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HDMI 2.1 Explained – Everything You Need to Know

As more movies make the move from cinema into the comforts of our own homes, there is a demand for displays and monitors to deliver high-definition video and entertainment. And when it comes to crisp, ultra-sharp pictures, HDMI rules the screen. The technology itself is not new, but its specifications constantly advance to future-proof our display setup. That is where the new generation of HDMI 2.1 steps in.

Continue reading to learn what HDMI 2.1 is and how this technology benefits your gaming experience. Or check out ViewSonic ELITE monitors equipped with HDMI 2.1 capabilities for an expanded game setup.

Before we move on to HDMI 2.1, it will be useful to understand what HDMI is. HDMI stands for high-definition multimedia interface, and it has been the go-to standard for transmitting high-resolution video and audio via a single cable and connector. It is mostly used to link devices such as digital TVs, DVD players, presentation displays, monitors, and gamer consoles such as Xbox and Playstation.

What is HDMI 2.1?

HDMI 2.1 is the latest update of the technology, and it provides more bandwidth and resolution as compared to its predecessors. To fully utilize the features of HDMI 2.1, a 2.1-compliant cable, or an Ultra High Speed HDMI cable, will be needed.

HDMI 2.1 vs 2.0: What’s The Difference

The key difference between HDMI 2.0 and 2.1 is the size of the bandwidth and transmission bit rate. The former supports only 18Gbps to achieve a 4K picture at 60Hz, whereas HDMI 2.1 clocks in at 48Gbps and promises up to 10K resolution at 120Hz.

The upgraded cable also supports brand new features such as dynamic HDR, an automatic low latency mode, and enhanced audio return channel (eARC) for a more immersive audiovisual experience. We will go into further detail later in this article. HDMI 2.0 does not deliver any of these additional features. It’s important to note there’s no 10K content and displays in the market currently, but it only means HDMI 2.1 is future-proofed for when they arrive.

Why You Need a HDMI 2.1 Monitor?

More Bandwidth

Going from HDMI 2.0 to 2.1 will bring greater bandwidth from 18 Gbps to 48 Gbps, which means it possesses superior data transfer speeds to carry 10K resolution and refresh rates of up to 120Hz.

Think about HDMI cables like a bridge that links the display to the source device. When the resolution and refresh rate increase, the amount of data also goes up. The lower the bandwidth, the less equipped it is to handle the data. HDMI 2.1’s larger bandwidth acts as a stronger bridge that can support heavier content loads from game consoles.

Higher Resolutions and Faster Refresh Rates

The era of 4K displays seems like an echo of the past as HDMI 2.1 can support resolutions of up to 10K. Although there is a lack of 8K content available, it only means having a monitor with HDMI 2.1 capabilities can ensure high-resolution content for the future.

Another leap of advancement in HDMI 2.1 would be faster refresh rates of up to 120Hz. It elevates the viewing experience of sports matches, action movies, and fast-paced games – making sure that every frame is captured in crisp detail.

Dynamic HDR

High dynamic range is a display technology that pushes video content past its limitations and takes brightness and color across a much wider range. It expands the contrast range beyond its normal values, causing darker blacks and brighter whites. But it only works at one setting across all frames.

Dynamic HDR, as with its namesake, adaptively improves the picture quality frame by frame. With increased bandwidth, a display with HDMI 2.1 allows for dynamic HDR to occur smoothly for a more detailed visual experience.

Other Innovative Features

HDMI 2.1 also elevates the viewing and gaming experiences with a variety of enhancements.

Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) is the next generation of ARC, which is a transmission that sends high-quality pictures and sound data from a source device through a display to an external soundbar. It removes the need for a separate optical audio cable, thus decluttering your desk setup.

HDMI 2.1’s expanded bandwidth allows for eARC to handle more advanced audio formats and channels. In fact, it can cope with up to 7.1 channels and even support Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby Atmos. This enhances the overall audio quality, resulting in mind-blowing surround sound each time you watch a movie or play a video game.

Another feature would be Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), a technology that automatically matches the display’s refresh rate to the frame rate. This aspect is essential to video games as they require varying levels of data and go through heavy processing. Should the source device be unable to withstand the load, it will lead to undesirable lags, judders, and frame tears. HDMI 2.1 enables a more dynamic refresh rate of up to 144Hz and thus, eliminates screen tearing for a more fluid, smoother gameplay.

HDMI 2.1 also delivers another gaming feature known as Quick Frame Transport (QFT), which reduces display latency. This latency is the amount of time needed for the source device to transport, process, and display a frame on a screen. The longer the time it takes, the less responsive the game would be. For example, perhaps you have fired a shot by clicking on the mouse – high-latency would have shown a delayed shot onscreen. QFT speeds up the transmission rate, making sure that every single reaction is relayed onto the display in real-time.

HDMI 2.1 for Gaming

Another note on latency and gaming, HDMI 2.1 also enables Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM). It recognizes when a display is used for gaming and then, switches Game Mode on. By doing so, it activates sharper images, deeper contrasts, and more vivid colors for the best gaming performance possible.

Last but not least, HDMI 2.1 features Quick Media Switching (QMS). Imagine a scenario: you’re playing a game and decided to switch to watching a livestream. However, your screen blackouts for a few frames before showing the video. This blackout occurs when the display needs time to re-sync to align to different resolutions and frame rates from one source to another. QMS eliminates the blackouts and gives you the ability to switch between TV and gaming without losing any precious seconds.

Why HDMI 2.1 Matters for Gaming

HDMI 2.1 monitors are designed for next-generation console and virtual reality gaming, boasting great compatibility and connectivity with Xbox Series X and Playstation 5. They also work well with high-end graphics cards such as NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 and RTX 3080, delivering high-color production and pixel-perfect accuracy.

With so many gaming-centric features that unlock a superior gaming experience, it’s a no-brainer to see why an HDMI 2.1 monitor would be ideal for serious gamers. In fact, gaming is where the advantages of HDMI 2.1 truly have an impact. 4K games can run smoothly at 120fps and players will be able to enjoy a lag-and-tear-free, immersive cinematic experience. The latest PS5 and Xbox Series X are capable of 8K gaming, and increased bandwidth and refresh rates of HDMI 2.1 monitors will be able to handle the processing load effortlessly.

Final Thoughts

In all, HDMI 2.1 is about the future. It keeps us ahead of the curve and transforms how we enjoy audiovisual content, especially when it comes to gaming. Console gamers can take full advantage of displays equipped with HDMI 2.1 technology and appreciate the heap of gamer-centric features such as lightning-fast refresh rates and ultra-low latency.

If you would like to learn more about gaming monitors, you can read our ultimate guide on choosing the right one for you. Or explore ViewSonic ELITE for future-ready HDMI 2.1 monitors and other professional gaming displays.