All you need to know about HDMI 2.0

Earlier this week, the HDMI Forum unveiled the next version of its HDMI standard at the IFA trade show in Berlin. HDMI 2.0, as it is called, will bring us 4K video at higher frame rates than previously possible. The new standard also has a few other features, which is why I caught up with HDMI Licensing President Steve Venuti this week to figure out what exactly all of this means for consumers, and how it will shape the future of home entertainment.

It is all about 4k. The most important thing about HDMI 2.0 is that it has more bandwidth to facilitate 4k video. Existing HDMI 1.4 technology can only send video signals to your TV at up to 10 gigabits per second. HDMI 2.0 ups that to 20 gigabits, which makes it possible to show 2160p 4k video with frame rates of up to 60 frames per second, whereas the existing HDMI 1.4 could only transmit 4k with up to 30 frames per second.

It also sounds good. In addition to fluid 4k, HDMI 2.0-compliant devices will also transmit up to 32 audio channels, so you can go crazy with surround sound that puts 7.1 surround sound to shame. HDMI 2.0 also supports up to 1536kHz audio sample frequency, which sounds equally ridiculous, but more importantly, it adds the capability to better sync audio to what’s happening on your TV. Venuti explained it this way:

“With the wide range of video content sources available today, video processing times vary greatly. This can introduce delays in the audio/video timing. Dynamic Auto Lip-Sync automatically addresses this issue by dynamically adjusting synchronization of video and audio streams without user intervention.”

It won’t matter to most of us for at least another year. The release of the specs is not the same as the release of any devices that actually use HDMI 2.0. Venuti told me he expects “high-end TV products” that support HDMI 2.0 to hit stores this winter and spring, and more affordable products to show up in fall and winter of 2014.

You can keep those cables. HDMI 2.0 is backwards-compatible with previous versions, and also uses the same cables and connectors. So while you may spend a few thousand dollars on a 4K TV, you at least won’t have to buy all new cables.

chromecast another feature art

It won’t power your Chromecast. One of the big downsides of HDMI has been that it doesn’t provide power to external devices, which forces Chromecast users to power Google’s TV streaming dongle with an extra USB cable. That won’t change, at least not this time around. Said Venuti:

“HDMI 2.0 does not define power over the link at this time. Features such as providing power over the HDMI link, among many other features are currently under consideration.”

It will make remote controls more powerful. One of the cool things about HDMI has been CEC, the control capability that amongst other things makes it possible for a Chromecast device to turn on a TV. However, the implementation of many CEC features was voluntary for consumer electronics manufacturers. With HDMI 2.0, this changes, and things like remote control pass-through, system audio control and standby have to be implemented as part of CEC as well. In other words: You’re going to need fewer remote controls to get more stuff done.

It may lead to some cool new innovations. One of the new features of HDMI 2.0 is the capability to deliver two video streams to the same screen, or even stream one split-view signal to multiple screens. Watching two things at the same time may again not sound like something that any sane person might want to do, but there are a bunch of scenarios where this could actually make sense. One would be the combination of video game or even movie content with an ambient video signal that transforms your living room – think Microsoft Research’s IllumiRoom demo, but as a standard feature for all your Netflix (S NFLX) streams to make you feel like you’re inside of a movie.

The other possibility are new types of displays, like the giant video wall in your living room that could simultaneously display a live TV feed and a wallpaper-like background, or even a second-screen-like experience on the big screen, telling you about the things you’re watching while you’re watching them.

HDMI cable image courtesy of Shutterstock user ffolas.