When homeowners set up their Audio-Video system, HDMI cables are often an afterthought. Although the cables you already own for your Blu-ray, soundbar, television, and other media still operate perfectly, they’ll become obsolete with the rise of HDMI 2.1 cable standards. Likely, the next gaming console, media streamer, or TV you purchase will require the newest HDMI cable standard, which will enable higher bandwidth, resolution, and frame rate. Our team at SounDesign has designed a guide to HDMI 2.1 cable standards, which you shouldn't overlook.
HDMI 2.0 was introduced in 2013 and could handle 4K content at 60fps (frames per second). It was primarily needed for video games that track multiple moving parts, like fast cars and speeding bullets. Comparatively, films are usually 24fps, and TV programs are 30fps. A few years later, HDMI 2.0a was launched as an update to support HDR (High Dynamic Range), which balances the contrast of bright whites and dark blacks. HDMI 2.0b soon followed and supported the Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) HDR format, the combination of dynamic and high dynamic range images into one video signal perfect for any TV. HDMI 2.0 was the highest standard for consumers until the arrival of HDMI 2.1.
HDMI 2.1 has twice the performance capability of HDMI 2.0, with the ability to handle up to 10K content at 120fps! HDMI 2.1 cables can also support up to 48Gps bandwidth, Dynamic HDR, and High Frame Rate (HFR) for 4K, 8K, and 10K at up to 120Hz. HDMI 2.1's Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) feature allows more fluid motion in games, and Quick Frame Transport (QFT) can extend the life of some TV components by allowing them to power down more often.
Certain TVs may be able to run firmware updates to unlock some new features, but you will likely need to purchase a new television to fully realize the new range of features. Some manufacturers, like LG with their OLED and NanoCell products, have supported this new standard for a couple of years already. However, due to the overall shortage of sources that use HDMI 2.1 features, you may consider delaying a new TV purchase until there are more affordable and compatible options.
To enjoy the full capabilities of HDMI 2.1, you'll need matching cables. The PS5 and Xbox Series X each come with HDMI 2.1 cables, so you're ready to go if you decide to get one of these consoles. Many cables claim to support the HDMI 2.1 bandwidth of 48Gbps, but check to ensure it's a certified cable! Even better, all HDMI 2.1 cables are backward-compatible, meaning they'll work with all your 2.0 sources and TVs too.
The two best-known HDMI 2.1 sources on the market are the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X, which output signals in 4K/120fps. These systems play games with high frame rates that take a player to the center of the action. Furthermore, the Xbox currently supports VRR, and we expect next-generation consoles to do the same, however, the PS5 is waiting for a firmware update for support. For PC gamers, there are already a solid number of HDMI 2.1 graphics cards available.
If you aren’t much of a gamer and prefer to watch movies or listen to music with your HDMI 2.1 capabilities, you'll need to ensure each in-between device from source to screen can handle 2.1 signals. For example, Denon's AV receivers have at least one HDMI 2.1 input and output. Certain soundbars, like models from LG, are prepared to handle audio that matches the superior visuals with HDMI 2.1.
HDMI 2.1 standards are the highest quality currently available on the market, so it’s in your best interest to begin getting cables that can handle them. Whether you have questions about the subtle yet powerful differences between HDMI 2.0 and 2.1, or you would like recommendations on the best brands, contact our team at SounDesign today to get started.