HDMI cables are versatile and commonly used for good reason. HDMI 2.1 is capable of 4K@120Hz, and the technology will likely improve over time.
However, the answer to “can I transfer files with HDMI cable” is a resounding no. There is a common myth among users that since the standard HDMI cable connects two devices, it could also transfer files and folders.
That is not the case at all. The HDMI interface is not designed to carry files and folders. Unlike the network or the Ethernet cables, HDMI hardware does not support file transfer protocol.
Let us explore this topic a bit further.
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So Can I Transfer Files with HDMI Cable?
The short answer is: No.
HDMI has a high bandwidth and is compatible with most modern computers. This begs the question: Why isn’t HDMI used for file transfers?
HDMI cables are designed to carry video and audio signals, not data blocks. The answer to this is twofold. But before moving on to why HDMI cannot transfer data, let’s understand how data is transmitted in the first place.
Data Packets and Video Signals: Stark Differences!
In simple words, uncompressed video signals are a bunch of 1s and 0s that tell your display the color of each pixel.
The frame drawn on your display is created line by line. Once a pixel is lit up, information for the next pixel is passed through.
Little data processing is done on the original video signals during this process.
In contrast, transferring data over the conventional ethernet network is another story. Data has to be segmented and formatted into “packets.”
Each packet carries the source and destination addresses and information that helps the receiver know if the package is damaged.
Uncompressed video signals sent over HDMI are like direct electrical signals sent from one location to another. They are not formatted into packets and do not contain any information regarding how the knowledge of the HDMI signal must be processed.
So, in short, to send data, they have to be sent as data packets. The files transfer protocol has several layers which are necessary for error correction as well as for security. Hence, you can think of ethernet as a “smart” interface.
HDMI, or any other video interface, is a “dumb” interface that does not process the data.
Why Can’t HDMI Transfer Files?
Slow Transfer Speeds
The latest HDMI version, HDMI 2.1, has transfer rates of about 48 Gbit/s. Compare this to the 10 Gbit/s transfer rate of the USB 3.2 Gen 2 port and the 10Gbit/s Ethernet port.
So HDMI being much faster in terms of bandwidth, should be used for file transfer.
Well, that is incorrect. HDMI is much slower compared to USB and Ethernet.
The bandwidth you see in the rate for HDMI cables is the total bandwidth of the 19 pins that the connector carries. In addition to that, HDMI cables have UNCOMPRESSED video and audio signals.
Not all 19 pins or channels carry video/audio or data signals.
|Pin 1||TMDS Data2+||Pin 11||TMDS Clock Shield|
|Pin 2||TMDS Data2 Shield||Pin 12||TMDS Clock−|
|Pin 3||TMDS Data2−||Pin 13||CEC|
|Pin 4||TMDS Data1+||Pin 14||Not Connected|
|Pin 5||TMDS Data1 Shield||Pin 15||SCL (DDC)|
|Pin 6||TMDS Data1−||Pin 16||SDA (DDC)|
|Pin 7||TMDS Data0+||Pin 17||Ground|
|Pin 8||TMDS Data0 Shield||Pin 18||+5 V (50 mA max)|
|Pin 9||TMDS Data0−||Pin 19||Hot Plug Detect|
|Pin 10||TMDS Clock+|
OF the 19 pins, only 8 carry the audio/video signal.
In addition, if the video/audio signals carry just as standard regular transfer, instead of uncompressed signals as usual. That would reduce the overall rated bandwidth significantly.
So, even if you managed to convert every single wire in an HDMI connector into a data transfer wire, the speed would be slower than the good old USB 3.2.
In summary, just because a cable can be modified to transfer data, it is usually not worth it, as better solutions already exist.
Also Read: Can I Plug HDMI 2.1 Cable Into a 1.4 Port?
HDMI OUT vs. HDMI IN
Most modern computers are equipped with HDMI OUT ports. This means they can only send audio/video signals OUT to the display device but not receive them back.
Display devices like monitors and TVs only have an HDMI IN and hence cannot send the signals to the source device.
For file transfer to occur, both the source and the destination ports must have the hardware for sending AND receiving data.
