In case you do not know most 2019, and 2020 TVs now have the HDMI 2.0 (4K) and 2.1 (8K) ports. Moving forward, most TVs should have HDMI 2.1. So, what does that mean to you?
We wrote a guide on HDMI here that should be mandatory reading if you are buying a 4K or 8K TV. We set out to test HDMI 2.0 and 2.1 cables and see if it makes a tangible difference over HDMI 1.4 cables.
Just to be clear – HDMI is an input/output port/cable for connecting external content sources to a TV like a 1080p DVD, 4K Blu-ray, NVIDIA Shield 4KTV, Apple TV, Roku/Telstra, Dolby Atmos soundbar, Games console, PC, set-top box and more.
We are referring to the bandwidth needed to transmit 4K, HDR/HDR10/Dolby Vision and Atmos to the TV set. If you are connecting nothing – just free-to-air and or using the inbuilt apps, then stop reading now.
The bottom line is that 99.9% of cables you can buy are in fact version 1.4 ‘high-speed’ and while they barely work for [email protected] transmission you would be surprised just how much you are missing.
Why? Think of an HDMI cable as a funnel.
- Standard 1.4: 5Gbps up to 720p or 1080i resolution at a 30Hz refresh rate
- High-Speed 1.4: 10Gbps up to 4K resolution (including 1080p) at 30Hz
- Premium-High-Speed 2.0: 18Gbps up to 4K resolution with high dynamic range (HDR) at up to 60Hz
- Ultra-High-Speed 2.1: 48Gbps (and up to 120Gbps for 10K resolution with HDR at a 120Hz refresh rate (4K video can refresh at up to 240Hz)
So, because 1.4 does not support Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos – you may as well not have bought that 4K TV as all you are getting is standard definition upscaled to 4K!
While writing the HDMI tutorial we spoke to Chris Lau of the owner of Laser that makes a vast range of cables and accessories sold in most electronics and chain stores. He said:
“Most people don’t know that there are different categories of HDMI cables. They never know that the lower cost ones don’t support deep colour, HDR or many of HDMI’s latest feature like Dolby Atmos. We are yet to see a demand for HDMI 2.1 cables so for now buy Category 3 Premium High Speed if you have a 4K TV and Blu-ray player that supports Dolby Vision and Atmos.”
Chris offered, and we gratefully accepted to send some Premium high-speed 2.0 and Ultra-High-speed 2.1 cables to test. The Ultra is not yet on the Laser website as they are undergoing certification – we tested them on that basis.
If you have a late model 4/8K HDR/10/10+/Dolby Vision and are connecting any HDMI devices, please read on.
Spoiler alert – good cables cost good money but make a huge difference
Laser Premium High-speed 2.0b cables with Ethernet 2/3/5metres $79.95/99.95/129.95
These ooze quality with a braided nylon protective jacket gold-plated connectors.
In our HDMI guide, we said that Premium-High-Speed was all you need to get the most out of a decent 4K TV – and it is. We connected
- Sony UBP-X700 4K Blu-ray player (HDMI 2.0, ARC)
- Intel NUC 8 media PC (HDMI 2.0) or NVIDIA SHIELD TV (HDMI 2.0 ARC)
- via a Samsung Series 9 HW-Q90R 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos soundbar (HDMI 2.0, eARC)
- to a 65” Sony Master Series A9G OLED (it has eARC and HDMI 2.0 ports).
Now imagine that setup previously with HDMI 1.4 High-speed cables. All we were getting was [email protected] SDR (not HDR let alone Dolby Vision) and Dolby Atmos converted to PCM audio.
Now we were not stupid – the earlier Sony TV 55-X9300 (now replaced by the A9G OLED) had one HDMI 2.0 ARC port, HDR (not Dolby Vision) and passed through 5.1 Dolby Digital (Not Atmos) to a soundbar. It only needed HDMI 1.4 High-speed cables. The new TV needed more.
The difference was at palpable. An Immediate upgrade from Dolby Digital over PCM to true 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos and from HDR to the amazing Dolby Vision – it was like it was a whole new system.