High-Definition Media Interface (HDMI) is an all-in-one digital connection that’s helped pave the way for innovations like 4K/UHD technology, allowing users to enjoy an ever-expanding A/V universe. Ports are like a Swiss-Army knife: they’re responsible for endowing laptops with increased functionality. It’s easy to find HDMI ports on pretty much any modern laptop, desktop monitor, game console and BluRay player. It’s an expansion port that’s always on the move with many versions available and the number is still growing. In this guide we look at the format difference between HDMI 1.0 vs 2.0 and give you an overview of some of the newest versions of HDMI.
HDMI is a connection standard used to transfer high quality audio and video (A/V) information digitally from a source like a laptop to a video display like a monitor or other compatible device.
But not just sound, surround sound. And without HDMI, 4K wouldn’t be possible.
The first use of HDMI can be traced back to the end of 2002 when the technology in emerging hardware pressed the need for a successor to the aging VGA and DVI interfaces. Since then, HDMI has had a gradual evolution with several iterations: 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 2.0 and 2.1. Each new version introduces new features and functions (we’ll go over some of the most current ones later).
But HDMI is as much a standard of hardware as it is a connection design.
To take advantage of HDMI technology, not only do both ends of your entertainment chain need to support this connection standard – in other words, not only does your laptop and the peripheral you’re connecting to both need to support HDMI. But you also need an HDMI cable to serve as a conduit of information between them.
There Are Different Types of HDMI Cables
4 in fact. And their specifications are references to how much data they can carry. For instance:
Today, the price difference between high-speed HDMI cables and standard-speed variants are so negligible that it’s hardly worth getting a standard-speed HDMI cable as technology moves forward. The HDMI Forum Technical Working Group defines the specifications for HDMI cables like this:
As you can see, you’re going to want to opt for one of the High-Speed options. The more detailed version of the guideline even tells you the kind of cable you need for playing video games at more than 30 FPS (frames per second) – If you attach your gaming laptop to a 4K/60 FPS monitor, you’ll need an HDMI cable that can handle that much data transmission.
HDMI 1.0 vs 2.0
Why has HDMI become the de-facto video-audio cable standard? Simply because it sends the best quality image and sound over a single cable.
HDMI 1.0 and 2.0 versions relate to different bandwidths and technical updates.
When HDMI 2.0 was introduced in late 2013, it got many users confused wondering if they should replace their old technology with the latest trend. But as far as tech advancements go, HDMI 2.0 has been a friendly one, meaning that it’s backwards compatible.
HDMI 1.4 Can Do 4K!
Not only did HDMI 1.4 introduce Ethernet and 3D support, but it’s also the first HDMI iteration to usher in the kind of bandwidth required to deliver 4K video.
HDMI 1.4 can carry 1080p at 60Hz, and 2160p 4K Ultra HD at 30Hz.
But it’s not without compromises. The rate of 4K through an HDMI 1.4 connection is limited to 24 FPS. HDMI 2.0 by contrast can dispense 4K video at 50 and 60 FPS.
On the device side of things, HDMI 1.4 systems work just fine with new HDMI 2.0 devices. To make things even easier, some previously HDMI 1.4 hardware require nothing more than a firmware update to be compatible.
But the New 2.0 Version Improves Video and Audio Stream Quality
HDMI 2.0 is a reimagining of the interchange between entertainment gear that factors in the immense amount of data required to get high-quality video like 4K and audio to devices.
HDMI 2.0 can carry 1080p up to 120Hz, and 2160p 4K Ultra HD at 60Hz.
HDMI 2.0 systems can transfer data up to 18Gbps, that’s up from 10.2Gbps with HDMI 1.4. 18Gbps is 2,250MB a second. For context, normal Blu-rays max out at 54Mbps, that’s just 6.75MB per second.
HDMI 2.0 Has Enough Bandwidth for 12 Bit Color At 4K
HDMI 1.4 is limited to 8 bit. The extra bandwidth in HDMI 2.0 means it can transport 4K video at 10 bit and 12 bit! What does this mean?
