Do you Need HDMI 2.1 for 4K?

If you are not too familiar with the different HDMI standards, cables and devices, but the hype around HDMI 2.1 makes you worry that your new 4K TV might not work without it, here’s the short answer. No, it’s not an outright necessity.

HDMI 2.1 is one of many standards that are compatible with 4K. While older HDMI versions like 1.4 and 2.0 can also handle this resolution, we will explore why HDMI 2.1 is still the best choice for you, especially if you want to experience the best of what your entertainment system has to offer.

What is HDMI 2.1?

Released in 2018, HDMI 2.1 possesses the superb ability to support 4K and 8K devices. HDMI 2.1 even has the capacity to handle 10K, even though such TVs don’t exist yet. But, what exactly makes it better than HDMI 1.4 and 2.0? 

It comes down to how well each HDMI version can “carry” a load of audiovisual input. HDMI 1.4 can technically do the job, but it only supports 4K up to 30Hz, and it also drops the ball in another way; it’s not compatible with modern HDR standards

HDMI 2.0 runs up to 60Hz, which is the bare minimum requirement for a decent 4K picture. At 120Hz, HDMI 2.1 is the strongest and ensures quality HDR, higher refresh rates, better colour and crisper details. 

Is HDMI 2.1 backward compatible?

HDMI 2.1 is an excellent way to future-proof your entertainment system. Since the design of HDMI ports and connections aren’t likely to change, one day, you can even use an Ultra High-Speed HDMI cable to plug an outdated gaming console into your new 8K TV.

But what about backward compatibility? The good news is that all HDMI 2.1 devices and cables are backward compatible. For example, you can easily connect an older HDMI-enabled device, like a console, to your new HDMI 2.1 TV. 

What is eARC?

eARC stands for “Enhanced Audio Return Channel.” It first appeared as ARC, which was a feature of HDMI 2.0. However, things did not go too well, as ARC’s limited bandwidth resulted in a compressed, lower-quality sound that played in stereo. 

But with HDMI 2.1’s upgraded eARC, you can now look forward to stunning, full-resolution audio.

What is a 48G cable? 

A 48G cable is also known as an Ultra High-Speed HDMI cable – they have up to 48Gbps bandwidth, support 4K at 120Hz, and can also handle uncompressed 8K videos.

HDMI 2.1 resolution

HDMI 2.1 resolution runs at 120 frames per second (fps). 

This rapid rate gives HDMI 2.1 the ability to handle both 4K and 8K technology. For industrial and commercial applications, such as the movie industry, this resolution can be pushed to 10K.

HDMI 2.1 refresh rates

HDMI 2.1 has a variable refresh rate. In other words, it can intuitively match the frame output of a TV screen or PC monitor by speeding up or slowing down as needed. 

This feature is useful for gamers as it eliminates common problems like lagging, screen tearing, and juddering. 

Does HDMI 2.0 allow 4K?

As we’ve established, yes; HDMI 2.0 supports 4K but at a much lower frame rate of 60Hz. Even so, you can expect a decent 4K experience on your TV. 

Do I need new cables for HDMI 2.1?

If you don’t already have one, you need an Ultra High-Speed Certified HDMI cable. Only then can you enjoy the full benefits of HDMI 2.1. 

Most standard HDMI cables cannot handle the same informational load as an Ultra High-Speed cable which often results in audio or visual glitches. 

Can my HDMI 2.0 devices be updated to HDMI 2.1?

The reality is that, even if you’re committed to updating your old products in this manner, it might not be worth all the effort and expense. First off, it requires the presence of a special chipset which then has to be firmware updated, but manufacturers rarely use these pricey chips, meaning that most, if not all, of your HDMI 2.0 devices don’t even have them. 

Besides problematic firmware updates, most old HDMI 2.0 devices have another roadblock that makes the whole project a lasting headache at best, and impossible at worst. 

The truth is that HDMI 2.0 products like streaming boxes, Blu-ray players, and video game consoles have a different port compared to the latest models. In theory, for it to jump to HDMI 2.1, you would need to install a completely different port. In this case, it might be quicker and more affordable to simply get new HDMI 2.1 devices. 

Can you still buy a TV that doesn’t have HDMI 2.1?

Yes, you can still buy a TV that doesn’t have HDMI 2.1. HDMI 2.1 is mostly relegated to the latest TVs and cables from brands like Sony, Samsung, LG, and TCL. 

You can also expect HDMI 2.1 to show up more in next-generation gaming consoles like PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. 

So, currently, you can still browse a lot of products that are HDMI 2.0 devices. However, since HDMI 2.0 is being actively phased out, that pool is sure to shrink in the coming months or years. 

What is the difference between HDMI 2.1 and HDMI 2.0?

Apart from double the resolution and an enhanced audio system (eARC), HDMI 2.1 also outshines HDMI 2.0 in other ways. Here are some of the most noteworthy updates that you can expect.

It has a better high-dynamic range (HDR), and higher bandwidth capacity. Just to give you an idea of the difference in bandwidth capacity, HDMI 2.0 offers 18 gigabits per second (Gbps) and HDMI 2.1 gives you up to 48 Gbps.

