Slowly the next-generation HDMI digital connector interface known as HDMI 2.1 is advancing toward the consumer marketplace, but implementations supporting all of the numerous features the next-generation specification covers are probably at lease a year away, experts say.

As a result, some of these features will be deployed piece meal, until the ports supporting the new connector arrive.

That was the bottom line assessment delivered to invited press members in New York City this week by leaders of the HDMI Licensing Administration. This is a body of engineers and marketers charged with evangelizing and promoting the HDMI standard.

As for the HDMI 2.1 standard implementation so far, select television and AV receiver manufacturers are now moving forward with the rollout of firmware updates supporting certain features contained in the HDMI 2.1 specification, as HD Guru previously reported. However, these features are being delivered over a lesser (typically HDMI 2.0b) contact driven by next-level processors but incapable of passing through the full 48 Gbps bandwidth that HDMI 2.1 was designed to ultimately support.

When products with the new HDMI 2.1 connector arrive, this will bring a variety of new capabilities for use with advanced products today and in the future, like 8K or even 10K TVs. Some of these features include:

  • Higher resolution levels of 8K and even 10K with various high frame rate levels.
  • Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC), supporting up to 38 Mbps bandwidth between a TV and AVR or soundbar to handle advanced surround sound formats including object-based audio.
  • Variable Refresh Rates (VRR) with particularly helpful applications to video gamers by eliminating lag, stutter and frame tearing.
  • Quick Media Switching (QMS) for movies and video that eliminates delays and blank screens when switching between content sources.
  • Quick Frame Transport (QFT) that reduces latency for smoother no-lag gaming, and real-time interactive virtual reality.
  • Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) providing optimized latency setting of interactive operations.
  • Fixed Rate Link
  • Dynamic HDR
  • Compression, which for the first time will be supported over the HDMI interface to handle very large data volumes.
  • HDMI 2.1 connectors will one day be able to carry all of these and more, but in the interim, some of the features are being adapted for use over currently available HDMI connections.

Fortunately, the lack of available native-resolution 8K content for the next several years will help to avoid any immediate bottle necks for most consumer applications.

However, some custom home theater system implementations this year could become more complicated as installers cope with installing cable switching architecture that won’t become obsolete when products with the full HDMI 2.1 specification arrive. Some of those expensive applications today might ultimately lack the ability to use the same long cable runs currently handled by HDMI 2.0 installations, necessitating some jury rigging to accommodate HDMI 2.1 pathways in the future.

In the meantime, select products supporting some of HDMI’s 2.1 features in a more limited application will be available this holiday season. Perhaps the most compelling of these early release features is Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC), supporting up to 38 Mbps bi-directional bandwidth. In addition, some features to enhance video game play, like ALLM, are also appearing in select televisions, AV receivers and gaming consoles.

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As for what is delaying the full HDMI 2.1 roll out, testing guidelines and processes (multiple tests are planned for various products and HDMI 2.1 feature sets) are behind originally announced schedules, which has hampered development of some of the necessary processing chips that are needed for some of the most advanced capabilities.

We asked the HDMI LA representatives what their message is for anyone needing to buy a new television or home theater system this year.

Predictably, the answer was, “spend, spend, spend,” as the HDMI LA represents member companies with plenty of products in the pipeline to sell this holiday season.

But representatives with interests in the custom electronics installation industry were more pragmatic.

“We are pushing to get a product ready as soon as possible. We’re particularly [anxious] to get this in front of the integrators, especially the integrators, in preparation for being future ready, because that’s what people want,” said Scott Kleinle, Legrand product management director. “We don’t have a scenario here like a smartphone, where you get a new one every six months. That’s not acceptable when you are spending the kind of money [that people putting in custom home theater systems] are spending. For people who are putting in a home theater this year, [we say] as soon as the product is ready… we are already getting inquiries. If you are an integrator, an installer or a builder, you are looking at product availability and we are already getting those questions.”

“For someone buying an 8K TV now there is no way of getting an 8K signal into it. So I am curious about that as well,” said David Meyer, CEDIA technical content director.

Paul Gagnon, IHS Markit technology analysis and research director, pointed out that Samsung’s just-released 8K QN85Q900F has an outboard One Connect box that could be swapped out in the future with an upgraded version supporting HDMI 2.1 inputs, but the company has not yet announced any intentions to do so.


By Greg Tarr


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