in a simple and inexpensive way.

My only question is why he has three converterboxes. The only reason I can see is to enable recording of another channel then the one you are watching and if there are more then one TV-set connected to the antenna. And, you want to watch different channels on that one.

Over to Bill.


1.  My Setup

Radio Shack “starship enterprise antenna”

Insignia DTV converter box

Zenith DTV converter box

2 x Series II Tivo 80 hr

2 x Samsung 32 inch HDTVs (with the digital turner built in)

Fat wallet because I got rid of cable

The Antenna is sitting in my closet and hooked directly into where the cable source used to be in my basement.  So without explaining it all I basically have a digital over the air signal to all rooms in my house using the same old cables. The cables are old and the are being split about 10 times throughout the house.  I’m lucky and live close to a city and have a strong signal for all channels.  That is a BIG factor in having this work successfully.

I purchased the converter boxes using the two coupons provided by the government.  They were purchased at different times.  See the links and you’ll notice that the products are exactly the same.  The only difference is that one says zenith and one insignia.  Each box is identical.  Currently both are for sale at these prices: Insignia at best buy – $60  Zenith at Sears/Kmart – $50.  No sale at Sears or anything, it’s just that much. Not sure what the deal is there but they work the same so go to sears or kmart.

I recommend the zenith converter boxes because they support 4:3 or 16:9 and work very will with the tivo series 2 that I have.  Magnavox converter box did not support anything and sucked really bad.  I had to return the magnavox to kmart because it was the only one.

Anyway,  you’ll need the purple ir cable that came with the tivo in order to set the tivo up with the converter.

The series II tivo works very, very well with the converter box.  Channels are changed using the tivo remote and it works perfectly.

The tivo records in 16:9 for shows broadcast in that format.  It looks fantastic on the hdtvs even though it is a low resolution connection.  With cable I could only record in 4:3 this was a huge bonus that I didn’t think about when first setting this up.  It is almost like having a hdtivo.

Set up the converter box correctly and all shows will display and record in their correct aspect ratio and everything will look great.

I don’t have many channels but I usually watched the local channels anyway.  I record what I want and watch it when I have time.  Other stuff can be seen on the web so I don’t feel as if I’m missing out.

I recommend this setup if you are thinking about it.  Do it.  Cancel cable and get free tv.  Call them now.  Tell them you don’t need their overpriced content anymore.  Unless you have cable internet then only half cancel cable, be nice about it.

Tagged: cancel cable, DTV, how to, INsignia, radio shack, Samsung, setup, Tivo

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GPS on the new iPhone: (Re)enter Navigon

Navigon's MobileNavigator software app turns the iPhone into a GPS

Navigon's MobileNavigator software app for the new Apple iPhone 3G S
(Click to enlarge.)

After declaring last month that it would leave the U.S. market for GPS units, the company has now announced new software in the works for the soon-to-be-released iPhone 3G S. The downloadable app, called MobileNavigator, will be available later this month and will offer turn-by-turn directions—one of the feature upgrades on the new iPhone.

The Cars blog reports that two version of the software will be available: a Lite version with maps but limited functionality, and a full version with Navigon’s usual complement of features—reality view, turn-by-turn guidance, lane assistance, current speed, day/night mode, and points of interest. Prices will be available upon release.

Navigon is joining TomTom in jumping on the iPhone bandwagon. The latter recently announced plans to release its own app software for the next-generation phone, including a car dock, microphone, and speaker to fully mimic a standalone GPS unit. TomTom for the iPhone is set for a late-summer release.

Not planning to buy the iPhone 3G S? You can still get guidance from standalone units. We’ve just updated our Ratings of GPS navigators (available to subscribers), so take a look. —Nick K. Mandle

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Digital cameras made simpler: Auto scene modes

beach bright sun exppsure setting camera mode

When taking a photo in bright sunlight, a camera's auto scene mode will automatically select the correct settings.
[ Photo courtesy of tiarescott ]

Most point-and-shoot digital cameras feature scene modes, which let you indicate what type of subject you're shooting, such as a beach shot or fireworks, so the camera can automatically set the optimal shutter speed and aperture. Recently, many camera manufacturers have been taking this a step further with a feature called auto scene mode, which automatically selects the scene mode itself.

Using the feature is pretty easy. You select it from a menu or a dial, after which the camera will automatically change the scene mode according to the subject. For example, if you're outside on a bright, sunny day, it would choose a landscape scene mode. Or, if you're photographing a person, it would select a portrait mode, presumably because it detected a face.

How does auto scene mode differ from a camera's regular auto (or program auto) mode, which can adjust shutter speed, aperture or ISO depending on the subject and light? Auto scene mode does more. For example, it may activate or deactivate the flash. In a night portrait scene mode, it might not just turn on the strobe, but also use a special type of flash, called slow-sync, which will fire a flash and then keep the shutter open in order to expose for ambient light. And if the subject is a portrait, the camera may also "decide" to open up the aperture very wide, to produce a shallow depth of field, which is helpful for this type of photo.

One caveat: Before using auto scene mode to shoot an important subject, experiment with it to see how well it works. Let me know what you find out. I'd be very interested in hearing about your experiences, both good and bad, using this new feature. —Terry Sullivan

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A Midweek Massacre

I usually love Wednesdays. It’s so obvious the weekend is near, and it usually recharges me to finish the week with gusto! Sometimes, things can find a way to ruin a perfectly good day.

Thunderstorms in the Spring are inevitable, and we are sitting right in the middle of pop-up alley. Storms seem to develop right on top of us and move east. Once in a while, these things lighting up the sky in beautiful displays of art will pick something random, like a TV station full of sensitive electronic equipment, and wipe out things in an unpredictable way.

Welcome to my world, on Wednesday June 10, 2009.

We got hit in a big way, in a bad way, and in the worst possible way. It knocked us off the air, off cable, and off satellite. It did not seem to have any rhyme or reason to what it took out, and just did its damage in a few milliseconds.

We worked each problem all day getting systems back online. Our main HD encoder is fried, and a replacement will be here Thursday. Servers lost sync with each other and our main program switcher is having issues. I hope we get things back to normal in the morning. Like one viewer told me on the phone bank, “The Government couldn’t pick a worst time to make this transition”. True for the transition, and certainly bad timing with the switch on Friday to be hit by a massive power zap!

But, the show must go on!

We have an annoying glitch in the video we are tracking down right now, and like I said can’t send out any HD programming this evening. We lost AP Wire service and odds and ends around the building. It’s just a pain, and a huge mess, but we will get all the issues resolved, so please be patient and stand by!

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