written by: Finn Orfano•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 10/31/2009
The HDMI cable is supposed to be the holy grail when it comes to transmitting both video and audio together with all the high-definition quality that is possible. But if you're not careful, HDMI will bite you in the home theater. Here's what you need to look out for.
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How Do We Solve a Problem like HDMI?
The HDMI cable was designated as the solution to the vexing problem of transmitting video and audio together in a single cable. Praise has been lauded on HDMI and its rapid ascent as the preeminent input on consumer electronics devices seems to prove the point (look at how fast it "killed" off DVI). But while there is much good to say about HDMI - it can transmit 1080p video and the latest high-definition audio formats, it's easy to use well as obvious how it goes into a socket- there are also some serious issues with it, issues that can cause discomfort at the least and damage to equipment at the worst, and issues which few seem to bother to research.
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Where's the Lock?
Or to be more specific, "where's the locking mechanism that will hold the HDMI cable in the socket?" There isn't any. The HDMI cable holds its position by friction, which provides oodles of problems. First, gravity can pull the cable out. Second, the cable can pull itself out from being bent to fit from one device to the other (especially when it's a short cable). And third, the socket can be damaged when the HDMI cable gets pulled out when someone inadvertently pulls on the device.
The solution is twofold - first avoid any strain on the HDMI cable. If that means getting a longer HDMI cable, do so. If it means moving a device like a Blu-ray player closer to the HDTV, do that.
The other solution is to use an HDMI adapter to ease the strain completely. A right angled HDMI adapter will fit into a device like a Blu-ray player and then allow the HDMI cable to easily attach without any strain at all. No gravity problems, no bending problems. No problem.
Or go back in time, sort of . . . there's a company that makes their HDMI cable with a locking mechanism. See, sometimes the best solution is no solution (i.e., we don't need no stinkin' locking mechanism- yes, we do!).
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Cheap is as Cheap Does
When HDMI cables first came out, they were costly little guys befitting their exalted status. Now they're tossed into boxes as a "bonus" with just about any device that has an HDMI port on it. Considering that an HDMI cable of quality can cost over $80 US, do you think the HDMI cable included for free with a device costing $100 US retail is high end? People will say (mostly those who got a free cable) that digital is digital- either it works or it doesn't. Well, they're not exactly wrong but not exactly right either. The cheap HDMI cable can work … and work … and then stop working. Or freeze up the device it's attached to. Or cause interference with the monitor or HDTV it's attached to. And it gets away with it because everyone will assume the problem is the device or the TV, not the HDMI cable.
The solution to wear and tear and future aggravation is simple: use quality HDMI cables even though they cost a bit. Is keeping your blood pressure down worth it? I know mine is.
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Follow the Leader, er, Manual
HDMI was designed to work with the copyright protection content providers crave - as in their view everybody is out to cheat them. As a side effect, the "handshaking" that HDMI must do with the devices it's plugged into sometimes go awry. This causes extreme aggravation and, in some cases, an end to the festivities.
The solution is to read the manual that came with the devices that the HDMI cable is being plugged into. In many cases the device will state the best procedure for using it with HDMI - for example, turning on a Blu-ray player first and then the HDTV it is going to play on. Sure we're all prejudiced against reading manuals, but the amount of grief that spending a few minutes reading can alleviate is hard to argue against.
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All Hail HDMI
Don't get me wrong - I like HDMI plenty. Enough to be using it with pretty much every device I have that can accept it. But I also make sure to take care of the potential problems that HDMI can cause so I can sleep at night. And then watch pretty much all the rest of the time.