Has HDMI 2.1 Been Worth the Wait?

HDMI Cable
HDMI Cable

HDMI 2.1 is here, but what does it mean for the average consumer? It is a pretty rare occasion that I meet consumers that are up to date on their HDMI specification knowledge, and I wonder if the HDMI Consortium is aware of this fact when they put out press releases. Sometimes, it seems like these press releases are for an engineers only meetings, and I get the feeling it takes a blog post, like this one, to explain the practical applications of the new specification. So, I am going to give everyone a rundown of what’s new, and you can decide for yourself if you should be exited or not.

 

I almost forgot to mention; I am also going to take some time to clear up some misconceptions about HDMI connectors and cables along the way, and this means I will have to cover some basic information that will result in this post reading like a buying guide.

 

Contrary to popular belief, and Monster Cables’ marketing department, there are not eight different versions of HDMI cables floating around in the marketplace, there are four, and the HDMI Consortium places one of four labels on these cables based their bandwidth (I trying to avoid using the word “speed”).

 

From a consumer’s perspective, the bandwidth ratings mainly affect the supported television resolutions, but there are some hidden features bundled in along the way, so you have to pay close attention to get the best performance from a cable. The four categories of HDMI cables are Standard, High-Speed, Premium High-Speed, and Ultra High-Speed.

 

The Cable Breakdown

HDMI Cable Comparison
Cable Overview

Standard HDMI cables were the first ones that were made available to the public; they launched with the original HDMI 1.0 specification, and as such, they primarily support the features that were available through HDMI 1.0 connectors. The most notable aspect of Standard cables is that they do not support 1080p resolution. It was not until the introduction of High-Speed cables that consumers were able to enjoy the benefits of 1080p televisions.

 

High-Speed HDMI cables support the majority of features that customers find on modern-day televisions. If you bought cables in the last five years or so, then they are probably High-Speed rated, as most retailers have removed Standard ones from their shelves. Every so often I run into some Standard cables on clearance in places like Home Depot or Lowes, and my only hope is that customers are not purchasing them while under the impression that all HDMI cables are the same. In addition to 1080p resolution, high-speed cables also added support for 3D HDTVs (not sure if anyone still manufacturers those), x.v.Color (Deep Color), and 4K resolution (2160p).

 

After reading the list of features supported through High-Speed cabling, and then comparing them to the features available on your current HDTV, you are probably wondering how there are still two more cable ratings to go. I’ll be honest; there is not much of difference between High-Speed and Premium High-Speed cables. The most notable features deal with unlocking the full potential of 4K content, ultimately showing up as the HDR feature. So while High-Speed cables support 4K content transmissions, if you want the most out of that new television, a new cable purchase may be in order.

 

Finally, we have arrived at Ultra High-Speed cabling, or as your favorite marketing department calls it, “Future Proof Cabling.” Ultra High-Speed cables support every feature, on every device, currently on the market. They support resolutions up to 10K, most consumers will likely see 8K as the next logical step in HDTV resolutions, but I would not hold my breath for that content to become widely available (4K still isn’t there yet). These cables also include support for Dolby Vision, another HDR specification, and Quick Switching, alleviating the blank screen that appears for 2 seconds while you are switching inputs.

 

The Connection Breakdown

 

Now that I have taken the time to make sure you are all caught up on cables, it is time to talk about then new HDMI 2.1 connectors. Why? Because that is the topic of this article, but explaining how to enable all of the specification’s features is nearly impossible without making sure you have an understanding of cabling basics. The reason for my concern is that there is no clear correlation between cables and connectors. That’s right, there are only four HDMI cable categories, but there have been roughly seven different types of HDMI connectors released over the last ten years.

 

The 2.1 specification focuses on tweaking the previously released HDMI 2.0 connector specs, and most of the features are tied up in minute tweaks at an engineering level. There is the Variable Refresh Rate feature, reducing the amount of lag higher resolution televisions produces during gaming. There is aforementioned Quick Media Switching (QMS), reducing the amount of time there is no picture on-screen while switching HDMI inputs. However, it is the ability to transmit resolutions up to 10K that has most manufacturers taking notice.

