Just when it was thought that the HDMI standards had calmed down, the HDMI Forum decided to use what is left of the CES 2022 to introduce another standard HDMI 2.1a.
The reality is that HDMI standards are a mess with the transition to 2.1, creating problems for many manufacturers, especially manufacturers of gaming machines and consoles.
HDMI Forum claims that HDMI 2.1a introduces a major new feature, called source-based tone mapping or SBTM.
SBTM is a new HDR feature that transfers some of the HDR tone mapping to the content source (like your computer or set-top box) along with the tone mapping that your TV or monitor does.
SBTM is not a new HDR standard – it is not here to replace HDR10 or Dolby Vision.
Instead, it is intended to help existing HDR setups work better by letting the content source better optimize the content it sends to the screen or by eliminating the need for the user to manually calibrate their screens to HDR by letting the source device configure the content for the specific Display.
HDMI Forum claims that it will be possible for set-top boxes, game companies and TV manufacturers to add support through firmware updates to HDMI 2.1a and its source-based tone mapping “depending on their design.”
The Verge claims that given the usual trajectory of TV specifications updates, however, it seems virtually guaranteed that in most cases users will not get the new features until they buy a new TV that supports HDMI 2.1a.
And that could be a long way off, because SBTM will be an optional feature that manufacturers can support – but not something they are required to support.
This is because the HDMI Forum and the HDMI Licensing Administrator (the two organizations that define and outlicens HDMI standards, respectively) run the standards as a set that contains all the previous standards.
It leaves the upcoming HDMI 2.1a standard and its new SBTM feature in much the same place as the rest of HDMI 2.1 and its feature set: a potentially useful new feature that could make the content you watch and play look better, but it will probably require the purchase of new hardware and cables.
It will be interesting to see how many of the new CES 2022 TVs have the new HDMI standard.
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