In particular, HDMI 2.1 is a godsend for gamers because it has an advanced feature called VRR (variable refresh rate). We’ve mentioned this a little earlier, but here’s a quick recap. VRR allows your display to adopt a flexible refresh rate that matches the frame rate of your gaming display in real-time. This cuts down on irritating interferences such as screen tearing and lag. On top of that, HDMI 2.1 also has a lower latency mode which can help to make a game feel more responsive. 

HDMI 2.1’s speedy nature also ensures that sound always syncs up with the video of your TV. So, if your current TV or soundbar has a lip syncing issue, HDMI 2.1 can remedy this annoying situation.

Why does HDMI have upgraded versions?

In a nutshell, it’s all about keeping up with advancing technology. A lot goes on behind the scenes to bring you a crisp image on TV, faster gaming responses and audio that sounds authentic. 

All of these things need bandwidth; and at times, they even compete for bandwidth, leading to a bottleneck situation and audiovisual problems. 

As entertainment becomes more and more sophisticated, it’s important that HDMI upgrades become better and stronger to provide more bandwidth so that everything can keep running smoothly. 

What is HDMI 2.1 used for?

As mentioned before, HDMI 2.1 is mostly used to add more bandwidth to a system to ensure that audio and visual data are delivered between devices in the most effective way possible. 

TV viewers and music lovers can enjoy higher-quality visuals and sound, while gamers and VR users can rely on HDMI 2.1 for smoother-looking games and immersive, uninterrupted playing. 

Do you need HDMI 2.1 for a TV?

You certainly don’t need to get a new HDMI 2.1 cable for all types of TVs. Indeed, if you have a TV that has a resolution lower than 4K, then it will work perfectly fine without it. 

However, if you have a 4K set and you want something better than 60Hz, then HDMI 2.1 can give you double the frame rate and all the great sound and details that come with it.  

Do you need HDMI 2.1 for a monitor?

Experts predict that HDMI 2.1 will eventually become part of every monitor. That is great news if you’re already excited about HDMI 2.1, but at the moment, it’s not necessary for monitors to include this standard in their makeup in order to work properly. 
Computer monitors that support HDMI 2.1 are becoming more common, and for the time being, the main attraction that HDMI 2.1 seems to hold for monitors is among the gamer community, primarily for its VRR feature. 

Do you need HDMI 2.1 for a PS5?

According to one of Sony’s project managers, Christopher Mullins, a PS5 is certainly compatible with HDMI 2.1, but you don’t need it. 

However, despite such assurances, if you are a serious gamer that hates hiccups like lagging and tearing, then forgoing HDMI 2.1 might be a step backward. Without HDMI 2.1, you cannot get VRR on PS5 – the very thing you need to avoid these issues. 

Do you need HDMI 2.1 for an Xbox Series X?

You don’t need to worry about whether you should or should not incorporate HDMI 2.1 into your Xbox Series X setup. The designers of this popular gaming console included both an HDMI 2.1 connection and a cable as part of the deal. 

This allows you to experience the wonderful world of games supported by 120fps and 4K resolution, bringing better speed, performance, and game immersion to the table. 

It’s worth noting that even though the Xbox Series X console is designed to primarily take gaming to the next level as an HDMI 2.1 device, it will also work when you connect it to a TV or PC monitor with an ordinary HDMI port. 

Although you can still play, expect some picture limitations.

Pros and cons of HDMI 2.1

Considering that HDMI 2.1 is ready for 8K and higher, even though the rest of the tech world still isn’t, one can perhaps say that this HDMI generation has a lot going for it. Indeed, the lion’s share of this article was dedicated to the pros of HDMI 2.1, but what about the cons?

If you’re set on exploring HDMI 2.1 as part of your entertainment setup, then you need to be aware of one potential pitfall. The good news is that this “flaw” isn’t a deal breaker if you approach it with some foreknowledge and research. 

The issue we’re talking about is tricky product labelling. Some TV boxes blaze with a shiny sticker that says, “HDMI 2.1.” Sure, it means that the TV set has HDMI 2.1 features, but here’s the thing – not all displays consistently have the full range of HDMI 2.1 features (as a first-time buyer might automatically assume). 

For example, you might buy something that has eARC but does not support 4k at 120Hz or VRR. To avoid such a disappointment, it’s wise to do your due diligence before making any commitments. 

Once you know that your chosen TV or cable supports the features that are important to you, buying your new equipment will result in a much happier experience.

Should you upgrade to HDMI 2.1?

HDMI 2.1 isn’t a necessity when you simply want to sit back and enjoy a decent entertainment system. Many soundbars, TV sets, monitors, and consoles hold their own without HDMI 2.1 technology. 

That being said, if you want to relish in the thrills that only cutting-edge audio and visuals can provide, or you want to future-proof your devices, then HDMI 2.1 can tick both boxes. 

The usefulness and advanced nature of HDMI 2.1 applications also mean that manufacturers will surely add it to more products in the future. Who knows? One day, HDMI 2.1 may become such a common feature in entertainment technology that you might struggle to find a TV without it!

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Marcel Deer

As a qualified journalist and 'veteran' gamer, Marcel has loved all things tech since the halcyon days of the 'scart lead'. When not writing about the latest tech, he's reviewing indie video games or trying to convince his wife the TV is too small...again.