Manufacturers Explain What’s About to Change With New HDMI 2.1

Crestron, Gefen and Metra Home Theater Group explain what they’re excited about or worried about when it comes to HDMI Forum’s new HDMI 2.1 specification.

Manufacturers Explain What’s About to Change With New HDMI 2.1

The new HDMI specification is now available to all HDMI 2.0 adopters.

(The following article first appeared in SSI sister publication Commercial Integrator.)

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — After a long period of anticipation, HDMI Forum announced its new HDMI 2.1 specification in November. “Now what?” is the question on many people’s minds.

We know the basic stuff:

  • The new HDMI specification is now available to all HDMI 2.0 adopters.
  • It supports a range of A/V formats, including 8K video at 60Hz and 4K video at 120Hz.
  • It includes dynamic high dynamic range (HDR) support.
  • Ultra High Speed HDMI Cable supports 48Gbps bandwidth for uncompressed HDMI 2.1 support, with low EMI emission and backwards compatibility with earlier HDMI specifications.
  • The format’s eARC is designed to simplify connectivity, while providing ease-of-use, and it helps to ensure compatibility between audio devices and upcoming new HDMI 2.1 products.
  • It offers improved refresh rates for smoother images and more seamless transitions for gaming, movies and video content.
  • Quick Media Switching (QMS) for movies; this feature eliminates delays that result in blank screens before content is displayed.
  • Quick Frame Transport (QFT) reduces latency for an improved gaming experience.
  • Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) enables the correct latency setting to automatically set for smoother, lag-free uninterrupted viewing.

However, we were also curious to get reaction from some of the folks responsible for making products that benefit from or are impacted by the new HDMI 2.1 specification. Specifically, we wanted to know what aspects of HDMI 2.1 will have the biggest impact on system designers and installers.

Rob Carter, Crestron’s DigitalMedia Technology Manager; Jason Fitzgerald, Gefen’s product manager; and Stewart Denton, Metra Home Theater Group’s product development and tech support manager, offer their thoughts on HDMI 2.0.

HDMI 2.0 Supports Next-Generation Video

“HDMI 2.1 was created for the next generation of video resolutions, 8K and 10K, which produce truly lifelike images,” says Crestron’s Carter.

“These higher resolutions enable crisp images at close viewing distances, improving the quality of interactive applications on wall-sized displays in public places like airports and high-end retail.”

“And when combined with advances in large, self-lit, thin and lightweight flexible display technology, we’re going to see video in places where we never would have expected to see a display. It will become like wallpaper.”

“These high resolutions enable immersive virtual reality applications, which we’re already starting to see in design, education and entertainment applications. HDMI 2.1 also defines other features like Variable Refresh Rate and frame rates up to 120Hz to provide crystal clear motion for this and other immersive applications.”

Extension Technology Needs to Step Up

“There are a number of improvements to the new HDMI specification with the 2.1 version,” says Gefen’s Fitzgerald.

“One of the most significant benefits will be an increase in bandwidth — up to 48 Gbps in HDMI 2.1 from about 18 Gbps in HDMI 2.0.”

“Signal extension is one of the most important aspects of any installation as A/V endpoints are typically beyond the reach of standard cabling.

“The new bandwidth required to drive many of the new features of HDMI 2.1 means that extension technology will also need to take a leap forward.”

“As an example, the original HDMI 2.0 specification was ratified in late 2013, and it is only now that we are beginning to see extension solutions that take advantage of the most common extension medium: Ethernet Category cables.

“The 18 Gbps limit of HDMI 2.0 has posed challenges for manufacturers of extension hardware and technology, the net result being the application of some form of compression to achieve Full 4K resolution over a single Category cable.

“While there will be some time before we see wide adoption of 8K and 10K, it will be important to keep a close eye on the proprietors of extension and compression technology, such as HDBaseT and VESA DSC, to see how installers and integrators will be able to manage the growing bandwidth needs that each new HDMI brings.”

Distance of Signal Carriage May Suffer

“While there are still many questions when it comes to HDMI 2.1, I think the biggest initial challenge will be distance,” says Metra Home Theater Group’s Denton.

“As we’ve seen in the past, every new HDMI upgrade has led to the fear of EDID and HDCP changes, as well as the havoc the changes will cause. Plus, we’ve seen many system failures due to the implementation of EDID and HDCP changes.

“In the case of HDMI 2.1 specifications, at least what we know of it, there does not appear to be a major EDID and HDCP change, yet.”

“The latest changes focus on high speed signal bandwidths of 24Gbps with Display Screen Compression and 48Gbps for the full performance capability, which will allow faster refresh rates, higher color depths and an expanded color gamut within the current 4K resolution performance specifications, and the future of 8K.

“With HDMI 2.1’s current performance specifications, as well as the bandwidths available, the distance of signal carriage will be greatly reduced.”

“Even with 4K, an 18-inch variance can make a huge difference in cable performance and certification, as bandwidth — the amount of data that the cable carries — increases the distances that will make a difference gets even smaller.

“Currently, we think that the maximum length that a high-end passive cable, running full 48Gbps, will support is about 3 meters. After the 3 meters, active components of some kind, whether it’s a repeater, fiber, etc., will be required and increase both the cost and complexity of full bandwidth media distribution systems.”

Learn more about HDMI 2.0 here.

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