Cables aren’t sexy technology, but if there’s one cable that gets tech enthusiasts’ attention, its HDMI. While many TV owners may knowthe technology simply asthat weird flat plug that makes the TV plug-and-playable,HDMI isalways on the move. The all-in-one digital connection has created a cornucopia of ways to make hardware readyfor the expanding AVworld around us,allowing for innovations like4K UHD technology and more. While HDMI is preparing for another leap forward, for the time being, we’re using a half-step forward in the form of HDMI 2.0b.
The best news: as with previous jumps, and unlike the upcoming HDMI 2.1, HDMI 2.0b does not require different cables than what you’re already using.
HDMI 2.0b builds on HDMI 2.0a, which tacked a few features on to the previous HDMI 2.0, including a display technology called High Dynamic Range, which we’ll referto as HDR from here on out. Designed to vastly improvethe contrast between light and dark images for a more realistic picture, HDR has quickly become a must-have in a new TV purchase. In this article, we’ll explain all the wonderful things you can do with your home theater thanks to HDMI 2.0b.
A quick note before we begin: HDMI 2.0b is anextremely minor update on HDMI 2.0a. The two are essentially the same, except that HDMI 2.0b adds support for Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG), a newer HDR technology. Any new gear being released likely ships with HDMI 2.0b, but if you’re wondering about a piece of gear you have that uses HDMI 2.0a, the information here still applies.
As we’ve written about previously,the primary reason for the switch to HDMI 2.0 was that 4K Ultra HD televisions require much more bandwidth to realize their full potential. Since 4K Ultra HD is four times the resolution of 1080p, the former HD standard, it requiredmore throughput to handle extra data going back and forth. Lots more.
HDMI 1.4 supported 4K resolutions, yes,but only at 24 or 30 frames persecond. That works fine for movies, but isn’t useful for gaming and many TV broadcasts, which require 50 or 60 fps. AlsoHDMI 1.4 limited 4K Ultra HD content to 8-bit color, thoughit is capable of 10- or 12-bit color.HDMI 2.0 fixed all of that because it could handle up to 18 gigabits per second—plenty enough to allow for 12-bit color and video up to 60 frames per second.
Ultra HD was one thing, but current TVs aim to blow our minds with even higher image realism, by creating more intense whites and blacker blacks — it’s like Tide for your TV, making everything more vivid, and it’s what HDR is all about. TVs from Sony, Panasonic, LG, Samsung, and Vizio all tout one version or another of HDR technology. And thanks to the beauty of HDMI, you don’t need to worry about a thing, since HDMI 2.0b gear is fully compatible with all versions that came before it.
As mentioned above, HDMI 2.0b changes nothing about the size, shape, or wiring of HDMI cables. Should you wind up getting devices that are HDMI 2.0b compliant, your existing cables will work just fine. And since HDMI 2.0b is backward compatible with older HDMI versions, you’ll be able to connect your old Blu-ray player and/or AV receiver to a brand-new HDMI 2.0b-equipped 4K Ultra HD TV with absolutely no problem.
The update to HDMI 2.0 in 2013 made possible 32 channels of uncompressed audio. If that sounds like overkill, well … it might be for some. But don’t tell that to the surround sound gurusover at Dolby or DTS. The latest Dolby Atmos surround format is capable of 64 channels of surround in the theaters, which breaks down for your home theater to allow for 11.2-channel audio. It’s called object-based surround sound, and it allows for singular objects to be mixed so that they move throughout ahemisphere of multiple speakers completely autonomously.
Dolby’s version includes configurations that offer 2 to 4 speakers that can fire sound down from the ceiling, or bounce sound off the ceiling from the floor for an epic explosion of immersiveaudio. There are several receivers from the likes of Marantz, Onkyo, and Pioneerthat are Atmos compatible, as well as specially designed speakers from Pioneer and others thatmount speakers on top of their cabinets to shoot sound off of your ceiling.
Not to be outdone, DTS also unveiled its own system forthe future of object-based surround sound, called DTS:X. The system is designed to be compatible with many of the same componentsas Dolby Atmos and, for now, also offers a maximum of 11.2 channels. However, DTS:X allows for even more flexibility than Atmos, including the ability to utilize upto 32 different availablespeaker configurations. Is it coincidence that the available speaker configurations for DTS:X equal the same number of channels thatare allowable by HDMI’s current protocol? We think not.
The switch to HDMI 2.0 broughtstandards that required the inclusion of certain control features for the standard language that devices speak, called CEC (Consumer Electronics Control). As such, yourremote is likely ableto control a whole lot of other devices, without requiring you to whip out an encyclopedia of four-digit remote control codes and punch in a bunch of button combinations.
Another advancement in the protocol, ARC HDMI ports, further improve onCEC. Almost every new TV you’ll buy — and most newer Blu-ray players and other AVdevices — include at least one ARC HDMI connection, making it extremely easy for your TV remote to control other gear.Connecting a Chromecast to the ARC input of your TV also allows you to simply engage an app from your mobile device and hit the cast button, and Chromecast will take over your TV with no need for your remote at all. Awesome, right? There’s a lot more that ARC can do as well, including simplified audio connections. To get the whole skinny, check out our definitive ARC HDMI explainerpiece below.
While it’s been around for a while, it’s important to know that the HDMI 2.0 update made possiblesimultaneous delivery of dual video streams to multiple users on the same screen — just imagine what that could do for video games! And although HDMI 2.0b is just a minor update, when HDR comes out en masse, the available image advancementscould make the update feel a lot bigger. There will also no doubt be more innovations for HDMI to come in the near future.
There you have it. We’re several years in and HDMI is goingstrong, and the system’sinnovative design will continue to allow us to rock outwith new technologies and the latest hardware while holding onto the old. HDMI 2.1 is right around the corner and set to bring with it a whole host of new advantages, including 8K TV, but for now HDMI 2.0b has got you covered.