HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) cables have become the standard for transmitting high quality audio and video between devices like TVs, media players, gaming consoles, A/V receivers and more. With the steadily increasing resolutions and bandwidth needs of modern home theater equipment, HDMI specifications continue to evolve to keep pace.
The latest HDMI versions – 2.1 and 2.2 – both provide significant improvements over past incarnations of the interface. However, they are not interchangeable standards and have key differences in their capabilities and use cases.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explain what exactly HDMI 2.1 and HDMI 2.2 are, how they differ, and which version is the better choice for most home theater setups.
A Brief History of HDMI
To understand HDMI 2.1 and 2.2, it helps to know how HDMI standards have progressed over time:
- HDMI 1.0 – Released in 2002, the original HDMI specification supported resolutions up to 1080p and a maximum bandwidth of 4.9 Gbps.
- HDMI 1.3 – Introduced in 2006, added support for higher resolutions up to WQXGA (2560 x 1600), bandwidth up to 10.2 Gbps, and new features like x.v.Color.
- HDMI 1.4 – Released in 2009, increased max resolution support to 4K (3840 x 2160 @ 30Hz), bandwidth to 10.2 Gbps. Also added 3D video capabilities.
- HDMI 2.0 – Launched in 2013, allowed 4K @ 60Hz, bandwidth up to 18 Gbps, and additional features like HDCP 2.2.
- HDMI 2.0a – A minor 2015 update to enable HDR support.
- HDMI 2.0b – Another small update in 2016 adding HLG HDR support.
- HDMI 2.1 – Released in 2017, supports higher resolutions up to 10K and bandwidth up to 48 Gbps. Key enhancements for gaming and home theater.
- HDMI 2.2 – Introduced in 2020 as an update to the content protection specification HDCP 2.2 rather than the core video interface.
With this evolution in mind, let‘s take a deeper look at HDMI 2.1 and HDMI 2.2 and how they compare.
HDMI 2.1 vs HDMI 2.2: Key Differences
While both HDMI 2.1 and 2.2 represent the latest versions of HDMI, they are actually very different specifications:
- HDMI 2.1 is an update to the core audio/video interface itself, focused on enhancing display resolutions, refresh rates, bandwidth and features.
- HDMI 2.2 refers only to an updated version of HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection), improving the copy protection capabilities for 4K/HDR content.
Simply put, HDMI 2.1 defines the maximum capabilities of the interface while HDMI 2.2 sets requirements for securely transmitting copyrighted 4K video. Many devices and cables support both standards.
With that clarification in mind, here are the key differences between these two specifications:
Resolutions and Frame Rates
One of the biggest improvements with HDMI 2.1 is dramatically increased display resolution and refresh rate support:
- 4K at 120Hz – Allows ultra-smooth 4K gaming and video at up to 120 frames per second.
- 8K at 60Hz – Enables future-proof 8K resolution support at 60Hz for super sharp image quality.
- 10K – Incredibly high 10K resolutions are supported at lower frame rates.
By comparison, HDMI 2.2 is focused solely on enabling copy-protected 4K video at existing HDMI 2.0 rates of up to 60Hz. It does not define new resolutions or frame rates on its own.
To achieve those cutting-edge display specs, HDMI 2.1 significantly boosts the maximum bandwidth from 18 Gbps (HDMI 2.0) to a massive 48 Gbps. This enables far higher data rates to be transmitted through the same HDMI cable.
Again, HDMI 2.2 does not inherently provide extra bandwidth since it is just a content protection update. But HDCP 2.2 enabled devices will need sufficient bandwidth for protected 4K video.
HDMI 2.1 introduces several new capabilities aimed at enhancing gaming:
- Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) – Eliminates stuttering and tearing by syncing the refresh rate with the GPU‘s output.
- Quick Media Switching (QMS) – Allows near-instant switching between media types like gaming and video.
- Quick Frame Transport (QFT) – Reduces latency by transporting small video frames faster.
- Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) – Automatically switches to low latency settings when gaming.
As HDMI 2.2 focuses solely on content protection, it has no direct impact on gaming technologies. But it will allow secure transmission of gaming video.
