What is HDMI 2.1? | Features | HDMI 2.1 Vs. Other HDMI formats & More!

Whenever you purchase a TV, you look at the number of connectivity port options it offers.

The best TVs available today offer three to four HDMI ports and a minimum of three USB ports.

What exactly is an HDMI port, and why do you need them?

Today, there is talk about HDMI 2.1 and so on. This article will explain the concept of HDMI 2.1 in detail.

For starters

HDMI stands for High Definition Multimedia Interface. It is useful for transmitting signals in an uncompressed format.

In simple words, it works as an audio-video interface that comes with a cable and connector.

HDMI Type-A, Type-C, and Type-D plugs

You can trace the inception of HDMI to somewhere around 2003 when it was released as a replacement for analogue audio-video standards as a digital one.

Initially, HDMI cables were of two types.

HDMI 1 (Standard Cable) – transmitting uncompressed 1080i signal with a working pixel speed of 165MHz in a bandwidth of 4.95 Gbps.

HDMI 2 (High-speed Cable) – ideal for transmitting the latest graphic display resolutions of 1440p and WQXGA with a working pixel speed of 340MHz along with a bandwidth of 18 Gbps.

Today, you have the HDMI 2.1 cable as the latest advancement in HDMI technology. It can handle speeds up to 48 Gbps.

Today, almost all TVs, especially the 4K TVs, come with HDMI 2.0 and HDMI 2.0b type connectivity ports.

However, things are going to change in a few years with HDMI 2.0 making way for the latest version HDMI 2.1.

What is HDMI 2.1?

HDMI 2.1, officially announced on January 04, 2017, at the HDMI Forum was released on November 28, 2017.

It supports higher resolutions and refresh rates that include 4K-120Hz and 8K-120Hz.

HDMI 2.1 introduces a new Ultra-High-Speed Cable capable of handling speeds up to 48Gbps.

The most significant aspect of HDMI 2.1 is that it is backwards compatible, whereby one can use these cables with older HDMI devices.

It can also work with older cables compatible with HDMI 2.1 devices, but it would not be possible to attain 48Gbps speed without the new wires.

Features of HDMI 2.1

Before we go into the detailed aspects of HDMI 2.1 and how it will affect our viewing experience, let us examine the characteristics of HDMI 2.1 in brief.

HDMI 2.1 can support a maximum resolution of 10K at 120Hz.

It supports Dynamic HDR for specifying HDR metadata on a frame-by-frame basis.

DSC 1.2 (Display Stream Compression) is used for video formats higher than 8K with 4:2:0 chroma sub-sampling.

HDMI 2.1 supports HFR (High Frame Rate) for resolutions up from 4K to 10K and refresh rates up to 120Hz.

HDMI 2.1 features Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) for object-based audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTX:X.

It supports enhanced refresh rates like VRR (Variable Refresh Rate), QMS (Quick Media Switching), and QFT (Quick Frame Transport).

HDMI 2.1 supports Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) that allows the HDMI source device to automatically select the mode that the user would most likely prefer.

HDMI 2.1 Vs. Other HDMI formats – At a Glance

Let us now compare HDMI 2.1 with the other HDMI formats and understand how it is the latest feature available today.

The above comparison shows that HDMI 2.1 is better than HDMI 2.0b (the port usually available on the latest 4K TVs today).

We shall now proceed to discuss in detail what HDMI 2.1 offers that HDMI 2.0b does not.

How is HDMI 2.1 better than HDMI 2.0b?

HDMI 2.1, an improved version of HDMI 2.0b can handle more information, thereby capable of supporting higher video resolutions. Besides the high-resolution handling capacity, HDMI 2.1 has various other benefits.

Resolution – Handle up to 10K

HDMI 2.0b can handle 4K resolution at a maximum refresh rate of 60Hz. With HDMI 2.1, you get 4K at 120Hz, 8K at 60Hz, and even up to 10K for commercial and industrial applications.

As on date, it should not affect the TV viewing experience because not much content is available at 120Hz today.

