In the past few weeks, I have been talking with some behind-the-scenes people in the world of high-end video as part of my background research for my Samsung UN85S9 Ultra HD TV review, as well as for my upcoming Panasonic ZT60 1080p plasma review. One theme that I keep hearing about is the pending launch of HDMI 2.0, which I'm told is possibly as close as weeks away from becoming news.
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Excuse me if I don't get too elated at the prospect of yet another revision to HDMI, as past updates have left our readers dissatisfied, frustrated and sometimes even out of the market. But I also understand that the upgrade to HDMI 2.0 is necessary to usher us into the next era of video. HDMI 2.0 isn't just about going beyond 1080p. The current HDMI 1.4 spec can go beyond 1080p, up to Ultra HD at 24 or 30 frames per second. HDMI 2.0 will support Ultra HD at higher frame rates and, possibly more importantly, it will support increased bit color, be it 10- or 12-bit color. While an increase from eight-bit color to 10- or 12-bit color doesn't seem like a big deal, it is. It is an increase of billions of colors that the untrained eye can easily see and appreciate. Add that to the "four times the resolution of 1080p" resolution and the increased frame rate, and now you've got the makings of a platform that can deliver a meaningful step up in performance to people who are willing to update their HDTVs and other equipment.
Shockingly, there will reportedly be much stricter copy protection on HDMI 2.0. God knows if this will create handshake issues like it did with HDMI 1.0; I wouldn't deem it out of the realm of possibility. If Silicon Image execs were smart, they would make absolutely certain that the new format is very much backwards-compatible so that enthusiast customers don't have to buy all new gear in order to make one upgrade. The patience for constant HDMI upgrades just isn't in the marketplace anymore.
Another key upgrade rumored to be part of HDMI 2.0 is the move from H.264 to H.265 (also known as HEVC), which reportedly allows for better image quality from a much more compressed file. This is potentially big news for cable and satellite providers who are not going to sacrifice one single channel to make room for Ultra HD channels. It's also good news for streaming companies, although it's still hard to imaging UHD content being piped through today's Internet. Even if you have FiOS at home, the bandwidth needed to get UHD streaming is just too data-intensive.
Click on over to Page 2 for a dissapointing rumor about HDMI 2.0 . . .
One disappointing rumor is that the broadcast lobby has seemingly convinced Silicon Image to back away from offering 10-bit color for UHD over HDMI 2.0. This means that, in order to have a greater selection of channels, you will get lesser quality and arguably give up the single best element of Ultra HD, which is 10-bit color.
There are other compelling options for Ultra HD content transmission, with�DisplayPort�being the most interesting. Widely used in the computer business today (think�Apple's Thunderbolt�connection as an example), DisplayPort already supports 10-bit color, but good luck finding a�Blu-ray player�or�DVR�with a DisplayPort output. If you are a consumer in the home theater game today, you are stuck with HDMI - which is why the pending launch of HDMI 2.0 is so important.
Long-term, I don't think the powers-that-be (studios, electronics companies, and licensing companies in�the HDMI Forum) are going to allow an HDMI 2.0 spec to get released that is as shaky as HDMI 1.0 was. They have taken their beating and know that they have to keep offering more performance, as well as more studio protection, to suit both of their masters.�
The arrival of HDMI 2.0 is likely the key to solidifying the badly needed standard for Ultra HD in both the broadcast and Blu-ray arenas. Critics, myself included, have lambasted the�Blu-ray Disc Association�for not having Ultra HD worked out on Blu-ray before the launch of UHD TV sets. They are just waiting for the HDMI standard to be ratified so that they can sew up some of the details. Expect news from the Blu-ray and broadcast world after HDMI 2.0 breaks to the general public.
Should home theater enthusiasts freak out at this point? Not yet. HDMI 2.0 will be more for those who want to make the move to Ultra HD, and that move isn't prudent at this time for the vast majority of customers out there today who rock 1080p rigs. Should you be dumping your current electronics on Audiogon.com or selling your TV on eBay? Nope. Now is not the time to panic. Let's see what HDMI 2.0 brings to the table. It's likely going to be backwards-compatible anyhow. Still, we know there are always bumps on the road to a new technology and that the cutting edge of home theater is almost always very sharp. With that said, the future of video is really looking up. Four times 1080p is cool, and higher frame rates and 10-bit color only make a good thing that much better. Don't be afraid of HDMI 2.0. Perhaps it's time to be cautiously optimistic.
� Read more original content like this in our�Feature News Stories section.
� See more�Plasma HDTV,�LED HDTV, and�LCD HDTV�news from Home Theater Review.
� Explore reviews in our�HDTV Review section.