 

It should come as no surprise to anyone who covers HDTV sales that software-based features have failed to drive new hardware sales in recent years. Whether we are talking about 3D TV, Smart TV, or HDR, it seems as if the only thing that motivates HDTV enthusiasts to make a new purchase is a discernable change in resolution. After all, the switch to 4K has brought about new competition between content providers, a new type of blu-ray player, and new versions of the most popular gaming systems.

 

The new 2.1 specifications can usher in a new set of HDTVs, a new disc format, all new cabling, and force content and internet providers to step up their game once again. Consumers should never forget that the goal of a specification is to drive sales, and when it comes to the new HDMI connectors, consumers will never realize the potential of their systems without a complete makeover. Now, let’s talk about how all these components are configured.

 

Configuration Breakdown

 

What’s often lost in the explanation of HDMI configurations is the comprehension of the lowest common connection. If someone has ever told you that “you are only as strong as your weakest link,” he or she could have been talking about your HDMI setup. When it comes to putting everything together, the features available through HDMI are dictated by the lowest featured cable, or connection, in the chain.

 

The optimal situation for HDMI 2.1 involves both pieces of equipment having new connectors, linked together with an Ultra High-Speed cable, resulting in every feature being available. In extreme cases, connecting two HDMI 1.3 devices with a Standard HDMI cable will restrict the feature set to those enabled with HDMI 1.0 connectors. The most common situation in most households involves reusing cables or connecting a new television to an out-dated cable box. In scenarios like this, even if your TV has the latest HDMI ports and a new Ultra High-Speed cable securely plugged-in to it, the features available will be restricted by the HDMI 1.1 connector outputting the signal from your cable box.

 

With everything laid out on the table regarding HDMI 2.1 connectors, I leave it you to decide if upgrading your hardware is worth it. Make sure to leave your comments on how you perceive the value of the new specification. Will you update your disc players, televisions, gaming systems and cables?

Apple Slowed Your Phone – What Now?

Mobile Phone
It’s not over yet.

I have sat around and listened to information regarding Apple’s iPhone slowdown issue long enough to call bullsh!t on Apple. It is not that their engineering reasoning does not make sense…because it does, it is the fact that they would have to be able to see the future through some crystal ball to anticipate a problem like this one and effectively engineer a software solution that bothers me. Yes, I said a software solution. While everyone is out getting their batteries replaced in good faith, he or she might have overlooked the fact that a “solution’ to this problem has to be applied where the problem was created – in iOS. Thus, a battery replacement alone will not bring the speed back to your iPhone, and this is what makes me question the motives surrounding this entire situation.

Realistically, I would be more likely to believe Apple’s statements about why they slowed older phones if this was their first offense, but it’s not, and their fanbase is so rabid about their favorite little device they tend to forget the other times Cupertino’s darling as executed similar plans to boost profits. In 2012, Apple changed the iPhone charging port from its original 30 pin connector to the current lightning port with the promise of added features. What consumer received was frayed/defective cables and relinquished the ability to use most third-party charging equipment, while Apple received a boost in adapter sales and branded “Genuine Apple” accessories. The result was class action lawsuit claiming Apple was aware of what they were doing at the time and chose not to inform customers of the outcomes.

In 2014, it was an upgrade to iOS 8 that caused an uproar from the fanbase. Massive amounts of people were unable to upgrade to the latest mobile operating system because of insufficient memory in their devices. Apple squashed the rebellion with an iTunes workaround that made sure those lower capacity phones would be able to get the latest version of iOS. The new iOS surprised fans with a phone that had so little internal memory left over after the installation; the new system might as well have bricked (technical term) their phone. Moreover, once installed, the operating system cannot be rolled back, leaving anyone who made an effort to upgrade on lower capacity phones SOL. Maybe this set of class action lawsuits filed as a result will give customers a bit more closure than the 2012 ensemble.