Compatibility and Cables
A key advantage of HDMI 2.1 is that it remains fully backward compatible with legacy HDMI devices. You can connect an older Blu-ray player or video source without issue.
HDMI 2.1 also uses the same Type A/B/C connectors allowing reuse of existing cables. However, to achieve the full 48 Gbps bandwidth speeds, a certified Ultra High Speed HDMI cable is recommended.
In contrast, HDMI 2.2 has more limited backwards compatibility due to its stronger copy protection requirements. Legacy devices that lack HDCP 2.2 support will not be compatible. And HDMI 2.2 sources and displays must both support HDCP 2.2 for protected content playback.
Both standards include support for modern audio technologies like Dolby Atmos object-based surround sound, and enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) for simplified audio connectivity.
So they are on par in terms of transmitting the latest high-resolution audio formats. eARC is also beneficial for gaming by allowing simultaneous high-bandwidth video and audio transmission over a single HDMI cable.
Which Version Should You Use?
When it comes to choosing between HDMI 2.1 and HDMI 2.2, it‘s not necessarily an either/or decision. Many modern AV devices and cables support both specifications.
However, for most home theater and gaming uses, HDMI 2.1 is the superior version to have thanks to its dramatically increased resolutions, refresh rates, and bandwidth.
Unless you require the stronger copy protection of HDCP 2.2 for commercial applications, HDMI 2.1 delivers the biggest performance benefits in terms of video quality and gaming capabilities.
That said, here are a few key rules of thumb:
- For the best 4K, 8K or 120Hz gaming performance, look for HDMI 2.1 compatibility.
- If you need to play back copy-protected 4K Blu-rays or streaming video, ensure your devices also support HDMI 2.2/HDCP 2.2.
- When buying new AV receivers, TVs or cables, choose options with HDMI 2.1 to maximize future-proofing. Many now include both 2.1 and 2.2.
- For connecting older Blu-ray players or media boxes to a new TV, HDMI 2.1 backwards compatibility will ensure maximum compatibility.
Recommended HDMI 2.1 Products
To take advantage of everything HDMI 2.1 offers, you‘ll want cables and accessories designed for the higher 48 Gbps bandwidth. Here are some of the top choices:
- Zeskit Maya 8K HDMI Cable – Supports resolutions up to 8K, 48 Gbps bandwidth, HDCP 2.2, eARC. High quality construction. 6.6 feet.
- Snowkids Premium HDMI Cable 2.1 – Rated for up to 10K, 48 Gbps speed. Extreme durability. 10 feet long.
- Denon AVR-X2700H – 95W 7.2 channel receiver with HDMI 2.1, 8K scaling, ALLM, eARC. Excellent for gaming or home theater.
- Yamaha RX-A6A – 7.2 channel AVR with VRR, QMS, ALLM. Voice control integration. Outstanding surround sound.
- PlayStation 5 – Sony‘s latest console delivers incredible 4K 120Hz gaming thanks to HDMI 2.1 support.
- Xbox Series X – Microsoft‘s flagship gaming powerhouse also leverages HDMI 2.1 for 4K 120Hz gameplay.
The Bottom Line
While both important standards in their own right, for most home theater and gaming applications, HDMI 2.1 delivers the most substantial improvements in video, audio, and gaming performance compared to past versions of HDMI.
With support for a wide range of cutting-edge display resolutions and frame rates plus nearly triple the bandwidth of HDMI 2.0, it represents the ideal interface specification for current and future AV equipment.
HDMI 2.2 primarily provides updated content protection capabilities via HDCP 2.2. This ensures secure 4K video transmission, which is also beneficial. But it does not define core interface capabilities like 2.1.
So if you‘re looking for maximum future-proofing along with the best gaming speeds and quality, prioritize products and cables with HDMI 2.1 support. Just be sure to verify HDCP 2.2 compatibility as well if you‘ll be watching commercial 4K Blu-rays or streaming video.
With the right HDMI 2.1 gear, you can build an incredible modern home theater that takes full advantage of the latest TVs, gaming consoles and movies.