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Hands-on with the HTC Evo 4G's HDMI-out

Sure, the HTC Evo 4G is one of the first smartphones to offer an HDMI out port, but how well does it really perform?

Jeff Bakalar/CNET

Sure, the HTC Evo 4G is one of the first smartphones to offer an HDMI-out port, but how well does it really perform?

On the bottom of the Evo is a small HDMI-out port. It's much smaller than the HDMI interface you're probably used to, so make sure to purchase a Micro-D size cable. One end will fit the port at the bottom of the Evo and the other end terminates in a standard HDMI interface.

After spending some time encoding various file formats and sizes, we found that MP4 movie files performed the most consistently. Also, files rendered closer to the Evo's native 800x480 resolution worked best as larger videos stuttered and would not play properly on-screen.

We were a bit disappointed in the lack of control the Evo gives in terms of HDMI-out playback. In fact, there are absolutely no settings associated with the connection. Other than videos stored on the external MicroSD card and YouTube, the phone can't play anything else through the port--this also includes third party software like Slingbox Player Mobile. Oddly enough, the Evo can't display individual photos either; they must be arranged together in a slideshow for them to show up correctly.

The Evo seems to output all video at 720p (1280x720), regardless of the source resolution. Also, it takes a few seconds for the phone to handshake with a TV, so be prepared to miss the first second or two of playback. In terms of sound, every video file played back was accompanied with solid audio quality. You can control the volume of the source material via the Evo's two-button rocker on the right side of the device.

For the most part, playing video files via the standard media player proved to be the best viewing experience. Any file that was playable on the Evo played back on our Samsung UN55B8500--of course the higher resolution, the better picture quality on the TV. We were really impressed with how well cartoons appeared when played off the Evo; our episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force upscaled to fit our entire screen even though the source files were just 600x352. However, for smaller resolution videos--like a preloaded trailer for Toy Story 3 (which was 480x270)--the picture did not fill up the entire screen on our Samsung TV or our LG 47LE5500. Contrary to this, we continually got full screen playback when using our Panasonic TH-50PX75U for testing.

Jeff Bakalar/CNET

Even though the 720p video we recorded using the Evo's built-in camcorder played back at an acceptable quality on the phone's screen, once we exported that same video through our HDMI cable the picture quality suffered greatly. It seemed that there was some frame dropping going on that gave playback a jittery look. Clearly, the Evo is doing some heavy-duty compression that is quite unflattering when played on a big screen.

We were also a bit disappointed with the HDMI-out performance of the Evo's high quality YouTube player. Not one high quality video we tested was able to fill up the entire screen of our Samsung or LG (without using our TV's aspect controls) which left an annoying black box around each video. This is in direct conflict to what Sprint showed us at the HTC Evo 4G launch party a few weeks ago (though it's possible the monitors on display at the event were also zoomed in). Again, our Panasonic had no problem upscaling video to fit the entire screen, so it's safe to say your experience may vary. We also noticed a strange pixel-blurring issue on almost every video that didn't take up the full screen. The bottom 10-20 pixels running horizontally along the image seem to blur together. While it's certainly not a dealbreaker, videophiles will definitely notice it.

The pixel-blur issue can be seen here along the bottom of the image. Jeff Bakalar/CNET

Overall, HDMI playback via the HTC Evo 4G is a mixed bag and will vary depending on the HDTV used for output. Having the ability to watch video stored and streamed off a smartphone is certainly a luxury and would have seemed like science fiction only a decade ago. While the performance of the Evo's HDMI-out was never unwatchable, we wish the feature was a bit more fleshed out with more settings such as aspect and resolution controls. If you're planning on using the phone for a lot of video playback, just know that using preexisting media on your device's microSD card is a much more reliable experience.