HDMI 2.1 vs 2.0 Review

HDMI 2.1Are you still getting used to HDMI 2.0 and 4K HDR content? Get ready for the latest release: HDMI Forum has published the specifications for HDMI 2.1, and it’s on its way.

After this announcement, many people had various kinds of questions: users wondered if their new TVs and 4K Blu-ray players had time to become obsolete, and it was unclear whether they would have to buy a bunch of new HDMI cables again.

On top of all this, it’s not quite clear what the latest HDMI version 2.1 will bring to our system? What are we even talking about? How does it work, and when will it appear?

latest hdmi versionWe have the answers to all these questions. Although the topic is undoubtedly not that simple and requires some technical knowledge, we have tried to make everything understandable and interesting for both technologists and ordinary homemakers. Let’s start with the most important – the most common questions frequently asked on Internet forums.

Is my new TV out of date?

Not. If your TV supports 4K/UHD and High Dynamic Range (HDR), or at least just 4K, it’s a long way from being obsolete.

The new HDMI 2.1 standard opens up many advanced features (more on that later), but it will be years before all these new formats become popular. That’s out of the question right now: 8K or 4K resolution with 120 Hz refresh rate will be commonplace for a long time to come.

The conclusion is this: if you bought a TV a couple of years ago, you would be fine for now. Are you planning to buy a new TV and are wondering if wait for HDMI 2.1? It makes little sense. First, you will have to wait for about a year, and second, the benefits of HDMI 2.1 will be slow to materialize.

tvs with hdmi 2.1

Do I need a new HDMI 2.1 cable to work properly?

Yes. Below you will read the specifications and realize that 2.1 HDMI can transmit three times as much data as existing HDMI cables. Thus, to take full advantage of HDMI 2.1, you will need a new type of Ultra-High-Speed cable. In rare cases with a device equipped with HDMI version 2.1, it may be possible to use a regular High-Speed cable.

However, the amount of data transferred through cables is constantly increasing, so it makes much more sense to buy a new HDMI 2.1 cable marked “Ultra High Speed” at once. It would be best if you did this simultaneously with the purchase of components equipped with 2.1 HDMI.

hdmi 2.1 cable

Separately, we must note that no physical changes to ports or connectors are expected – the new Ultra High-Speed cables will fit old devices with no problems.

Is HDMI 2.1 compatible with previous versions?

Yes. You will be able to connect any device with obsolete HDMI to a new TV or monitor with HDMI 2.1. For example, if you want to connect your Xbox One to a more recent 8K TV with 2.1 HDMI in the future, there’s no problem.

compare HDMI 2.1

Is it possible to upgrade HDMI 2.0 to HDMI 2.1?

Theoretically, it is possible, but in practice, it is unlikely. Jeff Park, head of the HDMI Licensing Administrator (HDMI LA) software division, explained that premium chips on the market are possible to upgrade via software.

But such chips are incredibly expensive, and so manufacturers rarely use them. Most likely, your TV or UHD Blu-ray player is not equipped with one of these costly chips.

Why would you need a new HDMI release?

Well, you might not believe it, but some home AV equipment already requires most of the bandwidth (18Gbps) that HDMI 2.0 television gives you. As an example, let’s look at the new Ultra HD Blu-ray disc:

  • 4K resolution itself requires a lot of bandwidth,
  • you also need to add 10-bit colors,
  • 4:4:4 color sub-sampling,
  • 60 Hz frequency,
  • Dolby Atmos or DTS:X surround sound,
  • HDR metadata,
  • and everything else that needs to be transferred from the 4K player to the TV.

All of this information requires almost 18 Gbps. How are you going to improve products if the bandwidth is no longer capable of handling AV information? You can’t. The new bandwidth needed is exactly what the HDMI Forum did by approving HDMI version 2.1.

new HDMI

Hollywood studios and video game developers need high resolution and increased frame rates. Still, these are not the only reasons more bandwidth is required: today’s devices need more channels to “communicate.”

