NEWS: Understanding HDMI 2.1

February 23, 2024

The latest version of HDMI brings significant changes to the venerable format. Here’s what you need to know.

 

Even though the cable looks the same, modern HDMI connections are vastly more capable than when they first arrived over 20 years ago. The latest version, called 2.1b, is only a small update, but 2.1 in general is a big deal with lots of performance improvements and new features. The standard is found in the best new TVs, including recent models from LG, Samsung, Sony, TCL, Vizio and more. HDMI 2.1 is also on both of the next-generation game consoles, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. In fact, to get the most out of those consoles¬† you’ll want a TV that supports at least some HDMI 2.1 features.

 

That doesn’t mean you need HDMI 2.1, however. For most people the extra features are not a good enough reason to buy a higher-end TV. If you’re on a budget, those new consoles will play perfectly well (and still look spectacular) on a TV that lacks HDMI 2.1. Many midrange and higher-end sets support the new connectivity standard, though, so it’s worthwhile to understand what it means if you are looking to purchase soon.

 

The short version is HDMI 2.1 allows for higher resolutions, higher frame rates and a lot more bandwidth. The connector itself isn’t changing, however, so new HDMI 2.1 gear will be backward-compatible with your current cables and equipment. But if you want to take advantage of everything 2.1 has to offer, you’ll need some select upgrades and potentially new cables, too. Here’s what you need to know.

 

The really short version

Don’t like reading (much)? Here are the highlights:

 

The physical connectors and cables look the same as today’s HDMI.

Improved bandwidth from 18 gigabits per second (HDMI 2.0) to 48Gbps (HDMI 2.1).

Can carry resolutions up to 10K, frame rates up to 120 frames per second.

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

Many new TVs have at least one HDMI 2.1 input.

The main sources that can take advantage of 2.1 right now are the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, as well as high-end graphics cards.

The increased resolution and frame rate possibilities are a futurist’s dream:

 

4K50/60

4K100/120

5K50/60

5K100/120

8K50/60

8K100/120

10K50/60

10K100/120

You should be able to get 4K/60, and a basic 8K/30, with current cables, but the rest will need an Ultra High Speed HDMI cable. More on these new cables below.

 

On the color front, 2.1 supports BT.2020 and 16 bits per color. This is the same as HDMI 2.0a/b, and is what makes wide color gamut possible.