The High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) specification, a key component of digital television, has been upgraded to support "deep color," the group controlling the interface said Monday.
HDMI LLC, which was founded by Hitachi, Matsushita Electric (Panasonic), Royal Philips Electronics, Silicon Image, Sony Corporation, Thomson and Toshiba Corporation, oversees the HDMI interface, which has served as the multimedia interface for digital television. Over 400 firms have licensed the technology, and the firm estimates that 1 billion HDMI-compliant devices will be available by 2009.
Under the new HDMI 1.3 specification, the clock speed will be increased from 165 MHz to over 225 MHz, said HDMI president of licensing Leslie Chard. The increased bandwidth will allow support for 1080 x 60 Hz displays with 36-bit RGB color, or a 1080p display with a 90 Hz refresh rate. Technically, the specification leaves room for clock rates of up to 450 MHz, Chard said.
The new standard will add a new upgrade path for digital television owners and buyers. Very early DTVs lacked an HDMI connection, leaving early consumers with concerns over whether or not they would be able to play protected content. Now, the new specification promises an enhanced level of detail for next-generation content. According to Chard, a few early adopters should announce products soon, Chard said, with "lots of products by the end of the year," in time for Christmas, he said.
The key addition to the new specification has been the support for 30-, 36-, and 48-bit RGB or "deep" color, a specifcation that extends color depths beyond the capability of the human eye to perceive them.
The ITU 601 standard, which governs today's displays, allows only 60 to 80 percent of the available colors, even if the display can support more, Chard said. "The color bit depth [of today's displays] is typically 24-bits RGB – that gets you 16 million colors, and the human eye can distinguish that," Chard said. "That leads to scaling and onscreen effects which you can pick up. Either 36-bit or 48-bit RGB is beyond the ability of the human eye to distinguish."
Sony's upcoming PlayStation 3 will support deep color, Chard said, and PC graphics companies like ATI and Nvidia can bake the technology fairly easily into its cards, he said. Although the "deep color" provision was added with the next-generation Blu-Ray and HD-DVD specifications in mind, no formal announcement of support has been made by either camp.
We don't have a public announcement, but it's natural to assume as standards get big and are accepted that they may be used," Chard said.
"Anybody going to have an HD-DVD or Blu-Ray drive needs to have an HDMI output," Chard added. "Anyone who's claiming to have a media notebook needs to have this."
The new color depths will be consistent with the new "xvYCC" color scheme which was adopted as a standard by the International Electrotechnical Commission in January. Sony showed off a xvYCC-compliant 82-inch LCD at this year's CES.
The standard will also add support for Dolby HD and DTS-HD audio. The audio will be combined with a lip-sync compensation feature to synchronize the audio and visual channels -- not actively, but through the use of latency information which will will be actively communicated to the other components, Chard said. Finally, support for an HDMI mini-connector has been added, to allow digital video to be streamed from a compliant camcorder directly to a display.
Finally, future displays will support what is known as "Consumer Electronics Control," a standard that will allow the HDMI devices to talk to one another, and configure themselves. The most profound effect will probably be the phasing out of the high-end remote control devices, which will be replaced with a simpler control scheme, Chard said. The technology may be marketed as "One-Touch Play," he said.
The HDMI interface is often thought of as the hardware component to the High-Definition Content Protection standard, which is governed by a separate licensing organization. No HDCP-specific provisions were made, Chard said, although the new HDMI spec "caused a few bugs" in testing with HDCP, he said.