HDMI has been a part of our life for a few years now. It enables HD video and audio to travel from an HD source, like Blu-ray to our high definition televisions. There have been several revisions, and the latest is known as HDMI 1.4. But what's the big deal about this version?
The people most likely to care about HDMI 1.4 are those intending to buy aand Blu-ray player. The new standard is intended to make 3D TVs a bit more user friendly by allowing televisions to auto-switch to the correct mode when they detect a 3D signal. All 3D TVs and Blu-ray players will support HDMI 1.4 from the outset, so TVs will only fail to auto-switch to 3D when being fed a signal from a Sky+HD or other set-top-box that's essentially had 3D support added retrospectively.
HDMI 1.4 also features something known as an Audio Return Channel, or ARC. This is very handy for people who want to pass audio received by their TV back to an AV receiver. Normally, this would be accomplished with a coaxial or optical digital cable, or with a stereo RCA cable. Now, the TV can get over-the-air HD broadcasts from Freeview or freesat HD and send that Dolby Digital or LPCM audio back to your audio system.
Also present, is a full 100MB/s data capability, which will allow devices to share data with each other. In theory, this allows devices to share their internet connections with each other. So we might see AV receivers act as the only device in your entertainment system connected to an Ethernet router, and the other devices simply sharing its connection. There are other possibilities too, like devices transferring secure, HD video between each other, while still respecting copy protection.
For 3D and ARC you won't need a new HDMI cable, although you might have trouble with low quality, cheap cables if they aren't capable of transmitting enough data --3D is extremely data intensive, so cheap cables, that do 1080p okay, might not be able to cope with 1080p 3D. The networking functionality will definitely need a new cable though.
On the subject of HDMI 1.4 cables, everything does become a lot more confusing. With the new standard comes a total of five possible types of cable. These are standard, standard with Ethernet and standard automotive. Unless you want to connect a camcorder to your car with an HDMI cable, ignore the last one. Standard and standard with Ethernet are designed for video up 1080i, and depending on which you chose, the transmission of data. The chances are, you'll never see a 'standard' cable, because it's very unlikely to be of use to most people, and manufacturers will want to write "high speed" on their cables.
On the other hand, high speed cables will handle 1080p and up, including new formats like 4K video and 3D. There are two kinds, high speed and high speed with Ethernet. We think you can work out what the difference is.
There is also a new connector type that you may see appear. In addition to full size and mini HDMI there is now a 'micro' connector. Aimed at mobile phones and other tiny devices, it's got all the functionality of its bigger brothers, but can be used where space is at a premium. Honestly, we can't help but be annoyed that there are now three sizes of connector. This sort of thing is deeply annoying with USB cables, and it's bound to cause problems with HDMI too.
Don't panic, you aren't going to need to rush out and replace all of your current cables and equipment. The advantages of HDMI 1.4 over 1.3 are significant if you're buying new equipment, but don't affect anyone with current hardware.