May 112010

Adding new equipment is supposed to be fun, exciting, and if done well, an improvement. I recently upgraded most of my system, new Epson 9500ub projector, Emotiva XPA-3 for the fronts, UPA-2 for the rears and the long anticipated UMC-1 pre/pro. For those of you familiar with the rocky start of the UMC-1, I haven’t had many problems; it has been more of a learning curve. I will be doing a full review of the UMC-1 in the next few weeks.

This is about HDMI, something that sounds so perfect for this hobby, a single cable that handles every connection. I have waited for several years to upgrade to HDMI, I didn’t have a real need or an HDMI capable receiver, so I used alternative connection methods. Now I am ready to step into the modern world and boy am I… terribly disappointed.

HDMI is supposed to simplify my life, clean up the rats nest behind the component stand, and allow everything to communicate in an effort to make things work. It is so simple in theory, it’s a damn cable, you plug it in to each component and pass glorious 1080p images and Dolby TrueHD sound. If only it worked as advertised.

I was ready to blame everything on the UMC-1, and I will admit, it hasn’t made things easier but it isn’t the culprit. Despite every manufacturers promise that their components adhere to the rigorous specifications of HDMI , in this case HDMI 1.3, they don’t play nice with each other. Sony plays nice with Sony, Samsung plays nice with Samsung, but when you start to mix and match within a complicated system it all falls apart.

I set everything up and tested, it was all working beautifully, I basked in the brilliant sound of my Magnepan 1.6qr fronts while streaming FLAC. My wife was out of town and I was confident we would sit down and enjoy a movie when she got home. The first attempt was with my DirecTv HR21-100 DVR. I mashed the remote button and everything came to life, that was the end of my enthusiasm as the picture cut in and out, sound squawked occasionally from each speaker. No matter of playing got it to work until I did a reset on the DVR. After the 10 minute reboot cycle, everything was fine, it played nice but I could see the frustration in my wife’s eyes. This was not something she was willing to tackle on her own.

After considerable research I found that when you place the DVR in standby it continues to output video through HDMI. When turned back on it doesn’t perform a proper handshake and you get a pink image and odd behavior in general. Now I have to leave it on all the time. That doesn’t make me feel all green, even my strict adherence to recycling doesn’t make up for leaving the DVR on 24-7.

I have now convinced my wife that everything is working, the problem has been found and we will be able to enjoy our new Blu-Ray copy of Paul Simon’s Library of Congress show. Again, everything fired up, the flashing lights on the front of the rack were impressive, then the picture and sound vanished, the components all groaned and crackled as they fought to make nice with each other. The picture and sound returned, for a minute and the cycle started again. This continued through the show and ruined what was supposed to be a night we had waited for. My wife’s face said it all, I, the all knowing guru of home theater had let her down. The medals on my shirt were removed, the halo around my head vanished, and I sighed. I had let her down.

I played and researched, swapped cables, swore, tested, retested, swore some more, researched, tested, and swore, and so on. Every time I think it is working, it fails me when I need it most, when the woman I love, and who trusts me to make anything with a power cord easy for her to use.

I bypassed the UMC-1 for testing purposes and quickly found the video problems still existed. HDMI sounds great, it should be great but the manufacturers have fucked things up to the point that it only works in the simplest systems, if at all. I know many people that have no problems with HDMI, most connecting components directly to a TV. I have found HDMI problems discussed with every receiver, pre/pro, from every manufacturer. Unless you get lucky, you are eventually going to have an HDMI induced problem.

So what is a guy to do, component cable and analog multi-channel are an option but using component cables will be an issue soon because of the new copyright restrictions, no more HD over component. The simple fact is that manufacturers need to get their act together and ensure everything works with every other thing. I am hoping I get things figured out soon but I have my doubts.

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