However, gamers have an advantage. The higher frame rates translate into better-looking games.

Reports say that Hollywood producers are considering migrating to 120Hz native filming to enhance the viewing experience of its audience.

eARC – Enhanced Audio Return Channel – Enhance the audio experience

ARC is a feature that allows for two-way movement of audio over an HDMI cable between a TV and an A/V receiver device like the soundbar.

ARC is available on HDMI 2.0b, as well but the limited bandwidth of HDMI 2.0b results in compressed audio that gets reduced to stereo.

With HDMI 2.1, you get enhanced ARC, thereby ensuring the flow of uncompressed audio.

Dolby Atmos is the ideal example. eARC allows Dolby Atmos to deliver its best performance using Dolby TrueHD. Atmos also works on ARC when using Dolby Digital Plus.

The advantage of eARC is that users can now connect multiple devices to their TV and have a single HDMI cable connecting to the soundbar/receiver without compromising on the audio quality.

Dynamic HDR – Official and reliable technology

HDR has now become a common feature in almost all the latest 4K TVs. It is the best in TV picture quality since 1080p HD.

People who love to go into the TV specifications would know that Dolby Vision is Dolby’s version of HDR. It is superior to other viewing formats because it is a dynamic HDR medium.

By dynamic, we mean that Dolby Vision changes the settings of an image as the image changes, thereby resulting in a more vibrant picture.

The drawback of Dolby Vision is that it is a proprietary technology, whereby the electronics manufacturer has to pay licensing fees to use it.

Not every TV manufacturer does that, as it could jack up the TV price.

However, HDMI 2.1 supports a dynamic version of HDR10, known as HDR10+, to deliver an exciting viewing experience.

Now, HDR10+ is also possible using HDMI 2.0b, but it is not a supported technology when done over HDMI 2.0b. On the other hand, HDMI 2.1 makes it official, and thereby reliable.

Variable Refresh Rate – An excellent gaming experience

We have already stated that HDMI 2.1 can support higher framerates, especially when it comes to gaming activity.

The latest action games played on the PC and console do not use a single framerate throughout the game.

The rates can vary depending on the situation or the complexity of the scene. There is a mismatch between what the game is providing and the TV is set to display.

It can result in issues like judder, lag, or frame tearing, all of which lead to an unpleasant experience.

However, HDMI 2.1 empowers the TV to handle such problems comfortably and deliver the highest quality of gaming experience to the users.

Quick Frame Transport – An excellent VR experience

As the name suggests, this feature makes the transfer of a video frame from the source to the display (TV or VR headset) faster.

Gamers will love this feature as it reduces the time lag. VR users will also benefit because of the reduced time between the movements and the images presented through the VR goggles.

Quick Media Switching – Blank screens are history now

Have you ever experienced the blank screen when you switch between different sources or from games to streaming apps? HDMI 2.1 makes this vanish forever with its Quick Media Switching feature.

Auto Low Latency Mode – Know the mode which the user prefers

The ALLM feature enables the TV or any other display know when the signal is coming from the PC or the game console.

It allows the display to automatically turn off picture processing that could cause lag or latency. The screen switches automatically to the Game Mode or TV mode accordingly.

No lip-sync issues – Say goodbye to lip-sync issues

Have you noticed that there are usually minor time lags between the audio and the video processing when you use a separate receiver or soundbar?

At times, you experience a mismatch in the sound and the video output. HDMI 2.1 eliminates this delay in video and audio syncing. Your gaming consoles and Blu-ray players require the syncing to be perfect. HDMI 2.1 makes it possible.

Questions that require immediate answers

We have now seen the features of HDMI 2.1 and compared it with the latest HDMI 2.0b that is available today.

When you have such advanced features at your disposal, it raised many questions that require serious introspection. Let us now discuss these issues one by one.

Why do you need HDMI 2.1?

We begin by stating that not many devices support HDMI 2.1 today. It is going to be the technology of tomorrow.

Therefore, it is logical to ask why you need it in the first place. HDMI 2.0b already allows you to approach the 18 Gbps bandwidth.

