Will Full HDMI 2.1 8K Displays Make 2020 Olympics?

Members of the HDMI Licensing Administration recently informed a group of tech journalists that the full HDMI 2.1 standard likely won’t be ready for products by CES 2019 in January—meaning the first televisions to incorporate the full interface likely won’t arrive until the second half of 2019 at the earliest, and that’s not good news for advocates of 8K video.

Several issues seem to be slowing down the transition to adoption of the full standard, including the lack of formal testing parameters and testing schedules, which are necessary before products can be certified ready for market.

Also absent at the time of the meeting was the necessary silicon to bring advanced new features, like full 48 Gbps throughput. This will be necessary for new generation 8K video transmissions at frames of 60p and 120p, both of which are in Japan’s NHK broadcasting company’s near and long-term plans, respectively, for the new NHK BS8K Super Hi-Vision 8K channel that started transmitting domestically December 1.

The HDMI LA representatives said one chip maker, Japan-based Socionext, was about to produce the first chipsets, which is a little late to make early spring television market introductions.

Meanwhile, NHK channel BS8K recently became the first 8K satellite broadcast channel in the world, and is transmitting original produced specials, including sporting events, concerts and fine art on a 12-hour daily schedule. It is also the channel that will be used to carry the 2020 Summer Olympics from Japan to the country’s residents lucky enough to have an 8K television from Sharp or some other manufacturer by that time.

NHK plans to use an 8K/60p signal to start, which is likely going to require the new HDMI 2.1 connector. Otherwise, the broadcaster will have to come up with a different form of cabling to cobble together a fit with the small base of available 8K television displays expected by the Summer of 2020.

Underscoring the urgency of a complete HDMI 2.1 standard, an 8K/60p video signal with 10-bit 4:2:0 color will require a data rate of about 36 Gbps. When chroma sub sampling of 4:2:2 is applied the bandwidth steps all the way up to 48 Gbps. Fortunately, this can be halved using VESA’s Display Stream Digital (DSC) compression that will be part of the HDMI 2.1 specification for the first time.

HDMI 2.1 is specified to be the first HDMI version to use a packet-based signaling structure, unlike earlier versions that employed transition minimized differential signaling (TMDS). The packet transport of HDMI 2.1 will allow the maximum data rate to be expanded from the previous 18 Gbps maximum to the promised (and necessary) 48 Gbps. It will also support expansion from three lanes running one clock reference lane to four, all with clock reference capability.

The need for HDMI 2.1 is reaching the critical stages. Samsung recently began shipping the first 8K TV in the U.S.—the 85-inch QN85Q900—and Sharp has already been selling an 8K model in Japan. LG has shown an 8K OLED prototype and is expected to have a marketable product in 2019.

Fortunately, Samsung has said on its website that the Q900 8K sets have a One Connect outboard box that the company plans to swap out for customers looking for forthcoming 8K-friendly standards like HDMI 2.1.

The usual early adopters (in the U.S., Japan and China) will kick off the next iteration of the high-definition climb. It remains to be seen if they’ll wait for TVs incorporating the latest connector technology that will fully enable the new experience.