HDMI 1.3 Wobbles Out of the Gate

Sherwood Newcastle R-972 receiver with HDMI 1.3 inputs

January 11, 2007 - As readers know, we are on the precipice of a new A/V connection standard in the form of HDMI 1.3. Among other things, HDMI 1.3 offers improvements such as wider bandwidth and faster transfer speed, automatic lip-sync correction, support for 30-, 36-, and 48-bit color depths and the expanded-gamut xvYCC color space, and single-cable transfer of the next-gen lossless digital audio formats Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master.

The first consumer-electronics device to feature HDMI 1.3 was Sony's PlayStation 3, followed by Toshiba's second-generation HD DVD player, the HD-XA2. But realizing everything that 1.3 has to offer requires that every link of the audio and video chain be up to the new 1.3 spec: source (HD DVD, Blu-ray, cable, or satellite), A/V receiver or preamp, and display. Not to mention that taking advantage of HDMI 1.3's enhanced video capabilities will require new sources or significant revisions to existing ones. (Current digital video sources are all 24-bit, for example.) And taking a product from HDMI 1.1 or 1.2 to the new standard requires a hardware upgrade - something that no company said it is planning.

While at CES, I polled TV and receiver manufacturers about their plans for implementing this new standard and when HDMI 1.3-equipped components will hit store shelves. Sadly, the news isn't too reassuring for anyone with near-term purchase plans. While all companies will eventually incorporate the new standard, most of them won't be doing it anytime soon. More surprisingly, HDMI 1.3 wasn't something that most companies really wanted to talk about in depth.

It turns out that there is just one manufacturer of HDMI 1.3 chips, Silicon Image. You might think, then, that Silicon Image is the bottleneck, but this doesn't seem to be the case. (According to one major TV manufacturer, SI is "banging them out" and supply is not an issue.) The more likely culprit seems to be delays in getting final approval for the 1.3 specification.

News is most encouraging on the video front. Samsung and Sharp both hope to have HDMI 1.3 in several models by March or April, while Sony expects to have it in a new 53-inch SXRD set by Feb or March and the newest, largest member of the Bravia family, the 70-inch KDL-70XBR3 ($33,000), in February.

Disappointingly, we'll have to wait longer for HDMI 1.3 to appear in receivers. Denon had the most exciting news, saying that every receiver in its next model rollout - expected during the second quarter - would feature HDMI 1.3. Sherwood also displayed two HDMI 1.3-capable models in its Newcastle line, the R-972 ($1,499) and the R-872 ($999), both to be available around August.

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