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March 2, 2010

HDMI and Windows PCs

Lately, folks have been talking a bit about HDMI. HDMI is a special type of connection designed to deliver digital content from one device to another audio or video device through a single connection. That content can be standard definition (SD) or high definition (HD) movies or something as simple as MP3 music. HDMI is a completely digital connection, as it transmits uncompressed digital data. It is a standard that is replacing the old-style analog connections such as S-Video and VGA. A common use for HDMI today is connecting devices like a PC or an Xbox 360 to a HDTV.

As I had been seeing a lot of talk about HDMI, I realized that HDMI is very common today in Windows PCs. In looking at the PCs I currently have in my office and at home, the majority of them have HDMI. Those PCs include my Dell Studio 1555, Dell Inspiron Zino HD, Acer Aspire Revo, Toshiba Satellite E205, Acer Aspire 1420P (the “PDC laptop”), ASUS G71Gx, HP TouchSmart 600, and HP Envy 13. These PCs span a variety of form factors from small “nettops” to full-blown all-in-one PCs. Even netbooks are now shipping with HDMI (it’s smaller than the VGA connection).

All the above mentioned PCs are running Windows 7 of course. What’s great about Windows 7 and HDMI is that when I plug any of these laptops into a HDTV via HDMI, it recognizes the display and sets the screen resolution correctly. And because HDMI does not just do video but audio too, it also brings in the audio. During the holidays while visiting my parents, I connected the HP Envy 13 I was using at the time to my dad’s 52” HDTV. We rented several movies from the Zune Marketplace and watched this in full HD on his HDTV.

Of the PCs I mentioned above – the Acer Aspire Revo and Dell Inspiron Zino HD are prefect little Home Theater PCs (HTPCs) with Windows 7 and Windows Media Center. And with HDMI – a single cable connected to an HDTV is all one needs to watch movies, play music, go through family photos, watch DVDs, or even watch live TV*.

*You’ll need a TV tuner to watch live TV in Windows Media Center. Some PCs are so small they don’t support any additional hardware inside the actual system. Not to worry! You can pick up a USB TV tuner which works just fine! I’ll talk about this in a later blog post.

You can also add HDMI to existing desktop PCs (for the folks out there that like building their own desktop PCs) fairly inexpensively. Many graphics cards today are shipping with HDMI built in. Earlier this month, I blogged about 2 new affordable DirectX 11 graphics cards from AMD: the Radeon HD 5570 and Radeon HD 5450.Both these graphics cards come with HDMI.

Many Windows PCs ship with Blu-ray playback capabilities. You can use your PC to play Blu-ray movies. With HDMI, you can connect a Windows PC to an HDTV and watch Blu-ray movies on your HDTV without having to go out and buy a standalone Blu-ray player. Most of Windows PCs that ship with Blu-ray also ship with software for Blu-ray playback. I also did a blog post about Corel WinDVD Pro 2010 last December which is Compatible with Windows 7. Corel WinDVD Pro 2010 is an excellent application for Blu-ray playback in Windows 7 as well.