HDMI 2.0 or: the step to Ultra HD

HDMI 1.4 is quite old and has reached the limits of its capacities - so it's time for a successor. At least, this is the prevailing opinion in the industry at the moment.

HDMI 2.0 allows the smooth transmission of extremely large amounts of data, ushering in the Ultra HD era. But: Who needs that anyway? And are there perhaps already compatibility problems? We'll clear it up!

When will I get hardware for the HDMI successor in my house?
HDMI 2.0 will become necessary at the latest when you count yourself among the home cinema enthusiasts for whom the quality of audio and video cannot be high enough. The main difference to the current HDMI 1.4 can be summarized relatively briefly in one word: Bandwidth. High-resolution content - and preferably in 3D - will simply require higher data rates in the future. This is exactly where the HDMI successor comes in.

In a few years, Ultra HD will perhaps have already established itself as the standard for the resolution of movies, series, etc. in the typical living rooms of average families. As a resolution, Ultra HD (the term 4K is no longer current since this year's Consumer Electronics Show) relies on 3,840 * 2,160 pixels. That corresponds to twice the resolution and a total of four times the amount of pixels that you can actually see on the screen. The current HDMI 1.4 standard could theoretically transmit this resolution to end devices, but unfortunately you'll notice a major disadvantage when trying to do so.

The limitations of HDMI 1.4
Various panels that are already in circulation and allow Ultra HD do offer very high resolutions - but unfortunately the data throughput is so limited by HDMI 1.4 that only 24 to 30 frames per second arrive on the screen. Movies run at 25 frames per second, at least on German TV, so problems would not be expected here. HDMI 2.0, like its predecessor, is also aimed at gamers and people who work on computers. For smooth gaming experiences, the fun really starts at 60 frames per second. So the HDMI successor is also being introduced to bring all these worlds together.

To summarize, the benefits from the HDMI successor are as follows:

More bandwidth, making higher resolutions possible
Thus also higher frame rates
Probably support for more than eight audio channels
Better 3D content due to higher bit rates as well
HDMI 2.0 - Specifications at a glance

The differences of HDMI 2.0
Now, of course, the question is whether you will even notice a difference in perceived picture quality as a result of the HDMI successor. After all, there are also people who claim that they could not notice any significant increase in quality between a normal DVD signal and 1080p recordings. It should be said up front that you will need a large enough TV or other form of screen to really notice the visible difference in quality - much like DVD and Blu-ray content.

Whether you watch a movie from a DVD or Blu-ray source on a smartphone, for example, will make no difference in terms of quality. However, the larger the display, the more noticeable the differences become. Ultra HD is of course no exception to this rule. There is no rule of thumb here, but below a screen diagonal of 50 inches, Ultra HD should not be any more fun than "normal" HD.

New codecs are needed
To take advantage of HDMI 2.0 and Ultra HD, a new codec is of course needed. H.264 or MPEG-4 AVC are simply not designed for the data rates that ultra high-definition content demands. HEVC - High Efficiency Video Coding - is currently being considered. The compression rate of data is to be doubled, but at the same time the picture quality is to be increased once again. In the current version - HEVC has not yet been specified - the codec supports resolutions of up to 8,192 * 4,320 pixels, which should then also be sufficient for the successor to Ultra HD, which is currently only known under the early term 8K Ultra HD.
HDMI 2.0 and the copy protection
Little is known so far about copy protection under the HDMI successor. Rumors are circulating that content will be much more strictly protected from simple copying when transmitted over the new HDMI. Whether this is true or not, only time will tell, but copy protection mechanisms of any kind have rarely been in the customer's interest and have never been effective in curbing the spread of illegal movie copying - but apparently those behind the standard are simply resistant to learning.

It would also be very much in the interest of customers and also rights distributors if HDMI 2.0 were backwards compatible. This means that HDMI 1.4 signals (or older) could also be transmitted via such a connection. However, the responsible parties are still silent in this area, so the question of compatibility cannot be finally clarified yet. However, more or less forcing the customer to upgrade to the HDMI successor would be a decidedly wrong step - so the probability of a compatibility disaster is rather to be classified as low.

Are there alternatives to the HDMI successor?
HDMI 2.0 will most likely be based on a completely new transmission protocol, even if theoretically standards already exist that enable transmission of the desired resolution at a sufficiently high data rate - such as DisplayPort. The requirements of the HDMI successor are already met by this standard, which is several years old. However, this slot has not really been able to establish itself so far.

Apple devices, which are known to have a Thunderbolt port, are a small exception. Thunderbolt was developed by Intel a few years ago under the name Light Peak and can be found on numerous Apple computers. Theoretically, the speed would easily suffice. However, considering the fact that the people responsible for HDMI have already put a lot of work into the further development of the standard, it is extremely unlikely that they will simply throw these efforts overboard now.

When will HDMI 2.0 devices be available for purchase?
The only question that remains is when the HDMI successor will finally appear. Supposedly, the new connection will still see the light of day in 2013 - but it was actually already planned for the first half of the year. So it remains to be seen whether this will actually happen or whether another postponement to the beginning of 2014 will follow.

All in all, this is a sensible further development of the HDMI standard, which hopefully won't be too long in coming and will subsequently open the gates for Ultra HD. It might still take a while until the suitable TVs for it are really widespread - but the future will come for sure.

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