You can’t really quantify whether the High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) format or the Universal Serial Bus (USB) format is better. It’s like comparing apples to oranges when you attempt to make a debate on HDMI vs USB. They’re essentially good for their specific applications so unless you were to switch them out and try them out for file transfer or audio-video (AV) transmission, it’s hard to say which one is objectively the best. Ask yourself what task you want to accomplish and then pick which format is best for that specific task.
Although these connection types tend to not overlap in usage, there are times when they’re combined. There are HDTVs with USB ports for you to put in a Flash drive or an external HDD on full of movies for you to watch. There are HDMI adapters or ports on certain desktop and laptop PCs so that you can use an HDTV or HD monitor to stream HD movies from the Internet.
The History of HDMI and USB
Back in 2002, the first version of HDMI became available. HDMI 1.0 was developed to replace various older formats such as VGA, RCA, coaxial, composite, component, and so forth. It was the first technology to carry all-digital audio and visual data. Sure, Digital Visual Interface (DVI) came before it in 1999, but it only carried all-digital video and no audio. Another all-digital AV format known as DisplayPort soon followed in 2006. HDMI version 1.1 became available in 2004 then version 1.2 in 2005. Much later, we got HDMI version 2.0 (2013) and then version 2.1 (2017) as well to allow for 4K to 8K video at 60 to 120 Hz.
USB 1.0 technology came about in 1996. Back then, cables using this port were able to transfer 1.4 Megabytes per second (Mbps). USB 2.0 was then released in 2001 or a year before HDMI’s debut. USB 2.0 has a transfer rate that’s leaps and bounds better than USB 1.0, which is 40 Mbps. In August 2008, Intel released the specs for their USB 3.0 technology. This tech is capable of speeds of up to 5.0 Gigabytes per second (Gbps), which is 125 times faster than 2.0 and 3,500 times faster than 1.0. Then, in August 2019, USB 4.0 specs were released and showcased a mind-boggling 40 Gbps transfer rate.
Functions of HDMI and USB
Although HDMI came about in 2002, its wide release really happened in 2003 according to the Practical Home Theater Guide website. This was the time when HDMI-enabled devices really became available to the general public. The HD format and interface for superior audio-visual delivery of high-definition content transmit uncompressed visual data and audio from one device to another, usually the source device and the display or speaker. For instance, you may connect your BD or DVD player to an HDTV through the HDMI cable and their respective HDMI ports.
Meanwhile, USB tech usually enables devices such as PCs and computer hardware to connect with each other, typically a flash drive but also various devices like the mouse, printer, keyboard, scanner, WACOM, and so forth. In the Nineties, Ajay Bhatt developed this tech in order to combat the various plugs of the past and to reduce the need for users to install separate drivers for every piece of hardware they link to their computer.
Benefits of HDMI and USB
HDMI ports and cables enable users to link HD source devices to HD displays. A source device might be a game console, a media player like DVD or BD players, computers, and the like. A display can be an HDTV, an HDMI monitor, or an HDMI projector. HDMI is also popular because it’s just one cable. There’s no need for multiple cables for each data type, like in the case of RCA or SCART ports. Additionally, consumers can acquire the best possible digital quality through HDMI tech because HDMI connections don’t compress and decompress the data between devices, leading to clear sound and picture every time.
As for USB connections, they enable computer and hardware devices to talk the same language without requiring new drivers or software to make them work. Back in the day, you used to need an installation disk for every driver type to make your PC hardware work and every reformat necessitates reinstallation of the drivers. There’s no need to upgrade equipment like printers, video cameras, and so forth to connect them to your PC. Additionally, USB tech can also charge low-powered electronics like cellphones and PC vacuum, reducing your need for AC adapters.
Considerations for HDMI and USB
The typical effective distance for HDMI cables is 30 feet or 10 meters according to the HDMI organization. It’s just 15 feet if you’re streaming an HD 1080p transmission. The organization also claims that there are manufacturers who make HDMI cables that are effective at longer distances like active HDMI cables or use hardware such as amplifiers and repeaters for distance extension. However, it isn’t unusual for HDMI transmission quality to deteriorate with longer cables.
As of August 2019, the current version of USB technology is 4.0, which boasts a transfer rate of 40 Gbps. However, since it was only recently released, it will take time before it overtakes the current standard of USB, which is USB 3.0 and its 5.0 Gbps transfer rate. In fact, there are still people using UBS 2.0 connections. All USB ports are compatible with all USB cables, but without the hardware, a cable won’t perform at full speed with older ports.
Both Popular in Their Respective Uses
As a rule of thumb and in the broadest of terms, USB is for PC use and HDMI is for HDTV use. USB is the current industry standard when it comes to computer and hardware connections like linking up your USB flash drive to your desktop gaming PC or your USB-C iPhone to your MacBook Pro. You can also use it to link devices like an optical mouse and keyboard. Meanwhile, HDMI cables are the de facto standard for HD devices such as an HDTV linked up to a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One as well as a DVD or Blu-Ray Disc Player.
This article is not so much a debate on which format is better but rather a guide on which format works best on which circumstances. They’re both excellent in their specific jobs with little overlap between them. They’re also easy to convert to each other, from USB to HDMI and vice-versa.