HDMI 1.0 to 2.1: This is what you need to know about the connection and cable

For almost ten years now, HDMI has established itself as a universal connection for image and sound. The abbreviation stands for Hugh Ddefinition Multimate IInterface, i.e. for an audio and video connection that transmits high resolutions. HDMI connections can be found on televisions and monitors on the one hand, and on TV receivers, DVD and Blu-ray players, game consoles and notebooks on the other. In this way, picture and sound can be easily transmitted in the best possible quality with just a single cable. It’s not always that easy in practice, because there are different HDMI versions with different options – and low-performance cables.

HDMI 1.4, 2.0 and 2.1: good to know

HDMI comes in different versions. Right from the start, all of them transmit videos in normal standard and HD resolution with 1920×1080 pixels. However, Ultra HD with 3840×2180 pixels (also called 4K) has long been possible. Up to version HDMI 1.4, UHD was possible with up to 30 frames per second, HDMI 2.0 manages 60 frames per second. HDMI 2.1 is even more powerful, so that 8K resolution (7680×4320 pixels) can also run at up to 60 frames per second. Gamers benefit from variable frame rates, which have been possible since HDMI 2.0 and are firmly anchored in the standard with HDMI 2.1. Important: The version numbers only indicate the basic possibilities of the connections. The actual capabilities of the device often only cover part of it. For example, HDMI 2.0 enables Ultra HD resolution and increased color depth with HDR, but a TV with HDMI 2.0 can only handle Ultra HD and no HDR. In other words, a television with HDMI 2.1 does not necessarily process the variable frame rates of the new game consoles.
HDMI logo - default

HDMI versions at a glance

AV receiver and HDMI switch: more connections

Older or very cheap televisions and projectors often have too few HDMI connections for HDTV receivers, game consoles, streaming boxes and similar players. This can be remedied by switches with several HDMI inputs and one output, which are available from around 35 euros. It is important to pay attention to the specifications so that UHD and HDR videos or certain sound formats also pass the HDMI switch undamaged. The same applies to AV receivers. With their HDMI inputs, they offer space for several players and forward the images to the television via HDMI. Soundbars in higher price ranges also have corresponding connections, even if they rarely offer more than two to three HDMI inputs. But only the latest, high-quality models are suitable for UHD and HDR in all forms such as Dolby Vision.
The HDMI port on the TV

The HDMI connection on the TV for a soundbar or for an AV receiver has the suffix ARC. Some televisions have more powerful HDMI connections: on older ones, 4K-capable HDMI inputs are marked as HDMI 2.0 or with the suffix 4K/UHD, on current ones special inputs for game consoles with a symbol or HDMI 2.1/2160p120.

HDMI and home theater surround sound

Blu-ray discs and UHD Blu-rays as well as many streaming players deliver high-resolution home cinema sound with Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master as well as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. No special HDMI cable is required for this. And a new AV receiver is not necessarily due:

  • Blu-ray players and game consoles always output stereo sound for TV sets and the proven home cinema sound formats Dolby Digital and DTS for previous AV receivers. The corresponding setting is made in the player menu.
  • Some playback devices output the new sound formats converted via HDMI – in PCM format with up to eight channels. This format is also used by many older AV receivers with HDMI connections. However, the new surround sound processes DTS:X and Dolby Atmos cannot be transmitted in this way, they have to get from the player to the AV receiver or soundbar as a so-called bitstream without conversion.

Connect AV receiver with HDMI

If your home cinema boxes remain silent on the AV receiver, the receiver may not be using the HDMI sound itself, but is sending it to the TV set or leaving it unused. Then set the receiver so that it gets the picture and the sound from the HDMI input. You can find out how to do this from the operating instructions for the AV receiver. Also check that all players have their HDMI output set to Bitstream or Raw for audio so that audio isn’t just transmitted in stereo. Alternatively, PCM multichannel is permitted.

On request, televisions output the TV sound from one of their HDMI connections to AV receivers and soundbars. This HDMI connection is also marked on the TV set with the abbreviation ARC (Audio Return Channel). The right counterpart on the AV receiver or on the soundbar is the HDMI connection for the television, i.e. HDMI Out or TV Out. To ensure that the TV does not play the sound through its own speakers but lets it out via the HDMI connection, a corresponding setting in the TV’s sound menu is required. New televisions feature a higher bandwidth Audio Return Channel, abbreviated eARC. The can output high-resolution surround sound including Dolby Atmos. The corresponding sound formats do not arrive at the AV receiver? The extension in the TV menu is often deactivated at the factory. In such cases, turn on eARC in the TV menu under Connections or Sound.

Televisions output the sound to soundbars and AV receivers via their HDMI-ARC connection, including Dolby Atmos for models with eARC.

Televisions output the sound to soundbars and AV receivers via the HDMI-ARC connection, including Dolby Atmos for models with eARC. Users must enable Dolby Atmos pass-through.

How to recognize good HDMI cables

Problems with picture and sound sometimes occur, especially with longer HDMI cables. The cause can be poor cable quality or insufficient bandwidth. Good cables are cheap, but the information about HDMI versions such as HDMI 2.0 or HDMI 2.1 is nonsense. Only the standardized bandwidth classes guarantee trouble-free operation:

  • HDMI high speed securely transmits 10 gigabits per second (Gbps). That’s tight for 4K at 60Hz, but it can work.
  • HDMI Premium 18 Gbps guaranteed, enough for 4K at 60 Hertz and HDR.
  • HDMI Ultra High Speed ​​identifies cables with a guaranteed 48 Gbps. This is also sufficient for 4K with 120 Hertz and for 8K.

Strips with these designations guarantee that error-free image and sound transmission is possible over the cable length offered. If that doesn’t work, exchange the cable for another make. For even longer distances, divide the route into two strings of equal length. And connect an HDMI repeater in between: It boosts the signal so that 20 meters is no problem, at least for UHD images.

HDMI cables with the Ultra High Speed ​​label guarantee flawless transmission including 8K.

HDMI cables with the Ultra High Speed ​​label guarantee flawless transmission including 8K.

Select correct HDMI picture setting

Various settings for image resolution and display can be selected on devices with an HDMI output. Older TV sets and projectors do not process the resolutions 576p or 1080p, and accordingly do not show any picture. In such cases, if possible, connect the player using an analogue video cable so that you can see its menu. You can then choose a resolution that suits the TV or projector, such as 576i, 720p or 1080i. Then switch the TV back to the HDMI input. HDR is also tricky: With the PS4 Pro, for example, you have to activate UHD and HDR playback in the menu and on the other hand release the correspondingly assigned HDMI inputs on the television for HDR.
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