HDMI 2.1: What You Need to Know

If you’re like me, you pay attention to significant changes in technology – new phones being introduced, improvements or changes to our streaming services, etc. – but not a lot to the hardware that makes our phones, home theatres, and surround sound systems work.

That’s likely the case with the changes coming for the lowly – but indispensable HDMI cables that connect our systems, the literal “man behind the curtain” if you will. (HDMI, or High Definition Multimedia Interface, supports the connection that combines video and audio into a single digital interface for audio/video connectivity). It’s been around since the early 2000’s but has been largely unchanged until now, though you won’t need to upgrade or swap out your cables just yet, even if you’re planning on buying a new TV or stereo system in 2019. Consumers can’t upgrade current televisions to 2.1 specs, and there are no HDMI 2.1 sources commercially available yet.

CNET’s Geoffrey Morrison says, “This update is quite forward-thinking and takes into account formats and resolutions that won’t be widely available for years. However, if you’re considering certain new TVs in 2018 and 2019, you should make sure you understand the limitations of 2.0, and what 2.1 will offer if you choose to wait on your TV purchase.”

Morrison breaks down the “need to know” for HDMI 2.1 this way:

  • The physical connectors and cables will not change – they’ll be the same as today’s HDMI.
  • Bandwidth will improve from18 Gbps (HDMI 2.0) to 48 Gbps (HDMI 2.1).18 Gbps is sufficient for our current systems, but again, this is forward thinking and will allow for higher resolutions and higher frame rates as they are developed.
  • Can carry resolutions up to 10K, frame rates up to 120fps which won’t matter so much for watching video, but will be a feature that gamers will love.
  • New cables will be required for higher resolutions and/or frame rates. Just like that first generation of 4K TV’s aren’t compatible with 4K Blue Ray players, you may want to wait on that upgrade until TV’s have caught up with the new standard.
  • The first products were due in 2018 but never made it to market. Hopefully, some will arrive in 2019.

The bottom line, according to Morrison is this: “HDMI 2.1 is like a brand new, 10-lane highway in the middle of the countryside. There’s not much reason for it right now, but it offers an easy way to expand in the future. If you’re not considering an 8K TV then it’s a 10-lane highway in the countryside of a different state or country. Cool, but not something that will impact your immediate future.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.



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