Even if you add all the devices available today, you only come close to maxing out the 18 Gbps limit.

For example, you have the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc, 10-bit colour, 4:4:4 colour sampling, DTS:X, Dolby Atmos, 60fps content, HDR metadata, and multi-channel surround sound all add up to less than 18 Gbps.

However, with new innovations in technology, you could end up crossing the 18 Gbps limit, thereby causing congestion on the digital highway. The best solution is to build a new highway that can carry all this traffic and much more. Your HDMI 2.1 does precisely this.

Is it possible to upgrade my HDMI 2.0b devices to HDMI 2.1?]

This question can come to your mind. Theoretically, you can do so, but it is not viable practically. You can upgrade the firmware of premium chips, but it is an expensive process.

Maybe, your HDMI 2.0b devices might not have those chipsets built into them, as well.

Under such circumstances, will the investment on my latest TV go waste? 

No, it is not at all necessary. If your TV supports 4K UHD resolution, it is excellent to last for a few more years comfortably before 8K content becomes available regularly.

The latest TVs support HDR, as well. Therefore, the investment will not go waste.

Yes, HDMI 2.1 has specific advantages over the HDMI 2.0b connectivity ports, but it will take a lot of time to enjoy the full benefits of all these features. 8K is not available today, and 4K at 120Hz is also a distance away today.

Therefore, if you have invested in the latest TV technology today, it is perfectly fine to carry on for some more years before HDMI 2.1 takes over.

Is it better to wait for HDMI 2.1 before deciding to invest in a new TV?

If we had encountered this question a year ago, our answer would have been that you can go ahead and invest in your new 4K TV. However, technology has improved much quicker than we had expected it to happen.

The CES 2020 displayed some of the latest TVs with high-quality pictures because of the introduction of HDMI 2.1.

These TVs will soon make their way to the retailers, and the latest TVs with HDMI 2.1 will be available off the shelves very soon.

Therefore, if you wish to be future-proof, you can wait for some time to allow the prices to settle down. The TVs with the latest HDMI technology will be available soon at reasonable and affordable prices.

Should you have new HDMI cables to connect your devices to the HDMI 2.1 port? 

The best aspect of HDMI is that the connection port and the size of the jacks do not change. The old cables can fit into the new port.

However, the existing wires have limitations in transmitting data. You will not enjoy all the benefits of HDMI 2.1 if you use the existing cables.

It is advisable to take advantage of the Ultra-High-Speed certified HDMI 2.1 cables. On the pricing front, these new cables are not much expensive over the currently available High-Speed HDMI cables.

Can my existing HDMI-enabled device work on HDMI 2.1? 

Yes, HDMI 2.1 is backwards compatible. Thus, your existing devices will function as they used to do earlier. If you switch over to a new 8K TV in the future, these HDMI 2.1 ports can come handy.

What are the supported frame rates and resolutions?

HDMI 2.1 can support the following resolutions and frame rates.

  • 4K at 50Hz and 60Hz
  • 4K at 100Hz and 120Hz
  • 5K at 50Hz and 60Hz
  • 5K at 100Hz and 120Hz
  • 8K at 50Hz and 60 Hz
  • 8K at 100Hz and 120Hz
  • 10K at 50Hz and 60Hz
  • 10K at 100Hz and 120Hz

Is the HDMI 2.1 port available on TVs today?

Yes, TVs are available with HDMI 2.1 today. However, not all TVs that have HDMI 2.1 compatibility display all the features we have discussed above.

HDMI Licensing allows TV manufacturers to claim HDMI 2.1 compatibility even if it does not support every aspect. Therefore, a TV with features like eARC and VRR can still claim to be HDMI 2.1 compatible.

Which are the TVs that come with HDMI 2.1 compatibility today? 

All 8K TVs come with HDMI 2.1 compatibility. Samsung and LG are two of the primary producers of TVs with HDMI 2.1 compatibility. Usually, these TVs have a minimum of 4K resolution and a screen size of 55 inches.

Source: Digitaltrends, Cnet, Rtings, HDMI

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