EV­ERY­THING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HDMI 2.1

Faster gam­ing, scene-by-scene HDR, and the of­fi­cial birth of 8K.

TechLife Australia - - SUPER GUIDE - [ SUPERGUIDE ] [ JAMIE CARTER ]

FRAME BY FRAME HDR WOULD BE MAS­SIVELY TIME CON­SUM­ING TO PRO­DUCE, BUT SCENE BY SCENE IS FEA­SI­BLE. EI­THER WAY, HDR IS ABOUT TO BE GIVEN A WHOLE LOT MORE IM­PACT.

WHAT IS HDMI 2.1? The new stan­dard for HDMI con­nec­tions was con­firmed back in Novem­ber 2017, but has yet to trickle down into mass-mar­ket tele­vi­sion hard­ware. When it does though, it will mark a big step for both the AV in­dus­try and the home view­ers want­ing to get the most of their TV se­ries, films, broad­casts, and gam­ing con­soles.

When High Def­i­ni­tion Mul­ti­me­dia In­ter­face (or HDMI) first ar­rived on the scene, ev­ery­one re­joiced at no longer hav­ing to use bulky SCART con­nec­tors, or those con­fus­ing com­po­nent video ca­bles, ever again. In­stead HDMI of­fered high def­i­ni­tion video with a con­nec­tor that was just a lit­tle big­ger than a stan­dard USB plug.

Over the years the HDMI stan­dard has seen con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment, with ex­tra fea­tures be­ing added as the needs of tele­vi­sions have changed.

HDMI 2.1 is the next step in that process. Here’s a run­down of ev­ery­thing that’s due to ar­rive with the new stan­dard.

HIGHER RES­O­LU­TIONS AND RE­FRESH RATES

The new HDMI 2.1 ca­bles will al­low faster re­fresh rates, in­clud­ing 8K res­o­lu­tion video at 60 frames per sec­ond and 4K at 120 frames per sec­ond – and it’s that sec­ond fea­ture that will be the real sell­ing point for gamers and home cin­ema geeks, at least at first.

“We’ve in­creased res­o­lu­tions and frame rates sig­nif­i­cantly,” Jeff Park, Di­rec­tor of Mar­ket­ing at HDMI Li­cens­ing, told TechRadar at CES 2017, adding that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are go­ing to be a driver for 8K TV con­tent.

“NHK [Ja­pan’s na­tional pub­lic broad­caster] is go­ing to push 8K120 as an ac­tual broad­cast stream, and many con­sumer elec­tron­ics man­u­fac­tur­ers want to hit that tar­get, so we’re lay­ing the pipe to give the in­dus­try flex­i­bil­ity. It’s prac­ti­cal stuff.” Al­though it’s about keep­ing HDMI at the bleed­ing edge, HDMI 2.1 ac­tu­ally goes ever fur­ther, sup­port­ing res­o­lu­tions as high as 10K at 120Hz.

DO I NEED 8K?

You may be scep­ti­cal of whether you even need 8K-ca­pa­ble hard­ware and con­nec­tors. And maybe you don’t: most con­tent you’ll be watch­ing on your TV will be in SDR or HD, and the in­dus­try is still ad­just­ing to the flurry of 4K ca­pa­ble sets re­leased to mar­ket. So, isn’t this all pre­emp­tive?

Even if 8K TV isn’t on your radar, though, HDMI is look­ing ahead to its uses in VR, says Park: “8K con­tent will have to fol­low, but it’s not all about lin­ear con­tent these days – it’s about VR,” he told us. “VR is tar­get­ing very

high res­o­lu­tion and very high frame rates, and one of the tar­gets the in­dus­try is talk­ing about for VR ap­pli­ca­tions is 8K at 240Hz.”

That’s ac­tu­ally not in the HDMI 2.1 spec, but it’s achiev­able in the next spec, said Park, who thinks it’s even pos­si­ble that some broad­cast­ers could even skip 4K trans­mis­sions en­tirely and gun straight for 8K. You have been warned.

GAME MODE VRR

HDMI 2.1’s Game Mode VRR fea­ture is about any­thing in­volv­ing real-time in­ter­ac­tion. The VRR stands for Vari­able Re­fresh Rate, which means less im­age lag, stut­ter and frame tear­ing sim­i­lar to the ef­fect achieved by FreeSync and G-Sync on the PC plat­form.

This is great news for gamers, be­cause HDMI 2.1 will en­able a 3D graph­ics pro­ces­sor to ren­der and dis­play images in real time, which will re­sult in more fluid game­play and greater de­tail.

Once again, this will find its big­gest use in the world of VR. “VRR means no lag and a more im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence that you need for gam­ing, whether it’s tra­di­tional gam­ing or a cine­matic ‘on the rails’ VR ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Park. “An in­crease in the fidelity is needed to make VR truly im­mer­sive.”

