Why There Won’t Be A True HDMI 2.1 TV in 2018

Vincent Teoh

One question we get asked a lot lately is, “Should I wait until 2018 to buy a TV with HDMI 2.1?” Well, here’s the bombshell: there won’t be any true HDMI 2.1 TV in 2018, at least not one that can support all the features specified in HDMI 2.1 such as higher resolution and frame rates (8K@60Hz, 4K@120Hz), eARC (enhanced ARC), VRR (variable refresh rate) and QMS (Quick Media Switching).

The reason is because the HDMI 2.1 specifications have only been officially published at the end of November 2017, with the first HDMI 2.1 chipsets not expected to hit the market until the first quarter of 2018. All the 2018 TVs to be launched at CES next month would have been designed/ built around summer this year, which means there’s exactly zero chance of them carrying a true HDMI 2.1 chipset.

Couldn’t the TV manufacturers use a chipset that could be firmware updated to support all the features of HDMI 2.1? The answer is no, because HDMI 2.1 requires a brand new 48Gbps chipset which doesn’t exist yet. And IC (integrated circuit) makers won’t be foolish enough to risk designing/ manufacturing/ testing a batch of new chipsets BEFORE the HDMI 2.1 specifications are completed just to steal a lead, because one misjudgment and the entire production line would have to be scrapped, leading to severe losses.

Before you start crying into your shiny new OLED TV, thinking that it’s already obsolete, there’s still some hope. This is because some less bandwidth-demanding features in HDMI 2.1 could potentially be supported by HDMI 2.0 chipsets with 18Gbps following a software update. For example, one widely circulated misconception is that HDMI 2.1 is required for dynamic metadata HDR presentation. However, Dolby Vision, which is a form of dynamic metadata technology, is already supported by 2017 and even 2016 LG OLED TVs. At IFA 2017, Panasonic demonstrated HDR10+, an open-source, royalty-free dynamic metadata platform, over HDMI port on the company’s 2017 OLEDs.

The evidence suggests that dynamic metadata could be supported over HDMI 2.0b with a 18Gbps throughput, although whether manufacturers will pull through on the firmware update front is another matter. It also means there’s bound to be a lot of exaggeration and marketing going on at CES 2018… we may see some true HDMI 2.1 prototypes, but some less-than-scrupulous brands may claim that their device is HDMI 2.1 just because it supports one subset feature of HDMI 2.1, even though the underlying chipset is still HDMI 2.0.

Given that the first HDMI 2.1 chipsets will only become available around March 2018, and the HDMI Forum will take around nine months to release the compliance tests, a more realistic timeline for true HDMI 2.1 products is early 2019, perhaps even later, taking into account hardware development and software writing/ debugging. Of course, you can try waiting until 2019 before buying a new TV, but by then there will be another standard round the corner, such as HDMI 2.1b or HDMI 2.2, etc.