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A Dialogue with HDMI Licensing about DisplayPort Cables

by August 07, 2011
Newsflash: HDMI Licensing Not Necessarily Evil Afterall

Newsflash: HDMI Licensing Not Necessarily Evil Afterall

HDMI Licensing has made some pretty questionable decisions in the past. The first that comes to mind is the declaration that everyone should stop using version numbers in favor of simply listing the various features implemented in the latest HDMI version. That went over like a pile of bricks and most of us, and many manufacturers for that matter, completely disregarded the "order" and carried on with business as usual. After all, consumers are obsessed with the principle (however false it may be) that "more is better". And thus, they searched diligently for that HDMI 1.4 or 1.4a designation. Finding it missing, many consumers assumed the equipment had v1.3 technology. Versions numbers seem to be back in vogue as a result.

The latest "snafu" had to do with HDMI Licensing declaring HDMI to Mini DisplayPort cables persona non grata and (more or less), apparently asking HDMI Licensees to stop selling them. Their official reason for this was:

The HDMI specification defines an HDMI cable as having only HDMI connectors on the ends. Anything else is not a licensed use of the specification and therefore, not allowed.

All HDMI products undergo compliance testing as defined by the Compliance Testing Specification. The CTS clearly defines necessary tests for all products defined in the HDMI Specification. Since this new cable product is undefined in the Specification, there are no tests associated with this product. It cannot be tested against the Specification.

Our takeaway from this was that HDMI Licensing was about to ban cables that served a very important purpose. These cables are able to take audio and video signals, for example, from a MacBook Pro to a flat panel display. Without a cable like this, you'd have to use a dongle. This allows the cable to be HDMI compliant and has the active adapter handle the conversion.

Of course, that kinda sucks. First of all, the Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI cable works. Second, the alternative is clunky and ridiculous given that, again, the first solution works.

I contacted Steve Venuti, president of HDMI Licensing to inquire about what exactly this would mean and, more importantly, what this meant for licensees and what would actually be demanded in terms of a recall or ban of products on the market. Would HDMI Licensing actually force licensees to not sell these cables? Would they force them to pull all non-compliant cables from their retail outlets or face consequences or delicensing? 

HDMI Licensing's first response to us was a clarification article that can be viewed in full here. It basically reiterated what a complaint cable was and what designated a non-compliant cable. It went on to explain that the real problem was that the Compliance Test Specification (CTS) isn't set up to test such a cable. So, HDMI Licensing will support this:

displayport HDMI adapter

used in a system that would look something like this:

HDMI to displayport adapter

But not this:

displayport to HDMI cable

This was good information, but it didn't address what exactly HDMI Licensing was up to - or how far they'd take this action. Our next communication included the following three questions. We've interposed HDMI Licensing's responses after each question:

1. Are you allowing licensees to sell these cables? What are you telling them specifically in regards to sale of non-compliant cables - or what have they agreed to that would cause violation of the present terms?

HDMI LLC has not asked for a recall and we do not have any plans to do that at this time. Our philosophy is to work with the industry to solve problems, not create them. Having said that, we are stuck in the middle of this one at this time. Our number one concern is over interoperability and compliance.

You remember in the early days…how we were criticized for interoperability problems? These new cables, although meeting a market need, are not complaint and not tested. Even ad hoc testing will only truly ensure that a specific cable works with a specific source device. It is also not a good situation for an end user to be able to buy an untested cable as it creates confusion.

We are concerned with these cables from a compliance point of view as we want to make sure that products that make it to the market will work and will work in all cases. I don’t see that many editors talking about that potential issue. Most think it is a simple manufacturing process to manufacturer a working DP-to-HDMI cable. It’s not rocket science, but with no compliance requirements or testing, this has the potential of turning into a nightmare for the consumer. Another issue is the cost of building the test equipment for this kind of testing and the required buy-in from test equipment manufacturers. We are talking about 100,000’s of dollars for the equipment required for testing.

As to the issue of who is manufacturing these products, we do not have empirical knowledge, but it is my belief that it is both HDMI Adopters and non-adopters. We are working with both camps. We let our Adopters know what is allowed by the Specification and Adopter agreement. We do not play favorites when it comes to compliance and have made Adopters who are manufacturing Mini DisplayPort to HDMI cables aware of this non-compliance issue. Ultimately, Adopters who continue to operate in a non-compliant manner are terminated by HDMI Licensing And over the past 2 years we had over 200 such cases. We strongly believe that we need to enforce all aspects of compliance to ensure a fair marketplace as well as the best experience for the consumer.

