Blinking HDMI

If so, you may have what I’m calling HDMI Blink.

Ending a multi-year, on-and-off quest, I think I understand the cause and, with it, I’ve found and verified a solution for, at least, the equipment I have. Sadly, YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).

But before we dig into one possible solution, let me characterize the problem a little more because not all our TV watching suffers from the problem. In fact, only one specific combination of equipment and mode-of-use with that equipment does it.

Here’s the low-down on my hook-ups and when it does, and does not, fail.

First, our TV set up includes service from DirecTv with many of their HD as well as normal channels – I record a lot of old movies on the TCM channel while my wife records a lot of HD from Fox News – and a DirecTv-branded DVR, a Samsung TV connected to the DVR via a 6’ HDMI cable, and a Toshiba DVD player, also connected by 6’ HDMI to the TV via its HDMI-2 connector.

Here’s an important observation: It only blinks when we’re watching a DVR’d show recorded earlier from one of the DirecTv channels. DVDs from the player are fine. And “live” watching of DirecTv programming is fine, too.

Only the DVR-recorded shows blink.

Sometimes, the blinking is no more than once or twice per movie. Other times it is much, much worse, and it seems to come in waves every few seconds, over and over again. In those cases, the show simply becomes unwatchable. We have noticed that if we “STOP” the playback, take a bathroom break and then “PLAY” from the interrupted point, the blink seems to go away for a little while.

But it will eventually come back.

So the problem, at least in our household, seems to be between the DVR and TV, and only when playing back a recorded program.

Let’s look at what I think is the cause of the blink.

HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is supposed to be an industry-wide standard for devices like televisions, DVRs (Digital Video Recorders), DVDs (Digital Video Discs) and so forth. Manufacturers who build equipment and adhere to the standard are supposed to be able to interconnect with equipment from other manufacturers who have done the same.

But here’s a hint: That standard, at the time of this writing, has 14 different versions. They were released over time to add capabilities and, occasionally firm up requirements.

It’s that latter part where they “occasionally firm up requirements” that is, in my opinion, the source of the problem.

While none of the manufacturers who’ve paid to join the HDMI consortium has said it, it appears that compatibility of devices from different manufacturers may be the source of the HDMI blink, and those issues exist because the standard, all standards in fact, always seem to have some wiggle room. And occasionally, they’ll have more than they should which can cause problems. When that happens, standards firm things up in later versions to fix what has turned out to be a compatibility defect.

A Google search for “HDMI blink” will turn up dozens of discussions and, reading through them, you’ll find many suggested solutions which, when filtered for credibility, boil down to a relatively number of small answers. They include:

  1. Buy a better quality HDMI cable,
  2. Turn the power cord over (reverse the wires),
  3. Make sure all the equipment is powered by the same circuit,
  4. Power the equipment on different circuits,
  5. Pull the power cord, count to five and then plug it back in,
  6. Unplug the TV, press and hold its manual power on/off button (on the back) for 60 seconds and then try again,
  7. Unplug the DVR, wait 30 seconds and then plug it back in,
  8. Make sure the HDMI cable is well away from any power cords or other signal cables,
  9. Make sure the HDMI connector is clean,
  10. And finally, there were many conversations where things just kind of petered out without ever being resolved – in those cases, people just gave up.

I’ve spent many dollars trying alternative (and expensive) HDMI cables. While the quality of the cable may make a difference – the prevalence of the blink may be less often with better cabling – it never went away completely.

I did all the variants of power connections and cable routes.

I made a lot of effort with #9. The HDMI cable contains nineteen (19) signal wires plus the outer shell which I presume provides a shield or 20th wire through the cable. That’s a lot. If some of those 20 connections are intermittent, all sorts of problems could result. But this is rarely a problem because most everyone’s cable just sits there and either those wires are connected or they’re not. They don’t jiggle around by themselves. While some action might occur from heating and cooling effects, those problems would last more than a second or two. The bottom line is that the blink is probably not caused by intermittent signals (unless you’re bouncing down the highway in a pickup truck).

A few days ago, I gave up. I bought a “component” – R, G, B video, with Left and Right audio – 5 shielded pair cable and connected DVR to TV with it, and told the TV to display the “component” input.

No blink!

I left the HDMI cable connected also and, after watching several DVR’d movies through the component connection, I found that if I switch back to the HDMI cable, it eventually blinks (after several hours) but if I then switch to the component connection again, it doesn’t. I can go back and forth between the two, backing up the video and re-playing a 15 second chunk and HDMI blinks, while “component” doesn’t, both showing the same 15 second chunk of recording.

Not once via the component connection.

To summarize, then, the problem is in the HDMI connection. I’ve seen this with two different televisions. Both of those TVs were from Samsung – possibly they have a multi-model compatibility problem?

But I’m guessing the blink is due to one or more flaws in the standard itself. Whether it’s an incompatibility of different versions of the standard or a laxity of technical requirements across the board, the only solution I’ve found that works is to stop using the HDMI connection.

I’ll repeat that: the solution, at least for my configuration, seems to be to simply abandon HDMI.

A more expensive cable doesn’t gonna fix it. Re-routing the cables, unplugging and re-plugging the equipment, pausing to make a bowl of popcorn and then resuming, … none of these fix the blink.

The blink is intermittent enough that you may think you’ve fixed it but, days or weeks later, it’ll come back.

I conclude that HDMI is broken.

If possible, simply don’t use it.

My equipment allowed me to switch to the “component” connection and the blink is gone.

While HDMI has some very nice features and adds a lot of flexibility, when Laura first appears in Dr. Zhivago but the screen then blacks out (and the audio stops, too) for several seconds, then starts flashing on only to blink out again over and over for 30 seconds – Aargh! – I’ll gladly give up flexibility just to see her face.

HDMI - Hype-filled, Drop-out prone Maddening Interface.

Forget it!

Six Month Update

I’ve had no blinks using the component connection for six months. Not one.

IMHO, If your TV blinks, HDMI is definitely the culprit.

I think it’s a problem with the standard itself stemming from different interpretations and/or compatibility issues across multiple vendors. The bottom line is you can’t fix it.

Banish the blink: Don’t use HDMI. If your configuration allows it, use the component connection as I did. If not, then the culprit is likely an incompatibility in the HDMI implementation between two manufacturers. Short of updates from one or both, you may be stuck. If possible, return one or both and try different combinations of equipment. But sadly, I’ve gone several months with no blinking only to have some long set of odds suddenly rear its ugly head and the blink will hit big time.

The only permanent, guaranteed solution seems to be to avoid HDMI.

(This article was edited on 15 May, 2017.)

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