While it’s no endgame, HDMI 2.1 will bring con­vinc­ing VR ex­pe­ri­ences closer. “But it will have an im­me­di­ate im­pact on all gam­ing ap­pli­ca­tions,” adds Park. “Whether it’s 480p gam­ing or 8K, it doesn’t mat­ter – you’ll get that im­me­di­ate feed­back and in­ter­ac­tion with HDMI 2.1.”

An­other fea­ture that will bring big ben­e­fits for gamers is Quick Frame Trans­port (QFT), which prom­ises to re­duce la­tency – great news for fast-paced games or on­line mul­ti­player.

WHAT IS DY­NAMIC HDR?

Given the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of HDR, HDMI 2.1 bring­ing Dy­namic HDR is per­haps the big­gest news for home cin­ema afi­ciona­dos. Es­sen­tially it means that the very finest val­ues for depth, de­tail, bright­ness, con­trast and wider colour gamuts can be sent to your TV on a much more nu­anced ba­sis.

“To­day, HDR is done by tak­ing av­er­age val­ues for HDR across an en­tire movie, so while you still get some ben­e­fit, it doesn’t ap­ply to each scene per­fectly,” says Park. “Dy­namic HDR en­ables the HDR meta­data to be ap­plied as pre­cisely as frame by frame, or more prac­ti­cally, scene by scene.”

Frame by frame HDR would be mas­sively time-con­sum­ing to pro­duce, but scene by scene is fea­si­ble. Ei­ther way, HDR is about to be given a whole lot more im­pact.

WHAT IS EARC?

It’s not all about TVs, ei­ther; soundbars, AV am­pli­fiers and other au­dio equip­ment will also ben­e­fit from HDMI 2.1 – though it will mean up­grad­ing all of your equip­ment.

For the last few gen­er­a­tions, HDMI ca­bles have had an Au­dio Re­turn Chan­nel (ARC), which means au­dio can be sent both ways be­tween a TV and au­dio gear. This es­sen­tially en­ables a dis­play to send its own au­dio – per­haps from a built-in Net­flix app – to a sound­bar or sur­round sound sys­tem, by­pass­ing its own speak­ers.

En­hanced Au­dio Re­turn Chan­nel (eARC) is noth­ing more than a sim­ple up­date to keep pace with changes in au­dio codecs, specif­i­cally to in­clude the new ob­ject-based au­dio codecs, Dolby At­mos and DTS:X.

“eARC ups the band­width sig­nif­i­cantly,” says Park. “Pre­vi­ously you were lim­ited to two-chan­nel PCM or legacy Dolby Dig­i­tal or DTS au­dio, but with eARC that re­verse chan­nel can now sup­port much higher band­width au­dio in­clud­ing Dolby True HD, DTS HD, Dolby At­mos, DTS:X and other ob­ject-based au­dio at much higher band­widths.”

WHAT IS A 48G CA­BLE?

This is about defin­ing a new spec­i­fi­ca­tion of a HDMI ca­ble’s speed, with so-called 48G ca­bles (for now just a work­ing ti­tle) of­fer­ing 48Gbps band­width for send­ing un­com­pressed 8K video, with HDR, over a HDMI 2.1 ca­ble.

So why do we need a 48G-rated ca­ble? “Be­cause we’re car­ry­ing so much data now – we’ve gone from 18Gbps in HDMI 2.0 to 48Gbps in HDMI 2.1,” says Park. “To­day we have ‘stan­dard speed’ and ‘high speed’ HDMI ca­bles, and 48G will be re­lated to that.”

Ditto the com­pli­ance tests that each HDMI 2.1 ca­ble will have to pass in or­der to be la­belled as such. Back­wards-com­pat­i­ble with ear­lier ver­sions of the HDMI spec­i­fi­ca­tion, and able to be used with ex­ist­ing HDMI de­vices.

THE FIRST HDMI 2.1-READY TVS?

While the new stan­dard was been con­firmed back in Novem­ber 2017, adop­tion is go­ing to be slow.

The new tech­nol­ogy didn’t quite have time to be im­ple­mented in 2018 tele­vi­sions. 2019, how­ever, could well be a dif­fer­ent story.

So, does it mat­ter if your next TV has HDMI 2.1 or not? For most of us, prob­a­bly not; an 8K at 60Hz-ca­pa­ble tele­vi­sion isn’t go­ing to be of much use for a while yet. But for gamers and movie-lovers, the prospect of a 4K 120Hz TV sup­port­ing scene-by-scene dy­namic HDR will be tempt­ing.

Sur­pris­ingly, VR – with its de­mand for very high frame rates – could be the real win­ner when it comes to 8K.

Films like Atomic Blonde al­ready of­fer a stun­ning HDR ex­pe­ri­ence, but Dy­namic HDR pushes the tech­nol­ogy even fur­ther.

8K COULD HELP CON­SOLES CATCH UP TO PC TECH­NOLO­GIES SUCH AS NVIDIA’S G-SYNC.

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