HDMI 2.1 - Who benefits from new cables?

Small test: Go out on the street and ask as many people as you like about HDMI 2.1. Bet that most of them either just shrug their shoulders or roll their eyes upwards as if they wanted to pick their own brains? Even owners of Ultra HD TVs and fans of all the high-definition paraphernalia that helps turn one's four walls into a home theater or a gaming den usually still show symptoms of uncertainty when the "new standard" is mentioned.

And anyway: what does the abbreviation HDMI actually mean? Short answer: High Definition Multimedia Interface. In principle, this is a video transmission technology that has been continuously improved and developed since its market launch. Very commendable. But now for the real question:

Why do you need HDMI 2.1 cables?
Industry experts and geeks answer as if shot out of a pistol "for 8K TVs" and have basically taken the cake. It somehow seems logical that flatscreens, which can unravel image information four times as high as 4K screens, have to be fed with especially much data. And that's why even highly praised, certified Ultra HDMI cables are often overwhelmed.

Why is that the case? The HDMI 2.0 standard, which has been established since its introduction in September 2013 with the market launch of UHD TVs, was able to transmit a staggering 18 gigabits per second at the time. It made refresh rates of 120 hertz and a maximum picture resolution of 4320p at 60 hertz possible.

One billion colors were displayable, and the high-contrast methods HDR 10 and Dolby Vision were processed. The transmission of Dolby Digital, DTS, DTS HD, DTS X, MPEG, DVD Audio, DSD (SACD), Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD as well as the immersive sound format Dolby Atmos did not cause any problems.

If you think back to December 2002, when the HDMI 1.0 format was launched, the maximum image resolution was 1080p at a refresh rate of 60 hertz and "only" 16 million colors could be displayed. Over the years, the capacities of HDMI 1.1, HDMI 1.2, HDMI 1.2a, HDMI 1.3, HDMI 1.3a/b/c, HDMI 1.4, HDMI 1.4a and HDMI 2.0 have been continuously improved and optimized.

With HDMI standard 2.1, which was first heard of in 2017, remarkable records tumbled! Maximum data rate: 38 gigabits. Maximum bandwidth: 1200 megahertz. Maximum image resolution: 4320p, 60 hertz. Number of displayable colors: 4400 billion!

HDMI 2.1 brings better picture experience
The question arises whether, apart from snobs who can (still) afford sinfully expensive 8K TVs, "normal people" will also benefit from HDMI 2.1? Curiously, the answer is clearly yes. Because movies in 4K resolution - played via a UHD Blu-ray player or streamed in high resolution to the 4K TV - also benefit from the additional lush contingent.

Less picture judder, optimized surround sound, improved data exchange via the Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eArc), shorter response time for commands from gamepads, in other words: Variable Refresh Rate (VRR). It's really true! The writer of these lines - skeptical himself at first - has been converted.

His modest home theater is dominated by an 82-inch QLED TV, vintage 2019. A Panasonic player is used to play UHD Blu-rays, and an 11.2. behemoth from Pioneer does an excellent job as an AV receiver. The Ultra HDTV 4K HDMI cables have performed excellently for years - so why replace them?

Simple curiosity! Nothing else. To make a long story short, the new 8K HDMI 2.1 cable was delivered, plugged in and off we went. For testing, it's best to take a disc that you've already watched repeatedly and that demands a lot from the equipment in terms of picture and sound - in my case, "Jurassic World - Falling Kingdom".

Even the first images were overwhelming. The high-contrast HDR10 process suddenly seemed to work much more intensively. Landscapes became more vivid, and details that had previously remained hidden could be made out in both the bright and the many dark scenes. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack increased the menacing atmosphere of escaped dinosaurs enormously. The creatures ran through the room, growled in hiding places in the back left or roared terribly directly above the cinema couch.

This is just a subjective impression, but it really seems that even current 4K content with elaborate AV technology benefits from the additional bandwidth of the HDMI 2.1 standard - especially with the now possible playback at 120 Hz.

A spectacle that makes you want to rediscover movies that have been on the shelf for a long time and savor them in a much more intense way. You can bet that passionate gamers will feel the same way. Especially when new game consoles come onto the market that are equipped for 8K requirements.

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