An Experience with HDMI Handshake Issues
If you have an HTPC, many of you may have experienced a problem with no picture or sound with your Home Theater setup connected through an HDMI cable at one time or another. This article is to cover some of the nuances that can come with them along with possible solutions as well as open up a discussion for better solutions. Many of you already know the many advantages of the HDMI cable and what a great piece of technology it is. As a recap, it allows one to simplify an audio and video setup for a home entertainment center by using one cable compared to several. The HDMI cable will also maximize the performance of your home entertainment systems by passing through the streams of DTS HD Master and Dolby True HD lossless audio as well as having the ability to send 3-D video to a 3D capable TV. In addition, the HDMI cable provides ARC or Audio Return Channel support which allows components to talk to each other and transfer audio without any additional cables. That being said, along with newer technology sometimes come new problems in the HTPC (home theater PC) world.
The apparent problems of an HTPC not showing a picture or sound or even sometimes both can be caused by an HDMI handshake issue. In a nutshell, it basically means that the HTPC does not connect or loses its video or audio connection with the TV and entertainment system. It presents itself with a blank screen, a “no video signal” message from the TV, or static/snow; this can happen with or without sound if you have it connected it to your AV Receiver. It even happens when you have a box that is “always on” but is more common coming out of sleep mode, and is a frustrating issue to say the least. Up until about a year and a half ago I really didn’t experience any of these problems personally, as my HTPC always connected to a Hitachi (57S715)projection TV through a Sony AV Receiver (STR-DG 710). Upon upgrading to an LG 3D LED TV and an HDMI 1.4 Sony AV Receiver, that is where the problems began. No other video playback unit that I owned had the problem, and I honestly couldn’t have been more blindsided that this would be such a serious issue.
So I started troubleshooting. I upgraded my HDMI cables to high speed, downloaded and installed the latest video drivers, set my video settings to never time out, ensured I had the latest software and firmware for my TV, and bypassed the Sony AV receiver and ran a direct connection from my HTPC to my TV, just name a few. Nothing solved the problem and improvements were minor at best. Back then I was single, I lived with it knowing that if I unplugged my HDMI cable and re-plugged it in, that would solve the problem and the video would come back about 75% of the time. When it didn’t I had to do a reboot. When my girlfriend moved in, it wasn’t as appealing to her–hence the SAF (spouse acceptance factor. I get it, it really wasn’t acceptable to me either, I just lived with it. While I could get by and fix the problems systematically, my girlfriend was unable to. After receiving a few frustrated text messages from her about not being able to watch TV and then she started talking “cable box,” I really needed to find a way to get the SAF back. To put a bandage on the wound I put an extender in our living room so she could watch TV properly. For me an extender is not a long term solution due to the inherent video playback issues regarding accepted file types and bit rates via the Microsoft Windows Media Center (WMC) extenders in general can be temperamental in performance. Upon researching fixing the HDMI handshake problem, it became evident this problem was viral with no concrete resolution. Why haven’t I heard of this before? I really was oblivious that this had been going on. I tried three different computers, my HTPC box had an Nvidia GT 430 and my laptop and another desktop both had the embedded AMD ATI 4250chip, but they all still had the connection issue. I’m glad I researched this quite a bit because I was ready to call Best Buy’s extended warranty for a replacement TV. I did see that the incidents of HDMI connection problems for HDMI 1.3 were lower and most were often fixed by updating video drivers, HDMI cables and occasionally a possible component compatibility issue with an AV Receiver. While users had problems with HDMI 1.3, it is apparent that HDMI 1.4 did not fix the previous problems and for users such as myself, it may have created them. One of my theories is that with newer technology, issues appear. See, computers are not dedicated to do a specific primary function such as a Playstation 3 and that can leave it more vulnerable to issues when newer technologies present themselves. So what does HDMI 1.4 do that is so important and special anyway? Several, but the main differences between HDMI 1.3 and 1.4 in a nutshell is that it gives you 3D capability and ARC. The full features and specs can be read up at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HDMI. I did enable ARC (CEC) however that caused some real issues with my receiver tuning to the correct input and was creating more problems for my system–it wanted to keep switching back to the TV input, so I turned it off. This may not be typical, but for my setup it is a problem. It is worth a try because it can keep the connection flowing to the TV resolving the connection problem. I will try this again once my firmware updates in my TV to see if they have resolved the ARC issue.
So what is the bottom line fix? Currently that I am aware of, there is not a one step solution like downloading a driver or software at this time that does not cost you money. I do have a viable work around that has worked about 99% of the time for me. One of the intentions of this article was to bring this to the fore front and have some of the best minds in the HTPC world see this and continue working on a fix if they don’t already have one. Here is what has been working for me, your results may be different but I encourage your feedback.
- Don’t use the cables that come with the CE kit you just bought. High quality cables are cheap and easy to get from http://www.monoprice.com/ or http://www.amazon.com/. If you have poor cables you will see snow or have signal drop outs. It’s also possible that you’ll get no picture if the cable can’t handle 3D’s increased bandwidth requirements
- Turn your video on your HTPC to be “always on.” You can do this by going to Control Panel,” change plan settings” then under drop down for “turn off display” select “never.” I also do this when playing audio because if the video times out, it can interrupt the audio playback.
- When you’re done with WMC, close it out so that your desktop is showing. FSE causes many perceived issues with HDMI . This is what I have seen to be most effective above everything else! WMC and other HTPC software seems to play a role here when running FSE mode. I have noticed this with both MCE and SageTV both on Windows 7 OS. If you are using a different HTPC software and are having these issues, close that as well and ensure that your desktop is showing. I used SageTV for a bit of experimenting with the HTPC HDMI handshake issues, and I do not remember having nearly as many issues, however they did show up occasionally. I did close it when I was done to prevent them.
- When starting up your HTPC, if you have a Logitech Harmony remote, have it trigger to start your HTPC software in “live tv” mode. This seems to jog the video back on, kind of like shaking someone’s shoulder while they are dozing off.
- You can also try “Standby Helper”if you have the occasional issue of the black screen, or your TV is showing “no video signal” or snow. As a last resort you can take out the HDMI cable from the video card and plug it back in. You can also try plugging in a mouse or keyboard and move it around or hit the space bar. If that doesn’t work, it’s reboot time. You may want to check your scheduled recordings to ensure nothing is recording before doing this. An app I use is My Media Center by Ceton.
- Get an HDMI Detective Plus at http://www.amazon.com/. I lied before when I said there wasn’t a fix. There is one, and it’s drop-dead simple – the problem is that it costs $85. The HDMI Detective works by cloning the EDID of the TV and AVR when they are powered on and broadcasting it even when they aren’t. So to the GPU, or any connected CE device (the HDMI Detective is a common “goto” device for EDID issues in the CI market), always receives the same, clean, EDID.
To sum it, there is no perfect fix for the HDMI handshake issues that I am aware of that is completely free. It does not seem to discriminate by TV or AV Receiver brand either. Some may have better success than others, however I do not have the budget to buy several TV’s and AV Receivers and test them. The tips above worked for me quite successfully and the WAF is much, much better–she rarely has a problem now. Try the tips above and give us your feedback. If you have other solutions that have helped you please share them. Some people have bought HDMI switch type hardware separate from the HTPC and I have received and read feedback that this has helped them, however the price is around $100. I have not tested that as of yet and if you’re looking to save $100 or more try the above first.