HDMI 2.1 Is Here For Better or Worse



HDMI 2.1 Is Here For Better or Worse

HDMI 2.1 – 8K and 10K Screen Resolutions, 48Gbps and Dynamic Stream Compression. Why?

HDMI 2.1 is here – for better or worse. So what is all the hoopla all about?

Before you launch yourself into this wondrous new standard maybe you should read my earlier post on HDMI 2.0 and HDCP first.

HDMI 2.1 Introduction and Overview

The good news – It’s backwards compatible with previous HDMI specifications. The bad news – none of your cables will work and no equipment can be upgraded to support this standard!

Earlier this year in January 2017, the HDMI Forum introduced the new specifications for a 2.1 HDMI interface and cable.  Well, this week, the HDMI Forum which is an open industry consortium responsible for the ongoing development of HDMI, officially released the next major leap in the HDMI specification, Version 2.1.

The primary focus of this new standard is a significant increase in data bandwidth, now supporting 48Gbps uncompressed data and up to 120Gbps with Display Stream Compression (VESA DSC 1.2a), together with a special new cable. The standard also supports resolutions up to 10K (10,240×4,320 pixels), higher refresh rates – 60Hz for 8K and 120Hz for 4K and REC2020 with 10, 12 and 16 bit color depths. Besides the enhanced resoulution and frame rate support other features include:

  • VRR – Variable Refresh Rate to reduce or even eliminate lag for smoother gameplay.
  • QFT – Quick Frame Transport to reduce latency for smoother no-lag gaming.
  • QMS – Quick Media Switching reduces the amount of blank-screen wait time while switching media.
  • ALLM – Auto Low Latency Mode which automatically sets the ideal latency for the smoothest viewing experience.
  • eARC – Enhanced Audio Return Channel to the receiver or sound bar etc. Audio channel bandwidths of up to 37Mbps are now supported, allowing DTS Master and Dolby TrueHD, object-based audio including DTS:X and Dolby Atmos, uncompressed 5.1 and 7.1, and 32-channel uncompressed audio to be passed to an external audio processor. This enhanced functionality has the potential to allow the TV receiver to become the video hub of the A/V system and replace the receiver!
  • Dynamic HDR – Dynamic HDR is akin to HDR10+ and DV but is very granular allowing the frame by frame adjustment of contrast, brightness, detail and color.

The new cables, which use the same connector, and are backward compatible with HDMI2.0, will be available as passive copper and active copper/fiber. The passive cables are not expected to exceed 10 feet in length. These cables will only ship after complying with the as-yet unreleased HDMI 2.1 Compliance Test Specification, and will display the yet unreleased new logo. Cables are expected to become available during the first half of 2018. No mention yet of when manufactures will deploy the new standard into displays, projectors, receivers and sound bars etc.

The HDMI 2.1 Compliance Test Specification is still in development and is to be published in stages over the first three quarters of 2018. The original release of this standard was scheduled for Q2 2017 so with this delay it may not be until mid -2019 that consumers can really take advantage of these new features, assuming that manufactures implement them.

All these new features are supposed to be supported with backwards compatible cables designed to easily co-exist with the current HDMI hardware and connectivity. However, none of these are mandatory and are totally dependent upon each manufacturer’s implementation, so it is up to them to work with all the options and translate them into consumer-friendly and accessible products. In reality these non-mandatory features, many of which either benefit gamers or are designed for commercial aplications such as medical and advertising displays, are just not practical for use at home, where 4K has just about maxed out what our eyes can resolve in a typical residential viewing environment.

The following two tables, provided by the HDMI Forum, summarize what this HDMI upgrade means. You can clearly see how upgraded specifications have increased support for different features for rising HDMI versions.

Available Features Found in HDMI 2.1

HDMI 2.1 Is Here For Better or Worse

Simplified HDMI Feature Comparison

Available Screen Resolutions and Formats Supported by HDMI 2.1

HDMI 2.1 Is Here For Better or Worse

Available Screen Resolutions and Formats

More Sources of Information

Click on the following links for more detailed information:

So What’s Next?

Confusion for many and shear panic by others! I’m in the confusion camp.

So what are we all to do? Firstly, full support for this new standard requires new HDMI silicon. So whatever you own cannot be upgraded. Secondly, you will require all new HDMI interconnects and for those of us who require 40 foot HDMI cables I can’t wait to see what gets released and its cost. For most of us, with our given sizes of displays, seeing any more detail/resolution available from this new standard seems impractical, and to me, brings nothing more than a drive to get the public to buy all new equipment. I realize this is a rather negative view but I cannot, for the life of me, see what it will provide that will improve my listening or viewing experience and I have a ten foot 2.35:1 screen in a purpose built A/V Room. Yes, the standard contains some neat  features like VRR and QFT for those gamers amongst us (which I am not), and clean switching, QMS, together with low latency ALLM. Well I just don’t care, and why should you?

At the end of the day HDR together with WCG is what provides the viewer with a significant improvement in the viewing experience together with dynamic metadata, be it HDR10+ or DV that controls scene contrast, brightness and color, NOT extreme display resolutions and “bells and whistles”.

This new standard looks like a manufactures dream and a potential users night.mare. With even more features that make an already complex communication path more so, and lets the manufactures change, modify and upgrade features, that boxes in users and entices you to upgrade to features that are borderline at best. These features if badly implemented by manufactures in the usual “rush to market” (like the current HDMI2.0 specification) will cause even more headaches for the user….YOU!

Looks like I am sitting this one out.

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