The difference between 8 bit and 12 bit is the amount of information that goes into each pixel’s color. For instance: 8 bit results in a color palette of 16.7 million. While 12 bit ramps up the color specificity to 68.7 billion. But that much information makes transporting 4K in 12 bits-per-second a data-heavy task. That’s why HDMI 2.0 cables are created to have a larger bandwidth, so they can carry more data.
The marketing term you’re sure to run into for this higher color bit rate is “HDR”.
High Dynamic Range:
The result is a more realistic on-screen image.
What’s the Difference Between HDMI 2.0A and 2.0B
Again, HDMI technology is always on the move with new iterations coming down the pipeline regularly. HDMI 2.0B is just an extremely minor update to HDMI 2.0A – Think of it as a half-step forward between what HDMI 2.0 already offers, and HDMI 2.1 (HDMI 2.1 brings a truckload of advantages like 8K).
HDMI 2.0B changes nothing about the size, shape, or wiring of HDMI ports or cables. This means you can keep all the hardware you’re already using. Because like all HDMI cables, HDMI 2.0B is backward compatible; you can connect older peripherals to your laptop with no problem.
HDMI 2.0B adds yet another flavor to the HDR menu, like — Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG). HLG is a newer HDR technology mostly intended for broadcast applications and not something most users need worry about though.
In the end, HDMI 2.0B is basically a carryover from HDMI 2.0A with small refinements that add support for HDR, notably HLG, which – in itself – is just a different way to transmit HDR content.
Your Existing HDMI Cable Might Already Support the Features You Need
If you purchased a high-speed HDMI cable in the past to connect your laptop’s HDMI 1.4 port to a 1080p monitor output. And now you want to buy a 4K HDR monitor with an HDMI 2.0 output to connect to your laptop. You should be able to use the same old high-speed HDMI cable (even with the extra data from HDR).
If you want to watch HDR content, play games at 60 FPS, or use your TV as a monitor. You can use one of the following two ways to determine if your existing cable is compatible:
The second method is more reliable because you’ll typically either get a signal or you won’t. But you want to start with the first method because if you end up with a blank screen in method two, switching back to a viewable setting can be a pain.
Why You May Want to Splurge on a 4K HDMI Cable
There are a few niggly reasons why the HDMI cable you have on hand may not be able to keep up with the demands of your new peripheral. Conversely, old equipment may not be able to pass along the newest video formats like 4K and HDR or their highest quality, which means you might need to shell out for a new HDMI cable.
Things to consider:
HDR. Add to that if your new monitor is for gaming, 4K gaming has been available for several years. Although the resolution is the same as 4K movies, the extra FPS of 4K games means a lot of extra data needs to flow through the same cable. Check to make sure your current HDMI cable can’t handle the extra bandwidth before electing to go out and purchase a more expensive one.
But, There’s Literally No Such Thing as a 4K HDMI Cable
Confusing. We know. It’s just a marketing term. Unsurprisingly, cable manufacturers are tripping over themselves to sell you more expensive “4K HDMI” cables. And one of the latest is HDMI 2.1. Does that mean you have to run out and buy a special HDMI cable for 4K to link your laptop to your new hardware?
For the most part, an HDMI cable is just and HDMI cable. Even if you do need a new HDMI cable to link your laptop to a more powerful monitor. Don’t let marketing-hype that calls one an “HDMI 2.0 cable” and the other an “HDMI 4K cable” fool you. The version numbers ONLY refer to the connection of the peripheral.
There are numerous HDMI versions available. And more coming down the pipeline. We’re several years into HDMI and the technology is still going strong with innovations. We’re able to enjoy the future with new technologies while holding onto the past with older hardware. There may come a time when this will no longer hold true. But over the short distance, most HDMI ports can handle current 4K content, even with extra data from HDR. The big difference between HDMI 1.0 and HDMI 2.0 is bandwidth. But when it comes to connecting a laptop to peripherals and hardware, HDMI versions don’t matter much. Unless you’re trying to connect to older technology because old equipment may not be able to pass along the newest video formats.