As I mentioned on the introduction part 1 of this series:
Regardless what A/V gear you buy today it is already obsolete for some functionality or feature, primarily due to HDMI and 4K with HDR, but audio is not as innocent as it seems compared to the former. Consumers know that manufacturers want them to buy again and replace components that are still perfectly functional for the legacy content they already have, but there is not a single component on a home theater that maybe fully compatible with the rapidly changing features and standards that are continuously emerging and most components are not upgradeable.
Most consumers may resist the urge of upgrading, and continue with stereo, Dolby Digital, DTS, HDTV, cable/satellite set-top-box, 5.1 channels (if you have that, many only have a bar or two speakers), but the fact is that the components they use for those purposes are not compatible with new technology and content that are already here, not to mention with what is coming down the line.
The first article of this series was about audio, the second article was about video, this article is about connectivity, the following articles will cover the "not-too-distant-future", Internet and Broadcasting, and the Final thoughts.
The implementation of HDR is also impacting HDMI connectivity. HDMI has to be able to recognize the metadata that tells the display and source device what to do with the HDR signal, this prompted the release of the HDMI 2.0a version, making HDMI 2.0 obsolete because UHD video is moving rapidly toward HDR, which also makes obsolete the A/V Receivers/Pre-pros/HDMI switchers in the system that have HDMI but not version 2.0a because they would be blocking the path of the HDR metadata before reaching an HDR capable display, which would degrade the original HDR image to an non-HDR quality.
HDMI standard-speed cables and HDMI 2.0 chipsets may pass 10.2 Gbps, but not the full 18 Gbps of the HDMI 2.0 spec. Many of those limited capacity chipsets were, and are being, installed in many components over the past couple of years. They may pass 4K/24fps/60fps (sourced from video camera sources) at 8-bits, 4:2:0 color sub-sampling, which requires only 8.91 Gbps, but not 60fps at 10-bit 4:2:0 color sub-sampling of the new 4K Blu-ray standard, which requires the higher 11.14 Gbps. Most of the components implementing such limited chipsets are automatically obsolete.
Fortunately, UHD content sourced from film/movies is and has been recorded as 24fps for many decades, although some movies innovated 48fps faster speeds, such as the Hobbit, and directors like James Cameron have been evaluating even higher frame rates.
In other words, most if not all 4K Blu-ray movies will play back using 2160/24p, 4:2:0, 8-10 bit requiring only 8.91 Gbps of bandwidth (when transported as 4:2:2 over the HDMI connection) of the HDMI chip and high-speed cable, so the signal should be able to pass, provided the connection is HDCP 2.2 compliant for 4K content protection.
A brief look at history may provide some perspective of how the A/V industry affected consumers with similar implementations. In non-so-distant past years the analog sunset mandate disabled the component analog connections of legacy HDTVs and Blu-ray players to protect HD content.
This also disenfranchised over 11 million HDTV early adopters of the pre-HDMI era when manufacturers implemented HDMI with HDCP content protection, which is now again already obsolete with the new HDMI 2.0/HDCP version 2.2 for 4K protected content, and HDCP version 2.2 is not a feature that can be firmware upgradable if the HDMI chip does not support it.
A home theater owner trying to avoid the replacement of a perfectly functional A/V Receiver because it does not have HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 to allow the passage of protected 4K content with HDR may consider installing an external HDMI switcher as a viable economic solution.
However, the HDMI switchers manufacturers put to market lacked HDMI 2.0 so that was not possible. Then they (and some still) lacked HDCP 2.2 and 4K protected content could not be viewed without it. Then they (and most still) lack/ed 18Gbps bandwidth capacity to been able to pass thru the higher bit rate formats, such as the 4K60fps at 10-bit of the just introduced 4K UHD Blu-ray. Now they may lack HDMI 2.0a for HDR compatibility if the manufacturer of the device installed a non-upgradable IC chip.
The same can be said about most new A/V Receivers and Pre/pros released over the past couple of years. The result is, HDMI switchers and A/V Receivers are a bottleneck for the routing of 4K protected content with HDR so if you buy an HDR capable UHDTV and a new 4K UHD Blu-ray player with HDR capabilities you either have to connect them directly to each other or replace the equipment above.
Stay tuned to the next article on this series about "not-too-distant-future".
Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, February 17, 2016 7:00 AM
About Rodolfo La Maestra
Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines. In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.
Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities. Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers. After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.