With the ever-escalating demands for better audio-visual experience, it’s no surprise that consumers seek out technological advancements matching their needs. While smartphones, tablets, and other portable media-playing gadgets mostly satisfy this, many people want to view their favorite photos and videos on bigger screens. Connecting these devices to televisions and home theater/AV/Surround Sound receivers hence is their go-to solution.
Viewing dimensions aside, achieving higher-quality multimedia ambiance comes as a reason as well. Clearer pictures, higher-resolution videos, better-sounding audio – these are just some pros of larger media systems. To enjoy these benefits in larger displays is the main reason why people are so keen on connecting these electronic pieces.
Common Ways to Connect a USB to an HDMI (with an Adapter)
Though it may appear simple – connecting media devices – this is not always the case. Most of the latest television models and AV media systems have HDMI ports. The majority of portable media players, meanwhile, are designed to have USB ports. These ports have different structural configurations and are very dissimilar, features-wise.
Cables exist to connect electronic devices together. While there are HDMI and USB cables, both are port-specific and therefore compatible only with HDMI- and USB-supporting devices, respectively. So in most cases, an adapter or converter box is required.
Nevertheless, using adapters and converter boxes have downsides. Convenience is a major issue, as several cables get involved in the process. With an adapter, an HDMI cable is needed to connect its HDMI output port to a display medium’s HDMI input port. For a converter box, two cables – one USB cable and one HDMI cable – are needed to make the connections possible. Cluttered space (due to the cables) and preparation time consumed becomes consequent ill-effects of this case as well.
USB to HDMI Adapter
USB to HDMI Converter Box
A New Way to Connect a USB to an HDMI (without an Adapter)
The disadvantages adapters and converter boxes have over USB to HDMI connectivity have led to extensive means of finding alternatives. The most recent and the most promising of which is a single-cable product called HDMI Alternate Mode.
On September 1, 2016, HDMI Licensing, LLC – the consortium controlling and licensing the HDMI specification – announced the release of HDMI Alternate Mode. Simply called “Alt Mode”, this product was developed for the USB C Optical Cable cable type. It’s a single cord that allows USB Type-C compatible devices to directly connect to HDMI-enabled displays. With this, our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and PCs can now be easily connected to projectors, monitors, HD, and 4K televisions as well as digital signages.
How HDMI Alternate Mode for USB Type-C works is simple. Just insert the cable’s USB Type-C connector to the media source’s USB port and insert its HDMI connector on the display device’s HDMI port. The Alt Mode then allows non-USB signals (in this case, HDMI signals) to be carried through a USB Type-C cable.
Currently, HDMI Alternate Mode has several, varied applications as it supports the full range of HDMI 1.4b features. These include:
- Ethernet over HDMI: Provides additional support for Ethernet over HDMI for connected devices.
- HDMI Ethernet Channel: Adds high-speed networking to an HDMI link, allowing users to take full advantage of their IP-enabled devices without a separate Ethernet cable.
- Audio Return Channel: Allows an HDMI-connected TV with a built-in tuner to send audio data “upstream” to a surround audio system, eliminating the need for a separate audio cable.
- 3D Support: Defines input/output protocols for major 3D video formats until Full HD (1080p) at 120 Hz, paving the way for true 3D gaming and 3D home theater applications.
- Resolution Support: Supports 4K x 2K resolution (3840 x 2160) at 24 Hz, 25 Hz, and 30 Hz, and 4096 x 2160 resolution at 24 Hz.
- Content Type: Promotes real-time signaling of content types between display and source devices enables a TV to optimize picture settings based on content type.
- Additional Color Spaces: Adds support for additional color models such as sYCC601, AdobeRGB, and AdobeYCC601 which are all used in digital photography and computer graphics.
- HDMI Micro Connector: A new, smaller connector for phones and other portable devices, supporting resolutions up to 1080p.
- Automotive Connection System: New cables and connectors for automotive video systems, designed to meet the unique demands of the motoring environment while delivering true HD quality.
Granted that innovation is continuous for electronic gadgets, HDMI Alternate Mode shall have its applications progress further. Be it in gaming, home theater, digital photography, computer graphics, automobiles, and other audio-visual stuff, HDMI Alternate Mode is going to be a powerhouse interface.
Pros and Cons
So the question now is, should we engage ourselves in using this new technology called HDMI Alternate Mode? Or should we be content to have adapters and converter boxes continue working their magic? Let’s take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of HDMI Alternate Mode for USB Type-C.
Being a single-cable solution, an HDMI Alternate Mode for USB Type-C provides a common connection between USB and HDMI devices. It is highly convenient as one simply needs to insert the connectors on the corresponding ports of compatible devices. Subsequent to minimizing the number of cables used, Alt Mode reduces space usage, clutter and preparation time. The Alt Mode, moreover, promotes faster data transfer as no complicated USB-to-HDMI signal conversion processes are involved.
While an adapter or converter box simply links USB-supported and HDMI-supported devices together, an Alt Mode offers much more. With it supporting all features of HDMI version 1.4b, the Alt Mode comes with various applications.
For instance, the additional support it provides for Ethernet – technology used in wired Local Area Networks (LANs) – makes for better internet connection. Its support for Full HD 3D video formats and wide resolution imparts enhanced 3D gaming, television, and home theater/surround sound experience. Furthermore, the real-time signaling of content types between display and source devices enables a TV to optimize picture settings.
Besides the internet and media entertainment, the Alt Mode has profound effects on digital photography and computer graphics as it renders support for supplementary color models. For automotive video systems, the Alt Mode serves to deliver true HD quality while meeting the unique demands of the motoring environment.
The only catch to using HDMI Alternate Mode for USB Type-C is that it does not support features of newer HDMI versions, like HDMI 2.1. Meaning that the Alt Mode will be able to output up to 4K resolution, 3D videos, and support HDMI-CEC but won’t offer greater features.
HDMI 2.1 provides higher resolutions (up to 10K) and faster refresh rates, allowing for a more immersive viewing and smoother, fast-action details. Its dynamic HDR feature as well ensures that every moment of a video is displayed at its ideal values for depth, detail, brightness, contrast and wider color gamuts – on a scene-by-scene or even a frame-by-frame basis. Its eARC feature simplifies connectivity, provides greater ease of use and supports the most advanced audio formats and highest audio quality.
Enhanced fresh rates ensure an added level of smooth and seamless motion and transitions for gaming, movies, and video. With the elimination of lags, delays, stutters, blank screens and frame tearing allows for more fluid and more detailed virtual reality.
Modern society’s technological and digital landscapes, like it or not, will continually evolve throughout the years to come. One example of these emerging innovations is the HDMI Alternate Mode for USB Type-C cables. Though adapters and converter boxes have been with us for quite some time now, the benefits that the Alt Mode confers are highly invaluable. The relative convenience, coupled with the high-quality audio-visual outputs they can offer, make this device far more superior compared to its predecessors.
Despite the guaranteed beneficial connectivity features, the Alt Mode cannot support features of the newer HDMI versions. While these functional limitations may seem discouraging, the current pros are already massive. With extensive research and development, these advantages will definitely revolutionize the future of USB to HDMI connections.