The newly-launched Sony PS5 and Microsoft Xbox Series X next-gen gaming consoles have made ultra-high 8K resolutions a reality for console gamers, utilizing HDMI® 2.1 technology for connection to a compatible display.
The latest HDMI update is also now available to PC gamers with the release of the Nvidia HDMI 2.1 enabled GeForce RTX Series 30 and the AMD Radeon 6000 series. These both support ultra-high resolutions and refresh rates, ushering in a new graphics revolution to PC gaming that will last well into the future.
This article will discuss HDMI 2.1 technology and its capabilities, and what it means for PC gamers moving forward.
What is Graphics Card for Gaming?
The graphics processing unit (GPU), or graphics card, is the component in a computer that takes information from the central processing unit (CPU) about the contents of a scene, including positions and actions of the characters and surroundings, and renders it into the sequence of pictures (frames) that you ultimately see onscreen as moving video. The GPU does most of the heavy lifting, particularly at higher resolutions and refresh rates.
What is the HDMI 2.1 Specification?
The HDMI 2.1 specification is the latest major update on the HDMI spec and a significant improvement over the previous version. Its most prominent feature is a big boost in bandwidth capacity, now up to 48 Gbps. This opens up exciting features when used with a compatible HDMI 2.1 enabled graphics card and other audiovisual source and display devices.
The 2.1 specification supports 8K Ultra HD video resolutions, and even the wider aspect ratio 10K cinematic format. Faster refresh rates, such as 8K@60Hz and 4K up to 120Hz are also possible with HDMI 2.1 technology. High dynamic range (HDR) video compatibility and BT.2020 wide color gamut deliver a more faithful color reproduction and contrast range, and HDMI 2.1 capabilities build on this by supporting Dynamic HDR. This enables the display to adjust the HDR color tone mapping on a frame-by-frame basis, ensuring an optimal picture in all types of scenes throughout a program.
For gamers, HDMI 2.1 also has some innovative features. One of the more exciting ones is Variable Refresh Rate (VRR). VRR allows a GPU to deliver frames to the display as soon as they're ready, which can vary based on the complexity of the scene. Previously, refresh rates were fixed and capped, typically at 60Hz, sometimes causing stutter and "frame tearing" in the picture. VRR effectively syncs the monitor's refresh rate with that of the game and GPU, leading to ultra-smooth video output even with the most demanding of games and varying frame rates. HDMI 2.1 also helps reduce display input lag (latency) and power consumption with its Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) and Quick Frame Transport (QFT) features.
HDMI 2.1 Features and Graphics Cards
While the first release of a GPU supporting the Nvidia HDMI 2.1-enabled features was the RTX 30 series and its flagship RTX 3090, such capabilities were not far behind for AMD. Their Radeon RX 6000 series represents the flagship GPUs for the latest HDMI technology update utilizing AMD's RDNA architecture. This is the same technology used in both the PS5 and Xbox Series X GPUs, both of which support HDMI 2.1 with video resolution up to 8K.
The Nvidia RTX 3080 and the AMD Radeon RX 6800 were the first HDMI 2.1-enabled graphics cards, and first to perform real-time ray tracing. They are powerful 4K GPUs, and with lightweight games can even deliver up to 8K resolutions, albeit at lower refresh rates. For premium 8K performance, both the Nvidia RTX 3090 and the Radeon RX 6900 XT are the more powerful successors and flagship models.
Unless you're gaming with the higher resolutions on a high-end PC or next-gen gaming console, utilizing some of the enhancements that come with HDMI 2.1— such as 8K resolution— is still far from being mainstream, but is expected to become so in the next couple of years. But don't forget the more immediate benefits of gaming features such as VRR, ALLM and 4K@120.
Indeed, HDMI 2.1 is just scratching the surface of what's possible. It will be exciting to see the quality of media, gaming, and video content that this current HDMI specification can deliver in the near future.
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