Shopping for an HDMI cable that supports current-gen HDMI 2.1 standards, such as 4K 120Hz video, is a shockingly difficult task. Thankfully, the HDMI Forum is here to make things even more complicated—it’s preparing to announce a new HDMI 2.1a standard at CES 2022! Yaaay!
Here’s the good news; HDMI 2.1a comes with a great new feature called Source-Based Tone Mapping (or SBTM for short). SBTM is an improvement on HDR technology that lets your video source (PC, game console, etc) handle HDR tone-mapping for your TV or monitor.
In effect, SBTM should reduce the need for manual HDR calibration. It should also improve video quality and reduce glitches on screens showing both HDR and SDR content simultaneously—something that’s fairly common in video editing and livestreaming.
Manufacturers can update their smart TVs, computers, and game consoles to support SBTM, which is awesome. But cable makers aren’t forced to support SBTM when manufacturing HDMI 2.1a cables, just as they aren’t forced to support high-res video or variable refresh rates when building HDMI 2.1 products. And of course, smart TV and computer monitor brands suck at updating their products.
The HDMI Forum has a predictable excuse for this problem—most people don’t need a fully-loaded HDMI cable, and cablemakers are required to list their HDMI cables’ features on the box. But this completely defeats the purpose of having a “standard.” If the HDMI Forum wants to make things easier for customers, it needs to start enforcing clear standards and drop the “anything goes” policy.