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HDMI 2.0: What you need to know

And no, you won't need to buy expensive new HDMI cables

Published: September 09, 2013 10:30 AM

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HDMI 2.0, coming to a TV near you soon
Main benefit is 60Hz Ultra HD video

With Sony and Panasonic now touting new TVs with HDMI 2.0 connections, you may be wondering, "What the heck is HDMI 2.0, and why should I care about it?"

Simply put, HDMI 2.0 is the next generation of HDMI connections, the successor to the HDMI 1.4 connections now on almost all current TVs. The primary benefit to the new HDMI 2.0 spec is that it allows faster 60Hz frame rates on Ultra HD TVs, which is where you'll see it incorporated first.

The good news is that you won't have to upgrade your current HDMI cables, because all current high-speed cables will work fine with HDMI 2.0 ports. In addition, HDMI 2.0 connections are backward-compatible with all earlier HDMI devices, so you can connect a Blu-ray player or streaming-media player with HDMI 1.4 outputs to a TV with HDMI 2.0 inputs and it will work fine.

HDMI 2.0 came about because Ultra HD TVs, which have four times the number of pixels as regular 1080p TV sets, require more bandwidth to accommodate all that extra picture data. While current HDMI 1.4 connections can handle these so-called 4K signals, they are limited to 24 and 30 frames-per-second frame rates.

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That's fine when you're watching movies, which are shot at these lower frame rates, but it's not great for video-based material, such as broadcast TV shows and sports, that are generally shot at 60 frames per second. By bumping up bandwidth from 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) to 18 Gbps, HDMI 2.0 can support 60 frames-per-second video, which should provide smoother, less choppy images.

There are a few additional advantages. Some are meaningful, such as better support for CEC, which will let you control more devices using a single remote control—something CEC initially promised but never delivered. HDMI 2.0 also offers improvements that should help keep audio and video in sync, and it provides support for dual video streams (and four separate, simultaneous audio feeds) on the same screen for multiple users. Less meaningful for most of us: the ability to have 32 simultaneous channels of uncompressed audio.

We expect to start seeing the first TVs with HDMI 2.0 connections later this fall and winter, with more mainstream TVs adopting HDMI 2.0 in the spring. These newer connections will also have to make their way to other gear, such as Blu-ray players and streaming media players. But some companies, including Sony, say some of their current Ultra HD TVs can be upgraded to HDMI 2.0 via a simple firmware update.

So if you're in the market for an Ultra HD TV this year, you should probably find out if the set either has HDMI 2.0 inputs, or if its 1.4 inputs can be upgraded to the 2.0 spec. And remember that no matter what a retailer may tell you, there's no such thing as an HDMI 2.0 or Ultra HD cable; any high-speed HDMI cable will do.

James K. Willcox

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