Even with Apple’s suspicious history in mind, I was still willing to concede benefit of the doubt because their statements about the effects of long-term battery usage are spot-on. Every time a phone opens, switches, powers-on applications, or performs a slew of other functions, it requires a power surge from the battery, and as batteries age, they lose the ability to deliver those surges. The easiest way to for most consumers to comprehend this is to think of their phones as cars, and the batteries that run them as gas tanks. Certain aspects of driving use significantly more gasoline than others, just like certain aspects of cell phone usage require more power than others.

For example, starting your car involves a simultaneous surge of gas to every component involved in the ignition process. The same is true for phones during startup; every electronic component needs to obtain a charge simultaneously to boot your operating system, requiring significantly more power than regular operations. Quick accelerations to switch lanes are like switching between applications, a sudden change in position also requires a significant, sudden increase in power. While there is a long list of car-related analogies that can explain sudden power surges, I think you get my point, not all battery usage is the same. So yes, it makes sense to slow the speed the processor to accommodate for aging batteries.

Okay, so if the reasoning for the slowdown is legitimate, why am I calling bullsh!t? It’s because of the method of deployment. iOS can only be engineered to deploy something like this in a couple of ways, both of which make me think this slowdown had nothing to do with concern for consumers and more to do with profits. The hardware, in this case, the battery, doesn’t have a sophisticated method for reporting its status to the operating system. There is not a self-testing mechanism, no internal clock, and no sensors on a battery, so unless Apple is hiding some new battery tech I’ve never heard of, iOS has to the culprit (Apple has admitted as much).

If you are a computer geek, Android superuser, or the Last Digital Jedi, you probably understand how adjusting the processor speed of a device has a dramatic effect on its power consumption. Geeks refer to this as “overclocking,” or “under-clocking,” depending on the direction of the adjustment. If you’ve ever executed the process, you are probably aware that it’s done through software adjustments and not through the power supplies themselves. So what? Why is this one little detail so nefarious when it comes to the Apple iPhone slowdown situation? It’s because firmware would have to have this hidden function from the very beginning, or have been slipped into a recent update to execute the slowdown maneuver. Here are the likely scenarios in which this process was executed.

One, every processor is adjusted differently, so iOS would need to figure some method of identification to slow down the appropriate devices, and that is possible by looking at a device’s internal chip model. More than likely, the operating system is looking for the Apple A8 and A9 chipsets and reducing their processing power to conserve battery usage. The problem with this method is that devices containing these chipsets are still sold as new, and there would be no way of distinguishing devices purchased yesterday from those purchased three years ago. This kind of execution would be horrible for Apple customers; it would mean that a newly acquired iPhone 6s, or SE, would still result in a slow device regardless of its age. Nefarious indeed…

Two, Apple could be using the device’s internal clock to determine the phones age. Based on when the phone was activated, a calculation could evaluate the device’s age, enabling iOS to reduce the speed of the processor. If this is the case, the speed reduction related to a predetermined timetable that Apple put in place years ago and would have nothing to do with the condition of the phone’s battery. The result for Apple customers is still the same, implying that Apple has been planning this for years and never notified any of their customers of the impending doom.

There as still some other ways to execute something like this, but all of them still implies a certain amount of nefarious behavior on Apple’s part, so I’ll skip to the summary. This is simply a bad look for Apple. Even changing out the battery won’t return your phone to its previous glory days, something has to be done in the OS to unleash the processing power once again. If a firmware patch is issued, for those with new batteries, they’ll be back in action, and for those without a replacement, they’ll experience some new issues with their devices. Ultimately, the result is already the same as the other instances I mentioned, with class action lawsuits already in motion, but I can’t positively say if this time is going to be any different. The Apple faithful remain the Apple faithful, so maybe all these keystrokes have been for not. Let me know what you think.