Cables aren’t sexy technology, but if there’s one cable that gets tech enthusiasts’ attention, it’s HDMI. While many TV owners may know the tech simply as that weird flat plug that makes the TV plug-and-playable, HDMI is always on the move. The all-in-one digital connection has created a cornucopia of ways to make hardware ready for the expanding A/V world around us, allowing for innovations like 4K UHD technology and 8K resolution, which is the next big thing in TVs, even if it won’t be anything resembling the norm for some time. While HDMI is preparing for another leap forward, for the time being, we’re using a half-step forward in the form of HDMI 2.0b.
The best news: As with previous jumps, and unlike the upcoming HDMI 2.1, HDMI 2.0b does not require different cables than what you’re already using.
HDMI 2.0b builds on HDMI 2.0a, which tacked a few features on to the previous HDMI 2.0, including a display technology called High Dynamic Range, which we’ll refer to as HDR from here on out. Designed to vastly improve the contrast between light and dark images for a more realistic picture, HDR has quickly become a must-have in a new TV purchase. In this article, we’ll explain all the wonderful things you can do with your home theater thanks to HDMI 2.0b.
A quick note before we begin: HDMI 2.0b is an extremely minor update on HDMI 2.0a. The two are essentially the same, except that HDMI 2.0b adds support for Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG), a newer HDR technology mainly intended for broadcast applications. Any new gear being released likely ships with HDMI 2.0b, but if you’re wondering about a piece of gear you have that uses HDMI 2.0a, the information here still applies.
As we’ve written about previously, the primary reason for the switch to HDMI 2.0 is that 4K Ultra HD televisions require much more bandwidth to realize their full potential. Since 4K Ultra HD is four times the resolution of 1080p, the former HD standard, it requires more throughput to handle extra data going back and forth. Lots more.
HDMI 1.4 supported 4K resolutions, yes, but only at 24 or 30 frames per second. That works fine for movies, but isn’t useful for gaming and many TV broadcasts, which require 50 or 60 fps. Also, HDMI 1.4 limited 4K Ultra HD content to 8-bit color, though it is capable of 10- or 12-bit color. HDMI 2.0 fixed all of that because it could handle up to 18 gigabits per second — plenty enough to allow for 12-bit color and video up to 60 frames per second.
Ultra HD was one thing, but current TVs aim to blow our minds with even higher image realism, by creating more intense whites and blacker blacks — it’s like Tide for your TV, making everything more vivid, which is what HDR is all about. TVs from Sony, Panasonic, LG, Samsung, and Vizio all tout one version or another of HDR technology. And thanks to the beauty of HDMI, you don’t need to worry about a thing, since HDMI 2.0b gear is fully compatible with all versions that came before it.
DON’T THROW AWAY YOUR HDMI CABLES
As mentioned above, HDMI 2.0b changes nothing about the size, shape, or wiring of HDMI cables. Should you wind up getting devices that are HDMI 2.0a compliant, your existing cables will work just fine. And since HDMI 2.0b is backward compatible with older HDMI versions, you’ll be able to connect your old Blu-ray player and/or AV receiver to a brand-new HDMI 2.0b-equipped 4K Ultra HD TV with absolutely no problem.