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HDMI 2.0, 4K@60fps, and UHD Content

April 17, 2014

Current display technology, using HDMI 1.4, can only do 4K at 30fps. This has rather limited the adoption of 4K screens since there has been no way to get high frame rate content all the way to the display – and of course there’s no way to do 4K in 3D. (This is beside a point that there’s precious little source 4K content and the solutions from e.g. Sony have been whimperingly pathetic, effectively equivalent to attaching a large USB stick full of preloaded movies to your $10,000 television.)

HDMI 2.0 changes this, doubling the cable bandwidth from 10gbps to 18gbps (!) over the same cables, allowing for 4K at a full 60fps, which will from a technology perspective unlock the full potential of 4K as a medium, though there are still real content availability issues. We’ll see the first HDMI 2.0 TVs and projectors come out this year – Yamaha already has some relatively inexpensive (~$300+) receivers that incorporate 2.0 set to come out in a few months. This should give a gentle prod to content licensing for 4K and would hopefully imply a Chromecast/Roku/AppleTV trio capable of 60fps 4K by the end of the year. Sadly, this final technology push to enable 4K appears to have come too late for the major consoles, which have now locked and loaded with HDMI 1.4 and a fixed 1080p cap. But there could be a surprise here yet – Sony is selling 1.4 4K TVs with a promise of a field upgrade to 2.0 later this year, which implies a possibility of the PS4 getting a field upgrade to 2.0 as a nice present. (Though 4K games on the PS4 are unlikely.)

The South Koreans have been on a tear with HiDPI displays, pushing the price point of 4K displays down from many thousands to a few hundred dollars. (These displays often connect via DisplayPort only; DisplayPort 1.2 offers 18gbps as well.) Combine that with OS/X 10.9.3’s support for 4K 60fps (using a 30fps desktop monitor is really weird/awkward) and there will finally be a sensible 4K work environment by the end of the quarter. I predict a huge wave of 27″ & 30″ HiDPI monitor purchases by workplaces to improve productivity as workers can finally fit more information onto a panel without compromising on cost, quality, or framerate. (My hunch is that productivity drops off around 30″ or so as you actually start having a serious issue with non-FOV information; I experienced this when I had a pair of 30″ monitors and would sometimes “miss” incoming messages because they were showing up too far away for me to see them! I ended up downsizing.)

So I think this year we’ll finally cross the hump around adoption of 4K, but there’s still this big hole around content. The first to market with a great HDMI 2.0 solution with gigE+802.11ac 3×3, hardware H.265 support, a solid local cache to help w/buffering, and lots of licensed content (partnership w/Netflix & YouTube?) will probably do quite well.

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