HDMI with Ethernet: What is it and How Does it Work?

HDMI cables allow users to easily transfer large amounts of audio and video data without problems, but did you know that they can also transfer the internet? HDMI is a relatively new technology that has only really taken root in the last two decades. But what makes these cables so indispensable is their ability to transfer data quickly, including internet signals. So what is it, and how does it work?

HDMI cables can carry the internet just like an ethernet cable does. Since HDMI 1.4 was introduced in 2009, this has become standard for most cables. All you need to do is make sure your devices are HEC (HDMI Ethernet Channel) compatible, which is rare. 

Using your HDMI cables to transfer the internet can save you many hassles when it comes to wiring. It can also offer you a stable, secure, and ultra-fast connection depending on your devices. To gain a better understanding of how this technology works, we should first explore what HEC is.

What is HEC / HDMI Ethernet Channel?

HEC, or HDMI Ethernet Channel, comes included with cables and chip processors HDMI standard 1.4 or higher. They allow for the transmission of internet data at high speeds with better bandwidth. Using WiFi, you can use HDMI with ethernet to get a better, faster, and more stable connection. This can simplify your setup and opens up new opportunities for home network management. 

The ethernet channel built into compatible HDMI cables can transfer data between two connected devices. This allows them to share the wired connection. To better understand how this works, we need to open up an HDMI cable and see what’s inside. An HDMI cable has 19 pins that it uses to transfer all kinds of data.

Many of these pins are connected to twisting pairs of wires that are wrapped in a protective layer. These are called shielded twisted pairs. HDMI with ethernet cables uses wires that are usually designated as straight-through wires to be twisted pairs like the others. This allows for the internet data to be transmitted over these pairs.

This configuration does not detract from the function of the other pins, and for the most part, doesn’t affect the price of the cable either. As a result, you would be hard-pressed to find an HDMI cable these days without ethernet being included. HDMI cables come in different types, including 

  • standard with ethernet, 
  • high-speed with ethernet, and 
  • ultra-high-speed with ethernet

All these cables listed above will handle transferring internet data at speeds up to 100 Mbps.

How to Tell if Your Devices are HEC Compatible

If you have an HEC compatible device, it will most likely self-describe somewhere in the user’s manual. Unfortunately, this technology is rarely implemented, and you would be hard-pressed to find a device that uses HEC. Through our research, we were unable to find any modern consumer device that uses HEC.

The idea behind HEC was to have your TV be a hub for all connections. Meaning you would only need one ethernet cable connected to your TV to give the internet to all the devices connected to it. What engineers failed to understand is the economic situation manufacturers were in. While it sounds like a useful tool, it faced some challenges, including:

The cost of adding HEC ports on TVs.

  1. The lack of compatibility with other products.
  2. The fast-paced nature of technology production.

All these factors led to HEC being a rarely utilized tool in the consumer electronics world. While the applications for HEC may seem apparent, especially with gaming consoles and computer systems, the fact is that it never quite caught on. One factor that may not have been predicted by the engineers who dreamed up HEC is the evolution of WiFi. While hard-line connections are still more stable and secure, advances in WiFi have made them somewhat obsolete when it comes to consumer use.

You can indeed find ethernet being used in home applications, but for the most part, all devices use WiFi. This is one of the main hurdles HEC had to overcome and, for the most part, didn’t. There is one area where HEC was implemented, although in a much different way. This is the reason we see ethernet included in most HDMI cables produced today.

Best Uses of HDMI Ethernet Channel/HEC Connectivity

One of the best and only uses for HEC in modern consumer tech is using HDMI ARC and CEC connections. These technologies utilize the shielded wire pairs intended for the internet to communicate other data across the cable. They are often used in a few different ways, but we will briefly touch on them again here. They communicate audio signals and control consumer elections.

HDMI does this by using ARC, Audio Relay Channel, and CEC, Consumer Electronics Control. Without the implementation of HEC in the HDMI standard 1.4, these uses would not exist. They capitalize on the extra wiring to transfer data without interfering with the other paired wires. ARC has become very popular and is necessary if you are trying to communicate audio signals from your TV to either 1) a soundbar, like the Sony SF100 (on Amazon), or 2) an AV receiver, like the Denon AVR-S540BT (also on Amazon)

Without ARC and the paired wires used for HEC, the audio can only go one way. This feature enables TVs to transfer audio instead of just receiving it. Most ARC ports will be labeled as such. They can even transfer other information like surround sound data. The other function of the HEC paired wires is CEC. This feature allows for IR (infrared) data to be transferred across the cable. What this does is simplify the number of controllers you will need to manage your system. 

Think of this example. Say you have a soundbar hooked up to your TV. Using CEC, you can use the remote control for your TV to manage the sound coming from your soundbar. The TV does this by transferring that information across the HDMI cable to your soundbar. You need to make sure your devices are CEC compatible to make sure they will work in this fashion. 

Conclusion

We have learned a lot about HDMI with ethernet. It was designed to help manage systems without the need for a multitude of ethernet connections. While the idea was sound, there just weren’t enough to make it financially feasible to design compatible devices when it came to real-world applications. For most devices, a WiFi connection is just more convenient.

But the technology that was designed for HEC was not forgotten. Instead, it was used to power other HDMI-based features like ARC and CEC. While the dream of connecting all your devices to your TV and having internet may be dead, using HDMI with ethernet is still a powerful tool today in many applications. 

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