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More and more cameras are packing HDMI ports, but playback options are limiting.

By Jack Howard

August 13, 2010

We’re just a few weeks away from the biennial gadget-palooza that is Photokina, and we’re sure lots of new cameras being announced will list HDMI ports in the feature set, or be dinged by gadget bloggers for not including an HDMI port. But why?



I recently had a conversation with a product rep for a camera manufacturer, and we got to talking about HDMI ports on cameras. Anecdotally, he’d mentioned that their research showed that less than 5% of camera users would ever actually connect their HDMI-ported digital camera to an HDTV for HD video or still shot playback. I’ll admit that I simultaneously was and was not surprised by this percentage–for different reasons.

If you’ve ever connected an HDMI-ported camera to an HDTV, you know how amazing your properly exposed videos and still shots can look when displayed on these big, bright, screens. And come on, isn't HD video is meant to be played back on Hi-Def monitors?

So, on one hand, it is curious as to why so few photographers hook up their SLRs and compacts with HDMI ports to their HDTVs, but there are a few glaring reasons as to why I think this percentage is so low.

There is one very obvious hurdle right out of the gate: virtually no digital cameras packing an HDMI port ship with an HDMI cable! So right off the bat, the photographer has to decide to invest in an aftermarket HDMI cable in order to ever make use of that port on the camera! Sure, there's a cost in including the cable in the box, but there's also a cost in including the port on the camera, especially if only a small percentage of users will ever employ it.

It's a circular path we're on here, folks. In other words: would the user percentage be higher if the cable were included, or is the cable not included because the user percentage is so low?

Once we get past this HDMI cable conundrum, there's the next big issue involving playback of anything other than straight-from-the-camera stills and videos. Meaning, it is next to impossible to edit and adjust your photos and videos in any third-party applications, such as Adobe Photoshop CS5 or Elements, iMovie, or Final Cut Pro, and save these files back to your memory card and have them played back through the camera's review menu with or without an HDMI cable attached. (Very occasionally on-computer still and video adjustments and edits using the OEM bundled software may be able to be saved back to the memory card and played back through the camera.)

So, regardless of which HDMI-ported camera you've got, it is nearly impossible to shoot a bunch of stills in the morning, work them up in Lightroom, crop them to 16:9 HD format, save the best back to the memory card and then play back in the camera.

Same goes for video. You can't shoot shoot a ton of video footage of your baby's first birthday party, for example, with the intention of making a short montage video of the highlights in iMovie and then playing it back in camera. All you can play back on virtually every HDMI-ported camera is the raw video, along with any rudimentary in-camera tweaks or edits your camera's playback edit menu allows.

But wouldn't it be great to be able to shoot a ton of still shots and video, edit them down and clean them up, and do all your on-computer movie-making magic in the program of your choice and then be able to save it back into a memory card to play back in your camera?

Wouldn't it be great to then be able to just grab your camera and your HDMI cable on your way out the door to visit friends and family to share that high-quality still and video montage simply by connecting your HDMI-ported digital camera to their HDTV?

I'm sure there are some logistical hurdles in  the way to making this happen, but honestly, why can't it be done?

Why can't we photographers work up our creations and then play them back through our cameras?

What's needed? A new codec? A special new multimedia playback command or subfolder inside the DCIM architecture? Something to slap meta at the stills and videos to make them work inside the camera?

Whatever it is, I think making it possible to play back edited and sweetened stills and videos via HDMI on HDTVs would significantly increase that low user percentage. In other words, if that HDMI port is going to be there, let's make it completely useful for sharing our best (and only our best) work with friends and family.


We want to know: Does the inclusion or lack of an HDMI port factor into your buying decisions for a digital camera? And if you've got an HDMI-ported camera, have you ever hooked it up to your HDTV?







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