HDMI 2.1 Features on New TVs Are Still a Confusing Mess

Illustration for article titled HDMI 2.1 Features on New TVs Are Still a Confusing Mess
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

While more TVs are poised to get HDMI 2.1 features this year, understanding how those features are implemented on each display can be overwhelming. From a consumer standpoint, it’s frustrating as hell! And companies should frankly be doing more to make the process feel less arduous.

This update to the HDMI standard should be magic, but it seems like every TV company has a different list of features the HDMI 2.1 ports on their TVs actually support. As a consumer, it feels like I have to do an incredible amount of research just to figure out whether the latest game consoles will actually work with the damn things. None of this is made any easier by companies trying to oversell their displays with vague marketing language and proprietary terms meant to move TVs. And how on earth are any of us supposed to future-proof our displays when figuring out what’s supported and by which company is such a headache?

Last year, the number of affordable TVs that supported HDMI 2.1 features was abysmal. It meant that serious gamers looking to get the most out of the new PS5 or Xbox Series S/X boxes either had to wait to invest in HDMI 2.1-ready displays or choose from just a handful of TVs with the latest and greatest in 2020. If you want gaming at the 4K 120Hz offered by these next-generation consoles, for example, you need a TV that supports the new standard.

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The problem is that a TV maker can technically claim their sets support HDMI 2.1 if they have any of the new specification’s features. There’s no guarantee a set will actually support all the HDMI 2.1 features without wading through alphabet soup. TV makers are supposed to make it clear which features their displays do support, but vague marking claims like “Ready for PlayStation 5” don’t do consumers any favors (as Sony, the maker of Playstation, was notably called out on last year).

“TVs marketed to support HDMI 2.1 should also state which of the 2.1 features it supports,” Brad Bramy, HDMI Licensing Administrator VP of Marketing and Operations, told Gizmodo by email. “Consumers should, as with any [consumer electronics] purchase, consider how they will use the TV as well as the type, source, and quality of content they will consume and what experience matters the most to them.”

HDMI LA specifies that 2.1 gaming-specific features include Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), and Quick Frame Transport (QFT). But a more comprehensive experience might also offer support for 4K 120Hz, eARC, and HDR, for example—all features that serious gamers are, again, going to want in their TVs. The organization told Gizmodo that as far as “how a TV manufacturer markets its products as good for gaming that is up to them.”

In Sony’s case, when the company claimed some of its 2020 TVs were PS5-ready, not all of these 2.1 features were included and many wouldn’t be until later firmware updates. On the X900H, for example, a firmware update to include support for VRR and ALLM had yet to be rolled out in early January, months after the launch of the PS5. But Sony did confirm to Gizmodo at the time that it would still be implemented. (We asked Sony for an update last week and will update if we hear back.) A previous post-release firmware update introduced 4K 120Hz on the TVs.

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Further complicating the issue is port support. On a TV with four HDMI ports, some may support a couple of these premium 2.1 features while others do not. On Vizio’s signature OLED, for example, the company says that all four of its ports are 2.1 compatible—and that’s technically true. But only two of those four support 4K 120Hz. On the OLED, ports 2 and 3 support 4K 120Hz, while on Vizio’s other high-end TV, the P-Series Quantum X, ports 3 and 4 support the feature. On top of that, you also need to make sure you’re using the correct HDMI cables for these features. (You’ll want to look for certified Ultra High Speed cables for HDMI 2.1 support.)

Things are looking promising for forthcoming 2021 TVs, though, at least from what we know right now. All of Sony’s new Bravia XR displays announced at CES earlier this month will get support for 4K 120fps, VRR, ALLM, and e-ARC, which is great. Additionally, Panasonic’s recently announced marquee OLED, the JZ2000, will support VRR, eARC, and ALLM, as well as high frame rate. We will unfortunately have to wait to hear more about specs and how they’re implemented for many 2021 TVs, though. TCL wouldn’t comment on its support for HDMI 2.1 features on its newest family of TVs but said it will share more closer to launch. Samsung also declined to comment on features at this time, saying it would have more to share in February or March.

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HDMI LA doesn’t keep track of who includes what in which displays and on which sizes, the organization said, which doesn’t exactly make this whole mess any easier to navigate. In a perfect world, HDMI would require TV makers to support all of the new standard’s features before claiming their displays are HDMI 2.1 compliant. After all, if the HDMI 2.1 label is supposed to serve as an indicator of next-gen readiness, how else are gamers and TV shoppers supposed to make informed consumer decisions? TV makers, meanwhile, should avoid using language that only serves to confuse consumers about what’s being included on their sets.

Unfortunately, the best way to figure out whether your TV is going to perform the way you want it to is still to do your research before buying, and that might mean holding out until reviews can take a closer look at how individual features actually perform. I hate it, but that’s where we’re at. Feel free to read more at gizmodo.com/c/reviews/home-entertainment/televisions.

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DISCUSSION

tarheelbandb
The Ja Rule of Kinja

When I bought my LG 4k tv (65un8500auj) I was satisfied. It has 4 HDMI ports but only 2 of them are HDMI 2.1 with 120 Hz refresh. Unfortunately, one of those ports is also eARC and I had to utilize for my 5.1 SS.
I only had my Nvidia Shiled TV Pro that “needed” to utilize one of the two 2.1 HDMI ports. My PS4 could use one of the other 2 non 120 hz ports. So it’s all good.

Then my wife bought me the Lord of the Rings 4k UHD box set and I needed a 4k blu ray player. After seeing the cost UHD players I rationalized that it would be a sunk cost since I was already planning on getting a PS5 anyway.
Once my PS5 arrived I suddenly “needed” another port. I searched the nets for a switcher and bought one that said it would be 2.1 compatible.

The problem with the switcher is that even though it had a manual switch, It would still receive ARC signals from other devices and shut down the TV and AVR.

Almost a week after buying that switcher, it seems like the new slate of 2.1/HDR10/HDR+/Dolby Vision/120 hz capable AVRs are suddenly available.
So it looks like my problems with HDMI 2.1 are about to be completely solved without having to deal with switches.