Here's what you need to know about HDMI 2.1 and how it can benefit your experience playing next-gen games.
With next-gen consoles come new hardware standards. Among the new technical upgrades coming with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S HDMI 2.1 support. But what exactly makes HDMI 2.1 different, and is it worth buying a new TV for? We're here to provide you with answers to those burning questions.
Below, we break down everything you need to know about HDMI 2.1, such as the improvements to color and HDR it offers. As you'd expect, its most significant benefit to gaming is the ability to output 4K at 120fps, so we also touch on some of the titles confirmed to support it. If you're interested in buying a TV with HDMI 2.1, check out our roundup of the best 4K TVs for PS5 and Xbox Series X. Otherwise, read on for everything you need to know or check out the video version of this feature in the player below for a more visual look at what we've detailed.
What Is HDMI 2.1, And What Are Its Benefits?
In short, HDMI 2.1 is the latest version of HDMI that distinguishes itself by being capable of transmitting an impressive bandwidth of 48 Gbps (GigaBits) in the cable. This is a considerable improvement from the previous 2.0 cables, which carry 18 Gbps. In general, bandwidth determines the max amount of data the signal in the cable can send. The higher the resolution and frame rate, the more data is needed.
If you're playing a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X in 4K, you've been using a 2.0 cable that can support up to 4K resolution at 60fps with static HDR. HDMI 2.1 is capable of 4K at 120fps or 8K at 60fps. It also supports dynamic HDR lighting on a frame-by-frame basis and a color gamma of BT.2020 and 16 bit per color. In more straightforward terms, this means HDMI 2.1 is capable of supporting TVs that have a wide color gamut, making your image look more vibrant, crisper, and clearer than ever before.
HDMI 2.1 includes Auto Low Latency Mode or ALLM, which tells your TV that you're playing a video game and instantly switches over to its low latency game mode setting. HDMI 2.1 also has VRR, a built-in variable refresh rate that keeps your display's refresh rate in tune with a supported device's frame rate, so everything you see move on-screen is kept smooth. The new consoles will support VRR between 30 and 120.
How Will HDMI 2.1 Benefit The Next-Gen Consoles?
So what does this all mean for your fancy new console? Well, both the PS5 and Xbox Series X use HDMI 2.1 to enable games to run up to 4K at 120fps. If you're buying the more budget-minded Xbox Series S, the console also has an HDMI 2.1 port, but it instead targets a resolution of 1440p at 120fps, which HDMI 2.0 can already support. But using 2.1 on the Series S will still give you the benefits of dynamic HDR as well as improved color and subsampling.
The other benefit of HDMI 2.1 is 8K support. Both the PS5 and Xbox Series X are capable of outputting 8K, but very few games will run at 8K for the foreseeable future, meaning there isn't much of a reason to worry about it for gaming. The big selling point of HDMI 2.1 right now is the improved color and 4K at 120fps, but you can rest easy knowing that such options will be available as 8K support becomes more widely adopted.
Which Next-Gen Games Will Support HDMI 2.1's Unique Benefits?
All of this talk may make you wonder: "Why is this such a special thing?" In the past, high frame rates like 120fps have typically been the domain of PC gamers, so it's a big deal that console gamers can enjoy it now too. A few examples of games that support 120fps include Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition, Dirt 5, and the multiplayer modes in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and Halo Infinite.
A few previous-gen games will also be getting 120fps updates for the new consoles, such as Gears 5, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and Rainbow Six Siege. As many PC gamers can attest, framerates above 60fps lead to a smoother gameplay experience and provide a competitive edge in multiplayer. So if you're interested in having games run the best they can or want every advantage in Call of Duty you can get, HDMI 2.1 is for you.
How Do You Get HDMI 2.1 Up And Running?
For starters, you'll need an HDMI 2.1 cable. The Series X will come with one in the box, and presumably, the PS5 will as well. But if you need to buy one, be sure to look for the key phrases Ultra High Speed, HDMI 2.1, and 48 Gbps. Always check the specs on the product page, and look at reviews to make sure the cable isn't cheaply made.
The primary thing you need to worry about when it comes to your money, though, is having a TV that supports HDMI 2.1 and 4K at 120fps. Being a newer technology, you're only going to find this in the latest models, and even then, not all of them will support it, so make sure to check the specs on the product page and reviews. If you're planning on owning both next gen-consoles or want to plug in your PC as well, it's worth noting that most TVs with 2.1 only have it on one HDMI port, meaning you'll need to swap around system cables.
The only TV we're aware of at this moment that has HDMI 2.1 in all of its ports is the new LG OLED CX Series. It also supports G-Sync and FreeSync, which is excellent for variable refresh rates in PC gaming and is, in our personal opinion, the best high-end gaming TV on the market that isn't ridiculously priced. If this feature does have you interested in buying a TV, we have another article rounding up the best 4K TVs for next-gen, including the LG CX we just mentioned.
With all of that said, if HDMI 2.1 doesn't sound like something you need to have, then you can always wait until the technology becomes more widespread and less expensive. The reality is most games that aren't multiplayer experiences aren't going to support 120fps for a while. And the ones that do might not even be at 4K resolution, opting instead for 1440p or even 1080p. Heck, we'll probably still be getting big-budget graphical showcases that shoot for 4K 30fps.
The improvements to color, dynamic HDR, and the variable refresh rate offered with HDMI 2.1 are still major advancements that more next-gen games will take advantage of. But how worthwhile these improvements are is all dependent on how you feel about your current TV. If you just upgraded your TV recently and don't care about 120fps, then it's best not to worry about HDMI 2.1 yet. But if you've been waiting to get a whole new setup for the next gen, then definitely consider HDMI 2.1 when looking at new TVs, if for nothing else than to give yourself more options in how you can play your games.