2. Is there a mechanism for adjusting the CTS to include testing for cables of this type? If so, is there an interest in doing this? How long would it take to implement?

Having said all the above, it may be that the best path is to change the specification and the CTS in order to accommodate this market need. We have asked all the HDMI Adopters we talked with to provide us with market data that supports the market need for this type of cable product so that we can make the case to the 7 Founders. However, as we all know, these kinds of changes take time and consideration, and we are only now collecting the right market data to present to the Founders. At this time I cannot guarantee any solid outcome or indicate a timeframe for when we may have a solution.

3. If you have no interest in doing this (for financial or other reasons) - will you be satisfied by simply accepting the required licensing fees from existing licensees and allowing a product like this to be sold, provided it is clearly marked as non-compliant (or 'not CTS tested', etc)?


That is an interesting idea and one that could bypass the work required to change the CTS and the Specification, as well as the added costs of the test equipment required to perform new tests. I will commit to starting a formal discussion on the Mini DisplayPort to HDMI cables within the Consortium in the near future and will also introduce the possibility of allowing products clearly marked non-compliant to be sold on the market.  A topic of this magnitude will take some time to work through the process and for a group that is so concerned with interoperability and compliance, it will be a difficult sell, but I am committed to introducing the subject.

I don't think anyone is interested in abusing HDMI Licensing or incorrectly labeling a product as HDMI-compliant when it has not been certified.

Let me be very direct – this is not about money or control. This is all about the current licensing agreement with Adopters and the current requirements for anyone to use the HDMI trademark or to call something “HDMI.” To not police this would mean the end of the brand and dilution of the user experience. We cannot advocate our looking the other way, but we can advocate taking this to the Consortium and looking at ways to accommodate the market needs while protecting our brand and the consumer experience.

The fact that HDMI Licensing answered each of our questions with a thoughtfulness and detail that really impressed us. We were doubly impressed that they were willing to simply entertain the idea of a "non-complaint" sticker to indicate products that are not certified as HDMI compatible or CTS tested. Of all of the aspects of their response, this was the most pleasantly surprising.

In our opinion, we see a company that is doing its best to advance its technology while protecting its reputation and certification standards. After this brief exchange we actually feel like we have a much better grasp of HDMI Licensing's perspective and, at present, believe that it's quite reasonable.

Based on what we now understand to be true, most of the recent anti-HDMI Licensing articles decrying the company for their recent response to non-certified cables were preemptive and not entirely fair. This was a good reminder to us that there are always two sides to every story.

Let us know your thoughts in our forums.


Adam posts on August 11, 2011 10:06
This article reminded me to order one of those cables for my new Air. I fought the temptation until last night to place the order, but then I broke down. It'll get here tomorrow.
Bob Walters posts on August 09, 2011 11:07
…..sorry…… distance & voltage never entered my head…good point though.
highfigh posts on August 09, 2011 10:31
Bob Walters, post: 824398
Clint et als,
This might sound simplistic but….if there are 19 pins/wires on one end & matching pins/wires at the other end with a different connector configuration….it should work……basic electrical system!!!!!!

You'd think, but with a 5V communication connection that has almost no tolerance for voltage drop (.3V) ir interruption, long distances are not exactly guaranteed unless some kind of repeater or active cable is used, which equals higher cost for the ones that actually work. If a receiver or pre-pro is used for all switching of audio & video AND someone wants to use the TV's tuner in the event of a satellite/cable/U-Verse failure, the sound needs to get back to the receiver so it can play through the speakers and this means another HDMI cable plugged into the ARC port or an optical cable is needed. If the distance to the receiver is long, it's expensive. If the TV is right over the rest of the system, it's no big deal. If HDMI/optical isn't used, there's a good chance that lip-synch issues will occur and there's no guarantee that the lip-synch correction will be correct.
Bob Walters posts on August 09, 2011 08:45
Clint et als,
This might sound simplistic but….if there are 19 pins/wires on one end & matching pins/wires at the other end with a different connector configuration….it should work……basic electrical system!!!!!!
Audioholics posts on August 09, 2011 07:11
Companies like RedMere are making HDMI a LOT more palatable, even over long distances. At this point, lag is the only remaining issue I see (plus the added cost of active cables which is still rather high).
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Clint Deboer was terminated from Audioholics for misconduct on April 4th, 2014. He no longer represents Audioholics in any fashion.

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