Today, a Blu-ray player or a game console can “talk” to your TV, but only in small, choppy bits. It’s as if the equipment is throwing words around, but it can’t “communicate” properly in real-time. By modifying the HDMI connector and cable construction, the HDMI Forum could expand the bandwidth and make it more convenient for devices to communicate with each other.

In other words, HDMI 2.0 is a familiar highway crowded with cars. At the same time, HDMI 2.1 is the new super-fast autobahn on which auto-piloted car’s drive can avoid traffic jams and instantly adapt to traffic. So, what’s the benefit for you and your entertainment system?

HDMI 2.0 vs 2.1

How is HDMI 2.1 better than HDMI 2.0?

As you have already noticed, HMDI version 2.1 can transmit and receive much more information, which directly affects increasing the picture resolution. The 8K and 10K formats get more attention than anything else, and that is understandable: the 4K format is well below these future resolutions.

However, high resolution would be worth putting last on the list of outstanding 2.1 HDMI. Let’s start with it, although the other HDMI 2.1 benefits are still more important. This standard will allow us to get a better-looking picture and an easier-to-handle AV system.

Resolution

TVs with HDMI 2.1 provide a higher resolution and a higher frame rate. Version 2.1 will give us 4K at 120 Hz, 8K at 60 Hz, and even 10K for commercial installations. The increased resolution is not that important for our TVs and projectors – we’re already getting close to where our eyes stop seeing the difference from a normal viewing distance. However, high frame rates are essential – that’s good news for gamers.

The HDMI Forum also says that some Hollywood directors, like Peter Jackson, are thinking of going to 120 Hz. Moreover, they want content at this rate to be available to the viewer in cinemas and at home.

eARC

The existing HDMI ARC standard already gives us the ability to transmit audio from a TV to a receiver or soundbar and vice versa. But the limited bandwidth in most cases allows us to send the signal only compressed and mixed to two channels.

hdmi 2.0 vs 2.1

You certainly can’t stream the full Dolby Atmos or DTS:X over ARC. With eARC, you cannot compress the audio, transmitting it in high resolution over 2.1 HDMI. This feature will greatly simplify component installation: users will connect any device to the TV and output the signal through a single HDMI cable to the receiver or soundbar. Fewer cables mean less confusion and more high-quality sound!

Dynamic HDR

High Dynamic Range (HDR) is the most significant image improvement since Full HD, but it can be even better. If you’re familiar with Dolby’s version of HDR, Dolby Vision, then you know many experts consider this format better than others. It’s all about the fact that Dolby Vision can use dynamic metadata. In other words, this format constantly changes the dynamic range of the picture. It depends on what is happening on the screen. As a result, we get a more accurate, vivid, and, of course, dynamic image.

The only downside is that Dolby Vision is a proprietary technology, and not every manufacturer wants to pay for a license. The new HDMI 2.1 version will work for all kinds of HDR, including standard HDR10 and more advanced Technicolor HDR.

sdr-hdr

Variable Refresh Rate

Gamers will be happy because they can now play in 4K. There will be no distortions or delays, only smooth UHD images.

Quick Frame Transport

This technology will reduce input lag. First-person shooters will transform, as will VR games, which will reach new heights.

Quick Media Switching

Is everyone familiar with the blank black screen when switching sources (e.g., from a console to a streaming service)? This will be no more – QMS will shorten the switching time as much as possible.

A mismatch between audio and video

Today, this problem is present. The TV does not always work synchronously with the receiver or the soundbar. The fact is that the TV needs more time to process the signal than the audio system, which copes with the task in a short time. As a result, we get lagging video (sometimes it is the other way around, but the essence is the same – the sound does not match the image). The HDMI 2.1 interface will allow the TV to exchange data with AV receivers, soundbars, players, game consoles, and other devices in real-time, which guarantees constant perfect synchronization.

So, that summarized HDMI 2.1. As you can see, the new standard opens up a lot of possibilities. It is up to manufacturers to decide exactly how they will take advantage of the latest HDMI version so that we can enjoy the results. As happens so often in the technology world, following industry changes is as exciting as using innovations.

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