HDMI 2.1 made a big splash at CES 2021. It’s weird to talk about a port, but it could only have a greater impact on PC gaming than any flashy new gaming laptop or even a graphics card.
It could also help overcome the hurdle that has existed between PCs and consoles since the beginning. This is why HDMI 2.1 can finally unify gaming – and why all gaming PCs should support it in the future.
Break the wall
There is an ever-present divide in gaming: console for the living room and TV, PC for desks and monitors. They have grown separately from each other, developing different technologies to suit their specific needs. In recent years, that has become especially important when it comes to ports.
PC has gradually moved away from HDMI. You’ll still find HDMI 2.0 in laptops and desktop graphics cards, but most desktop gamers now prefer DisplayPort’s fast refresh rate. All gaming monitors have it, as do desktop graphics cards. DisplayPort 1.4 has given PCs the ability to shoot 4K at 120Hz, something that only high-end PCs have recently been able to use. DisplayPort also supports key synchronization technologies like G-Sync or FreeSync for smoother gameplay.
In the console world, HDMI is still king. The main reason is that older consoles can’t use those resolutions and refresh rates. But Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 change everything. They are more like PCs than any previous console, and by using HDMI 2.1 they have the same 4K 120Hz support as DisplayPort.
We have reached a convergence point. When HDMI 2.1 started out, there might not be much of an advantage to using DisplayPort over HDMI. That presents an incredible opportunity to enhance the value of gaming laptops and PCs in general.
Gaming laptops need to use HDMI 2.1
At CES 2021, only one gaming laptop was announced to support HDMI 2.1, the Alienware m15 R4. That may not sound too promising, but every development in technology starts off small, especially when it comes to changes in standards.
That’s especially true because only the most recent graphics upgrade to the Nvidia RTX 30-series is what has allowed gaming laptops to play at 4K quality for the first time. Manufacturers are only just starting to include 4K 120Hz displays in laptops, such as the Asus ROG Zephryus Duo 15 SE.
Now imagine for a moment that you have one of these powerful new HDMI 2.1 gaming laptops. You use it for work during the day and then can freely switch between a gaming monitor in the office and the TV in your living room. Your wireless keyboard and mouse automatically connect at your desk, and as you move to the couch, so does your controller. It will make gaming laptop portability so important, especially in a world where you still can’t buy the latest desktop graphics card or console.
Of course, we have a long way to go before HDMI 2.1 is fully embraced by the PC community. Not only is it currently available on the Alienware m15 R4, it is only applicable to some monitors. It is not even a standard feature of all TVs.
Meanwhile, VESA is sure to develop its own technology in the future with DisplayPort 2.0, which could once again increase the bandwidth to keep it ahead of HDMI.
But more likely PCs are more adaptable to HDMI 2.1 than TVs and consoles switch to DisplayPort or USB-C. It’s a port that already exists on almost every device we need. That makes HDMI 2.1 the hope of unifying high-end gaming across the various platforms it currently exists in.
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