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hdmi 2.1: what you need to know
Dec 01, 2017

OK, let's get this done up front. Yes, there's a new cable with HDMI 2.1, but you don't need to upgrade. At least not yet.

HDMI 2.1 brings new features and a lot more bandwidth to the venerable cable and connection. HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) is the main audio/video connection for TVs, Blu-ray players, game consoles, video streamers, sound bars, computers and more. It carries both video and audio in one cable, allows digital encryption, and generally delivers perfect video and audio qualitywithout any degradation.

Today's devices mostly use HDMI version 2.0, but in 2018, many will likely transition to version 2.1. How does that affect you? Not much. You can't upgrade your current TV to 2.1 spec, but in reality, you won't need to. This update is quite forward-thinking and takes into account formats and resolutions that won't be widely available for years.

hdmi 2.1.png

A TV bought in 2018 could very well have HDMI 2.1, but even it won't take full advantage of the connection's potential. And a TV bought today will be able to display video to its own full potential using HDMI 2.0. In other words, lack of HDMI 2.1 is no reason to put off buying a new TV.

So while HDMI 2.1 is all about the future, it's still worth learning about today -- if only to warn you against buying overpriced HDMI cables labeled as "2.1." Here's a look at what the new spec is, and more importantly, what it isn't.

The short version

Don't like reading (much)? Allow me to fire some HDMI 2.1 bullets.

  • The physical connectors and cables look the same as today's.

  • Improved bandwidth from 18Gbps (HDMI 2.0) to 48Gbps (HDMI 2.1).

  • Can carry resolutions up to 10K, frame rates up to 120fps.

  • New cables required for higher resolutions and/or frame rates.

  • Spec is still being finalized, expected to publish April-June 2017.

  • First products could arrive late 2017, but many more will ship in 2018.

Want more words about the numbers behind the acronym? Read on.

All about the bandwidth

When you increase the resolution of a TV signal, the amount of data of that signal goes up. A 3,820x2,160 4K UltraHD signal over HDMI is roughly 4 times the amount of data as an HD 1,920x1,080 signal. If you think of cables as pipes, you need a bigger pipe to transmit a 4K signal than a 1080p one. The same is true if you increase the frame rate. You need a bigger pipe to transmit a 60 frame-per-second image than you do a 24fps image of the same resolution. 

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