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HDMI 2.1 and what it means for the future

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So HDMI 2.1 was a hot topic at CES this year due to the recent release of the new specification that brings us to the next level of data throughput for the devices we use to entertain us every day. This means we can do even more things than ever, but this also means your devices need to support the new specification to get there.

Thankfully, you have some time before it becomes any form of a standard as it will take awhile to spread into the market across the many devices that make use of HDMI connectivity. TVs, AVRs (receivers), computers and more will eventually begin to release throughout this year and next that support 2.1, but for now you will still see 2.0 in a lot of these devices till later in the year. It won’t change anything you enjoy as everything new and old will function just fine with any form of HDMI, but come time, if you want to make use of the new features 2.1 delivers, you will need 2.1 compatible devices and cables.

So what is HDMI 2.1? It is simply the latest version of HDMI that allows for an increased amount of bandwidth that can be transferred using the cable. With increased bandwidth comes new features and capabilities. If you look back at 2.0, it introduced true 4K to devices, allowing you to watch 4K material at 60p (60 full frames per second). Before HDMI 2.0 became more standard, HDMI 1.4 was the most recent standard, which could only get you 4K at 30p (half the frames). The biggest difference between the two versions of HDMI was that 1.4 features 10.2 Gbps and 2.0 delivered a faster 18 Gbps pipeline. It was nearly twice the throughput allowing for full 4K, HDR and more. Now, version 2.1 is here and that bandwidth takes the biggest leap it has ever, reaching a whopping 48 Gbps!

So what do you get with 48 Gbps? The biggest future proofed increase ever. 4K content can now reach up to 120p, but you also have newer resolutions that aren’t quite available to consumers yet. For example, you can enjoy 8K resolution at 60p and even 10K at 60p, all while enjoying Dynamic HDR. Reaching resolutions as high as 10K is a landmark achievement for the industry, although 10K does require some compression to pull off (4K and 8K can be completely uncompressed).

Once devices reach the market supporting the new spec, you will need to look for a cable that also supports the new spec. It would be referred to as a Ultra High Speed HDMI Cable. Some devices that launched last year may even support the new standard, and simply need a firmware update to enable it. This is because companies like Yamaha followed the progress of the specification as it was being tested by the HDMI Licensing Administrator, and integrated the new specs (at that given time) into their currently releasing products in the hopes to be one step ahead. As long as their supported specs meet the finalized specs of HDMI 2.1 when it was approved/announced in November, they should be ready to go. All they have to do is get it tested so that they can get the proper certification, and then a firmware update could turn the features on.

The new specification also supports enhanced audio return channel (eARC). ARC isn’t anything new as it has been supported by HDMI for quite awhile now, allowing a cable to send audio and video from a receiver to a TV, and also audio back from the TV to the receiver in case the TV itself is the source of content (ie, smart apps). One cable to rule it all. However, it used to be limited to 2.0 stereo. Now, with HDMI 2.1, all of the modern formats of multi-channel sound are available via ARC, including DTS:X and Dolby Atmos. This is a lot of enhancements for one specification jump (something we love to see in innovation).

As I mentioned, everything works with everything. This means an older device that supports up to HDMI 1.4 can work just fine with cable that supports 2.1. You will simply continue to get the performance of 1.4. That being said, if you have a newer HDMI 2.1 supporting device but only have an HDMI 1.4 cable, it will still work but with the limitations of 1.4. The same applies to 2.0 or any other version of HDMI. As long as the cable fits, everything will work (at the limitation of whichever is the older in the loop). If you want HDMI 2.1 performance, everything has to be 2.1 certified.

You can watch our interview with Rob Tobias, CEO & President of HDMI Licensing Administrator, Inc here:

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About Author

James

Designer, Editor and Reviewer for Poc Network, ProAudio and Mobile Nations. James enjoys spending most of his time as an audio engineer and technician for the live music industry when he isn't running around the office here juggling an intense workload. He can also be found frequently in the nearby mountainous ranges, scrambling rocks and rappelling down large sections.

1 Comment

  1. “Some devices that launched last year may even support the new standard, and simply need a firmware update to enable it. This is because companies like Yamaha followed the progress of the specification as it was being tested by the HDMI Licensing Administrator, and integrated the new specs (at that given time) into their currently releasing products in the hopes to be one step ahead. As long as their supported specs meet the finalized specs of HDMI 2.1 when it was approved/announced in November, they should be ready to go. All they have to do is get it tested so that they can get the proper certification, and then a firmware update could turn the features on.”

    So wrong. There is not hardware chips that support 48gbps (48 times the speed of Cat5e cable or typical wired network interface). What MAY happen for some is getting eARC (likely) and VRR (unlikely to happen for 2017 devices).

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