Can I Transfer Files With HDMI Cable?

HDMI cables are very versatile and are commonly used and for a good reason. HDMI 2.1 is capable of 4K at 120 Hz and the technology will likely get even better over time.

However, the answer to the question “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 then it could also be used to transfer files and folders.

That is not the case at all. HDMI interface is not designed to carry files and folders. Unlike the network or the Ethernet cables, HDMI hardware do not support file transfer protocol.

Let us explore this topic a bit further.

So Can I Transfer Files with HDMI Cable?

The short answer is: No.

HDMI has a really high bandwidth and is compatible with most modern computers. This begs the question: Why isn’t HDMI used for file transfers?

Well, for starters, HDMI cables are designed to carry video and audio signals and 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 transferred 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.

During this process, there is little processing of the data done on the original video signals.

In contrast, transferring data over the conventional ethernet network is a whole other 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 packet is damaged or not.

Uncompressed video signals sent over HDMI are like direct electrical signal sent from one location to another. They are not formatted into packets and they do not contain any information regarding how the information of the HDMI signal has to be processed.

So in short, to sent 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 “smart” interface.

HDMI, or any other video interface for that matter, is a “dumb” interface that does no processing of the data.

Why Can’t HDMI Transfer Files?

Slow Transfer Speeds

The latest HDMI version, the 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 you would inherently think that the HDMI being much faster in terms of bandwidth should be used for file transfer.

Well that is incorrect. HDMI in fact is a much slower compared to USB and Ethernet.

The bandwidth you see rate for HDMI cables is the total bandwidth of the 19 pins that connector carries. In addition to that, HDMI cables carry UNCOMPRESSED video and audio signals.

Now not all of the 19 pins or channels carry video/audio or data signals.

HDMI Pinout
An HDMI Ports Pinout Diagram Source: Wikipedia
Pin#FunctionPin#Function
Pin 1TMDS Data2+Pin 11TMDS Clock Shield
Pin 2TMDS Data2 ShieldPin 12TMDS Clock−
Pin 3TMDS Data2−Pin 13CEC
Pin 4TMDS Data1+Pin 14Not Connected
Pin 5TMDS Data1 ShieldPin 15SCL (DDC)
Pin 6TMDS Data1−Pin 16SDA (DDC)
Pin 7TMDS Data0+Pin 17Ground
Pin 8TMDS Data0 ShieldPin 18+5 V (50 mA max)
Pin 9TMDS Data0−Pin 19Hot Plug Detect
Pin 10TMDS Clock+

OF the 19 pins, only 8 carry the audio/video signal.

In addition to that, if the video/audio signals were to carried as “packets” just as normal files transfer does, instead of uncompressed signals like they do normally. 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.

To sum it up, 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 that they can only send audio/video signals OUT to the display device but cannot 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 need to have the hardware for sending AND receiving data.

Let’s say you create a custom chip and drivers designed around HDMI data transfers. Well, first of all, it wouldn’t remain HDMI after the new chip and 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 (aka Premium High Speed and Ultra High Speed cables respectively).

These HDMI cables can carry internet data at high speeds. But then why do we say HDMI cables aren’t used for file transfer?

Basically, the idea didn’t catch on. While the HEC standard looks very promising on paper, it failed to account for cost and compatibility.

Can I Transfer Files With HDMI Cable
HDMI high speed with ethernet. Source: HDMI.org

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, on 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 be hard-pressed to find HEC-compatible devices when it comes to common consumer devices.

So unless you are willing to change all the devices out there, your TV, monitor, PC, switches, routers, the entire backbone of your data center to HDMI HEC enabled hardware, you won’t fine HDMI cables transferring data anytime soon.

This doesn’t mean that HDMI interface cannot transfer data AT ALL. Its 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 uses 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 there are better, much faster and reliable solutions available?”

Hardline connections are always more stable but with wireless data transfers becoming better than ever, most modern consumers do not prefer wired connections: Just ask anyone in the Apple ecosystem. AirDrop is a godsend technology.

Also Read:

Final Words

In conclusion, I would like to mention two highly cliched proverbs but that which are highly relevant here:

There is no need to re-invent the wheel.

If it’s not broken don’t fix it

You already have plenty of 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. As far as your average HDMI cables and interfaces go, files transfer is impossible.

But HDMI does have the CAPACITY to allow files transfer through HEC. However, this idea never picked on as there already were better and more established protocols for file transfer.

Also Read: Do Monitors Come with HDMI Cables?

Photo of author

Author:

Atif Qazi
Atif Qazi is the founder of PCGuide101. He is a digital nomad who loves everything PC. He is a PC builder, tech enthusiast, engineer, and a lover of single player lore-rich RPG games.

Leave a Comment