You can create a custom chip and drivers designed around HDMI data transfers. First, it wouldn’t remain HDMI after the new chip; secondly, both ports would be outputting data.
Without an HDMI IN port, there’s no way for your computers to receive the data.
HDMI-supported devices might be ubiquitous, but most HDMI input devices are monitors, and you cannot transfer a “file” to an external display and make something out of it.
HDMI is thus uni-directional and thus carries data in a single direction.
Also Read: What Does HDMI Cable Look Like?
What About HDMI Cables with Ethernet?
A lot of HDMI cables come with support for ethernet. This is particularly true if you have the newer HDMI 2.0 and HDMI 2.1 cables (Premium High Speed and Ultra High-Speed cables).
These HDMI cables can carry internet data at high speeds. But then why do we say HDMI cables aren’t used for file transfer?
The idea didn’t catch on. While the HEC standard looks promising on paper, it failed to account for cost and compatibility.
The following is the description of an HDMI Ethernet Cable (HEC) as described by HDMI.org.
This cable type offers the same baseline performance as the Standard HDMI Cable, plus an additional, dedicated data channel, known as the HDMI Ethernet Channel, for device networking. HDMI Ethernet Channel functionality is only available if both linked devices are HDMI Ethernet Channel-enabled. – HDMI.org
The key thing to understand from this description is that BOTH LINKED DEVICES MUST HAVE THE HARDWARE FOR THIS PROTOCOL.
Unfortunately, monitors, TVs, laptops, gaming consoles, and all the HDMI devices as we know them do not have the hardware to enable the HDMI Ethernet Channel.
Adding ethernet capabilities to HDMI raises its cost significantly. Moreover, you would need help finding HEC-compatible devices for standard consumer devices.
Unless you are willing to change all the devices, your TV, monitor, PC, switches, routers, and the entire backbone of your data center to HDMI HEC-enabled hardware, you won’t find HDMI cables transferring data anytime soon.
This doesn’t mean the HDMI interface cannot transfer data AT ALL. It’s just that this is not nearly as popular as the other popular interfaces, i.e., USB and RJ45 Ethernet.
Certain network switches made by Dell use HDMI to build stacks to transfer data over the HEC HDMI cables.
But that is where the data transfer applications of HDMI end. It all boils down to “Why use it when better, much faster, and reliable solutions are available?”
Hardline connections are always more stable, but with wireless data transfers becoming better than ever, most modern consumers prefer something other than wired connections: Ask anyone in the Apple ecosystem. AirDrop is a godsend technology.
In conclusion, I would like to mention two highly cliched proverbs that are highly relevant here:
There is no need to reinvent the wheel.
If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
You already have many popular file transfer protocols, including USB, RJ45 Ethernet, WiFi, and Bluetooth.
Hence there is no need for another redundant protocol for file transfer.
So the answer to the question “can I transfer files with HDMI cable?” is a no. Regarding your average HDMI cables and interfaces, file transfer is impossible.
But HDMI does have the CAPACITY to allow file transfer through HEC. However, this idea was never picked on as there already were better and more established protocols for file transfer.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. Are there any special software or drivers required to transfer files with an HDMI cable?
No, you don’t need any special software or drivers to transfer files using an HDMI cable. However, you may need to configure the settings on your devices to enable file transfer via HDMI.
2. What types of files can be transferred using an HDMI cable, and are there any size limits?
You can transfer any type of file using an HDMI cable, including documents, photos, videos, and audio files. However, the size of the file may affect the transfer speed and time.
3. Can you use an HDMI cable to transfer files between a computer and a television?
Yes, you can use an HDMI cable to transfer files between a computer and a television. This is a useful option if you want to view files on a larger screen or share files with others. However, you should make sure that both devices have HDMI ports and that they are compatible with each other.
4. Is there a specific way to connect the devices when transferring files using an HDMI cable, or is it straightforward?
Connecting devices using an HDMI cable is straightforward. You simply need to plug one end of the HDMI cable into the HDMI output port on the device that’s sending the file and the other end into the HDMI input port on the receiving device.
Once connected, you may need to configure the devices to enable file transfer via HDMI, depending on the devices and the operating systems you’re using.
Also Read: Do Monitors Come with HDMI Cables?