So you've already got your lovely HD Ready TV, you're lapping up Sky HD and waiting eagerly for Blu-ray and HD-DVD. You're basking in the envy of your 'still not HD' friends, and basically you're feeling pretty darned pleased with yourself.
Pity, then, that your lovely TV is already out of date.
We'll pause for a minute here to let you mop up the drink you've just spat out all over your PC screen. But then we'll say it again to prove we weren't kidding: your TV is already out of date.
The reason for this lies in that seemingly inoffensive little HDMI socket your TV most likely uses for its digital video connections. Yes, that's right: the very connection that you probably imagined - were maybe even told - was the one thing above all others that made your TV 'futureproof' has actually made your TV yesterday's news.
For the HDMI Licensing group has just announced a new standard of HDMI socket. Dubbed 'HDMI 1.3', this new standard doesn't just, as you might expect, offer merely minor enhancements over the 1.1 version likely found on your current TV. Instead it can deliver wholesale advances over anything HDMI has been capable of before - so long as both your source equipment and your screen happen to have HDMI 1.3-standard connectors...
What you need to know about HDMI 1.3
What's HDMI 1.3?
The new HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) standard which TVs and other devices need for HD (High Definition) TV and disc formats.
If you have an HDMI connection on your TV it should look like this (HDMI 1.3 will look the same as the current HDMI 1.1):
What can it do?
It raises the data-carrying bandwidth of a normal HDMI cable from 165MHz to 340MHz which offers potential for greatly improved picture and sound.
Is it just TVs that will be affected?
Nope, AV receivers and DVD players may get it too, and there's potential for portable devices and camcorders, as well as PCs to raise their game via HDMI 1.3.
When will HDMI 1.3 start to appear?
The first HDMI 1.3 device is strongly rumoured to be the Sony PS3 games console, which has been promised for November 2006.
Will standard HDMI gear work with HDMI 1.3-equipped kit?
Yes, but you won't be able to access HDMI 1.3's potentially superior picture and sound capabilities, as well as features like lip sync correction
The new standard
The advances we're talking about are all more or less based round one key HDMI 1.3 development: the upping of the data-carrying bandwidth of a single HDMI cable from 165MHz (which equates to a data transfer rate of around 4.95 gigabits per second) to a huge 340MHz (or around 10.2Gbps).
This extra data capacity opens the door to a number of potentially profound performance and feature developments, kicking off with something dubbed 'Deep Color'. Current HDMI sockets and cables only support 24-bit colour depths, but HDMI 1.3 will handle 30-bit, 36-bit and even 48-bit colour depths - measurements which translate in practical terms to a) billions of potential colours rather than the current millions, b) a potential end to the colour banding/striping problems seen on many of today's LCD and plasma TVs, c) better contrast, and d) vastly more possible shades of grey between black and white, to make dark parts of the picture more realistic.
HDMI 1.3 doesn't just increase the sheer number of colours possible within the usual TV colour limits though it also expands those limits by adopting the IEC 61966-2-4 colour standard (AKA the still scary-sounding xvYCC standard), which supports around 1.8 times as many colours as the current colour system. This means HDMI 1.3 connections can potentially deliver a colour range much more in line with the full colour extremes visible to the human eye in the real world.
Better than 1080p
High definition has placed questions of 'image resolution' firmly in the consumer consciousness, so doubtless many ears will prick up when we say that HDMI 1.3's extra bandwidth will support higher resolutions than the 1080i high definition format that's currently the maximum required by the HD Ready specification.
The new 1080p format should thus be less problematic for HDMI 1.3 than it is for HDMI 1.1, and it's claimed that potentially even higher resolutions supported by 'next-generation' TVs, PCs and DVD players will also sail along through HDMI 1.3. The other key benefits of HDMI 1.3 are more concerned with practicalities than raw picture quality - but they're no less important for that.
Particularly handy is a new 'lip sync' correction system. Lip sync problems, where people's mouths move out of time with the words they're saying, come about through small delays in getting a picture onto a screen caused by the heavy amounts of picture processing many HDTVs apply to their pictures. But HDMI 1.3 sports an automatic video and audio synchronisation system that should make this problem a thing of the past. Hallelujah!
New HD audio formats
Next, HDMI 1.3 will, unlike HDMI 1.1, permit the transfer of two new 'HD' sound formats: Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. These so-called 'lossless compressed' new audio formats use data rates of up to 18Mpbs to deliver sound across as many as eight channels that's reckoned to be 100 per cent identical to a studio master.
Of course, such HDMI 1.3 audio talents aren't likely to be that important to TVs, with their limited speaker counts and audio capabilities. But they're clearly hugely important for people with surround sound home cinema systems who want to experience the best sound as conveniently as possible.
This raises the point, of course, that in our assertion that your TV was already out of date, we were actually being conservative - it's not just TVs that are affected. If, for instance, you have an AV receiver, even one with HDMI switching functionality, that too instantly becomes dated by the arrival of HDMI 1.3.
Final advances of the HDMI 1.3 spec promise keener PC/AV convergence capabilities, and the introduction of a new mini HDMI connector option designed for small, portable devices like digital cameras and camcorders.
HDMI 1.3 for PS3?
All in all, we think you'll agree that the advantages of HDMI 1.3 - better picture and sound, plus enhanced functionality - are seriously worth having. But even if you've only very recently bought a TV, DVD player or AV receiver, you won't be able to enjoy them.
In fact, the very first AV product to carry an HDMI 1.3 connector is purported to be Sony's PS3 games console/Blu-ray player - and that's not due in the UK market until around November time. So in other words, if you don't have an HDTV yet and want to wait for an HDMI 1.3 set to come along, you're probably going to be hanging on well into 2007.
What happens next
The only crumbs of comfort in all this for people - including us! - who've already bought kit bearing HDMI 1.1 connectors is that your equipment will at least still physically function with future HDMI 1.3 kit. The HDMI 1.3 specification is backwards compatible with HDMI 1.1, so that if you connect, say, an HD-DVD player with an HDMI 1.3 socket to a TV with an HDMI 1.1 socket, your TV should still produce HDMI 1.1 levels of picture and sound - you just won't get the HDMI 1.3 benefits.
Perhaps the most troubling thing about the HDMI 1.3 development is that it makes you wonder where it might all end. Will there be regular radical updates to the HDMI spec, requiring us to upgrade all of our home cinema kit every year or two if we want to get the best quality available?
Well, maybe not. A throwaway line in the HDMI 1.3 press notes claims that the 1.3 system builds in 'the technical foundation that will let future versions of HDMI reach significantly higher speeds', suggesting that maybe HDMI 1.3 really is reasonably futureproofed against higher resolutions and other data-heavy potential new AV developments.
But in the end the HDMI 1.3 situation really does seem further proof that the arrival of digital technology is fast turning the AV market into something more akin to the PC one. In other words, you'll either have to upgrade your system every couple of years to ensure you're always enjoying the optimum performance, or else you'll just have to live with the fact that your gear is out of date almost as soon as you've bought it.