CE products with new HDMI 1.3 connectors will be available in stores before Christmas now that the 1.3 standard is days away from approval and Silicon Image is sampling HDMI 1.3 chips, said Silicon Image marketing director Joe Lee.

The new connector offers the potential for enhanced audio and video capabilities in future CE products, a mini connector for camcorders and other small devices, and automatic synchronization of audio with video when audio is transported to a surround-sound processor from a video source but video is delivered directly to the display.

The first product incorporating an HDMI 1.3 connector is expected to be the Blu-ray-based PlayStation 3, due in November from Sony. HDMI 1.3 connectors could appear later on next-generation HDTV displays, next-generation Blu-ray and HD DVD players, A/V receivers, surround-sound preamp/processors and PCs.

Silicon Image expects “a number” of HDMI 1.3-equipped products to appear at January’s CES, many of which will ship in the first quarter. They will include AV receivers, high-definition flat-panel and rear-projection TVs, and DVD players, most likely high-definition disc players, the company said.

Pioneer previously said HDMI 1.3 connections could appear in high-definition disc players and A/V receivers as early as the summer of 2007.

Because it boosts bandwidth to 10.2Gbps from 4.95Gbps, HDMI 1.3 connectors will enable suppliers of future video sources and HDTV displays to accelerate refresh rates to 120Hz from 60Hz, deepen color bit depth to 48-bit RGB from 24-bit, and deliver 1.8x more viewable colors to include every visible color that the eye can see, said Lee. With the increase in viewable colors and greater color depth, subtle changes in the blues of a blue sky will be smoother and less abrupt, Lee said by way of example.

In movies, higher refresh rates will mean smoother motion with less blur in action scenes, and in games, it will mean greater action details and faster image updates so players can react faster, Lee said. “Professional gamers are known to demand well over 60 frames per second for their games,” he noted.

At first, however, not all video sources incorporating 1.3 may be able to generate such refresh rates, color bit depth, or viewable colors, and not all displays with 1.3 may be able to reproduce such enhancements, Silicon Image admitted. That’s because “HDMI typically leads the industry by bringing capabilities into the specification first, and then manufacturers design products to take advantage of the new capabilities,” Lee said. Previous versions of the HDMI spec, for example, supported the transport of 1080p video, but HDMI-equipped products capable of generating or reproducing 1080p took longer to arrive. “It’s possible that Media PCs may become the first products to take advantage of the greater bandwidths since PCs have very powerful graphics and processing capabilities,” Lee added.

The first Blu-ray and HD DVD players capable of generating video that match the connectors’ capabilities will be available in the first quarter of next year, Lee said. The capabilities of the PS 3 at launch wasn’t certain.

HDMI 1.3 also promises audio enhancements. In future HD DVD and Blu-ray disc players, for example, HDMI 1.3 will be able to transport all, not just some, of the two formats’ optional high-bandwidth surround-sound codecs in native form, thanks to a boost in the HDMI standard’s “frame rate” to 768kHz from 192kHz. First-generation HD DVD players already deliver all codecs over HDMI 1.1 connectors, but only after transcoding to multichannel PCM. First-generation Blu-ray players lack that transcoding capability.

The newly supported surround codecs are losslessly compressed Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master. Optional surround codecs previously supported by HDMI were (for Blu-ray) uncompressed 7.1-channel 192kHz/24-bit PCM and compressed Dolby Digital Plus. For HD DVD and Blu-ray, previously supported optional codecs include various DTS HD implementations, including 5.1- to 7.1-channel soundtracks.

The HDMI 1.1 and 1.2 standards support all mandatory surround formats in the HD DVD and Blu-ray standards, including Blu-ray’s mandatory 5.1-channel PCM up to 192kHz/24 bits. The current 1.2 spec also transports DVD-Audio and SACD streams, 1,080p video at 60Hz refresh rates (also supported in the 1.0 spec), 24-bit RGB color, eight channels of uncompressed 192kHz/24-bit audio and the CEC bidirectional communications protocol, also called HDMI One Touch. It allows for one-touch turn-on of a home theater system built from multiple brands.

The companies developing the HDMI 1.3 spec are Hitachi, Matsushita, Royal Philips, Silicon Image, Sony, Thomson and Toshiba. All are founding members of HDMI Licensing, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Silicon Image. HDMI Licensing licenses and promotes the HDMI specification and educates retailers and consumers about its benefits, particularly its ability to transport audio and high-definition video over a single cable between HDTV displays and video sources.

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