What is an HDMI Cable With Ethernet?

As you know, HDMI is the standard all-in-one audiovisual connection for devices, and you might be surprised to know that some HDMI cables can carry over the internet too. You might have heard that HDMI can carry over ethernet signals and you’re wondering if using HDMI cables to connect to the internet is a good idea.

Since 2009, HDMI cables have builtin ethernet capabilities, but not many people are using HDMI cables to connect to the internet. There aren’t even many devices that support the internet over HDMI. Why is that? Is it more efficient than ethernet cables or is it a useless feature? Should you buy an HDMI cable with ethernet?

Let’s take a closer look.

What is an HDMI Cable with Ethernet?

An HDMI cable with ethernet is one that has an HDMI Ethernet Channel (HEC) a feature that was introduced into the design in HDMI version 1.4 back in 2009 along with Audio Return Channel (ARC). The HDMI Ethernet Channel can be used to connect two or more HDMI compatible devices and have them share an internet connection with a speed of up to 100Mbit/s.

While most HDMI features are backward compatible, you’ll need to look for an HDMI cable that is specifically labeled as “HDMI with Ethernet” to use the network features. Not every high-speed HDMI cable has an ethernet channel. Not to worry, the price for an HDMI cable with ethernet is about the same as any regular HDMI cable.

The Idea of HDMI Ethernet Channel:

As it turns out, even though HDMI cables with ethernet are practical in theory, there are very few devices that support the feature. In fact, I haven’t come across a single one.

The idea of HEC was to connect one HDMI cable with ethernet from a modem or router to a TV and then all the devices that are connected to that TV via HDMI can also benefit from the internet connection (Gaming consoles, Bluray Players, etc). It would allow you to use one cable for all your connection needs (audiovisual and internet) instead of having to use separate connections.

Why Didn’t Internet over HDMI Catch On?

However, since WiFi and regular ethernet ports are already cheap and fast enough, most electronic manufacturers did not bother changing the hardware and software on their devices to support HEC.

It seems like the engineers of HEC failed to predict the massive leaps in wireless technology, so the feature kind of became pointless. Nowadays, most WiFi cards can transfer data much faster than 100 Mbit/s.

Even devices that would benefit from HEC the most, such as PCs or laptops, do not support Ethernet over HDMI. In short, the cable has the channel for ethernet, but it won’t work because it’s very rare to find a device that supports it. To connect to the internet, most people will use a LAN cable or WiFi, there’s really no reason to use HDMI with ethernet at the moment.

So, unfortunately, ethernet over HDMI is pretty much dead because it’s too complicated to build equipment that supports it, and the alternatives are much better. However, the channel is being repurposed in a couple of ways which we’ll talk about below.

HDMI Audio Return Channel (ARC) and HEC:

Interestingly enough, HDMI Audio Return Channel, the feature most soundbars and television sets use for audio, uses the same pins as HEC. In some cases, these two are combined into one term – HEAC – but it’s not very common. In short, an HDMI cable that is labeled as High Speed or ARC compatible is also HEC compatible.

The problem is your device, in most cases, the TV doesn’t have the hardware to support HEC but it can support ARC. Even if your TV can connect to the internet, it would use WiFi or an ethernet port, which would probably be many times faster than HEC, so there’s really no point for TV manufacturers to change their TV hardware to support HEC.

Do I Need HDMI with Ethernet or ARC or eARC?

If you’re looking for a new HDMI cable that supports ARC, it can be confusing to learn what features to check for. HDMI has a lot of features packed into one cable.

Since HDMI ARC and HEC use the same pins, any HDMI cable that is marked as “HDMI with Ethernet” or ARC will work. Ultimately, I wouldn’t worry too much about finding the perfect HDMI cable, most modern ones built within the last decade should work just fine.

What about eARC?

eARC is the same, it’s been available since HDMI version 2.1, but you won’t need to upgrade the cable if it already supports the other features or is labeled as High Speed. eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) an upgraded version of ARC that has much higher bandwidth and can support Dolby True HD as well as other audio streams, it’s mainly used for home theaters.

Any Uses for Ethernet over HDMI?

To get back on topic, at the moment, since there are very few devices that support Ethernet over HDMI, there aren’t many uses for HDMI cables with ethernet. But it can still be used for a couple of situations.

For example, if you need to run a wired ethernet connection over a very long distance, you could use an HDMI to ethernet converter and run a CAT5 or CAT6 cable to the same converter on the other end. HDMI cables don’t work well at long distances because the signal fades and they’re also more pricey, so converting it into a LAN cable, and then back, can work.

Conclusion:

However, it seems like the world has pretty much abandoned the idea of getting the internet through HDMI cables, even though it does seem practical on paper. In my opinion, I would stick to the other connection methods (ethernet cable, WiFi, etc) and use HDMI for audiovisual content or connecting to an ARC compatible soundbar or sound system.

The idea of using an HDMI cable for the internet is basically dead, and I don’t think it will be revived any time soon because it involves a lot of hardware and software work.

About S. Santos

Tech columnist and tech blogger, audiovisual aficionado trying to keep up with the ever-evolving world of gadgets, home entertainment, and personal technology. If not fiddling with AV cables at home or in front of the computer, he can be found playing tennis or padel.

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