HDMI 2.1a launches at CES 2022: What’s new and why should you worry?

hdmi 2.1a
Source: Unsplash

HDMI has been the standard for video transmission for the last ten years or so. Whether it’s your TV, PlayStation, monitor, laptop, set-top box or even your camera, an HDMI cable (and port) is what you use to transfer video from the source to the monitor. Now, just before CES 2022, the HDMI Forum has announced a new HDMI standard called HDMI 2.1a. So what are the new things that HDMI 2.1a brings, and why should you worry? Check out all the details below.

So what’s new in HDMI 2.1a?

HDMI 2.1a cable
Source: Dot Sports

HDMI 2.1a builds on the latest HDMI 2.1 standard and brings a few new features. One of the major new additions to the HDMI 2.1a standard is source-based tone mapping, or SBTM. SBTM is a new HDR feature that transfers some of the HDR processing from your TV to the video source, such as your Blu-ray player or game console. It’s not a new HDR standard – it’s not here to replace HDR10 or Dolby Vision. Instead, SBTM will only help TVs and streaming devices share the HDR processing workload for smoother content playback.

HDMI Forum says it will be possible for set-top boxes, game console companies and TV manufacturers to add support for the new SBTM feature through a firmware update “depending on [the video source’s] design. “But given how slow companies are in introducing new HDMI standards, you’ll most likely be able to enjoy the new standard when you buy a new TV.

Why should you worry?

HDMI on TV
Source: Pocketnow Video

So yes, why should you worry about HDMI 2.1a? Let’s see this with an example. Have you ever played an HDR movie or TV show on Netflix on your smart TV? You must have noticed some hiccups when the video just started. This is because all processing of HDR video content takes place on TV right now. The video source, which can be your Amazon Fire TV or Google Chromecast, does not play a role in the processing of HDR data. It just sends the raw video data to the TV, which then processes it and plays it. However, most TVs out there do not have very powerful hardware, which is not able to decode the HDR content evenly, and thus the video lags.

With HDMI 2.1a, this HDR processing load will be distributed between the video source and the TV. This will result in better and smoother HDR video playbacks.

But…

hdmi 2
Source: Unsplash

HDMI standards lately have been (sort of) a mess. This is because most of the features that HDMI Forum adds to the new standard – e.g. the addition of 10K resolution or 120Hz refresh rates to HDMI 2.1s optional. This means that manufacturers do not have to comply with all HDMI 2.1 features in order to make calls to their devices “HDMI 2.1 supported”. In the same way, the SBTM function in HDMI 2.1a is also optional. It will be a feature provided by the manufacturers able to support – but not something they are committed to. This means that even if the devices do not support the new SBTM feature, manufacturers will still be able to call their devices “HDMI 2.1a supported”.

All these optional features make it harder for a consumer to distinguish between TVs that actually support all of the HDMI 2.1 features and those that do not. As TFTCentral reports, most manufacturers do not follow the HDMI licensing recommendations for HDMI port labeling. So far, companies are labeling their ports as HDMI 2.0, which does not support the new features that have been added with HDMI 2.1. However, since “There is no HDMI 2.0 standard anymore: All new HDMI 2.0 ports should be bundled in the HDMI 2.1 branding, even if they do not use any of the new features included in the ‘new’ 2.1 standard.”

It is feared that the same will happen with HDMI 2.1a. Companies would start marketing their devices as “HDMI 2.1a” is supported even if the ports do not support the new SBTM function. So it will continue to be important to read the fine print of the TV boxes to know what feature it supports and what it does not – even if it was the whole point of introducing HDMI standards.

Via: The Verge, TFTCentral

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