The rapid adoption of HDMI gaming features such as Variable Refresh Rate and Dynamic HDR with 4K120 by makers of smart TVs, made accessible to console and PC gamers via HDMI 2.1a connectivity, offers gamers an affordable alternative to high-end computer monitors, says Jeff Park, chief technology officer of HDMI Licensing Administrator, Inc. (HDMI LA).
Gamers have responded with their dollars, buying smart TVs for gameplay and in the process spurring smart TV manufacturers to make more models available with gaming features. As the glue that ties together gaming devices and displays, it was essential for the HDMI Forum, the organization that develops the HDMI Specifications, to stay at the forefront of support for these gaming features and others, Park says.
In this Q&A, Park discusses the crossover from monitors to smart TVs by gamers; HDMI-enabled enhancements from the recent HDMI 2.1a specification, such as Source-based Tone Mapping (SBTM), that make games more lifelike; the uptake of Dynamic HDR with 4K120 and VRR by game-makers; and how HDMI connectivity to Audio/Video Receivers (AVRs) and soundbars elevates the overall entertainment experience in the living room, with better-integrated gaming as smart TVs are more widely adopted by gamers.
Where does HDMI gaming stand today, especially with more TVs announced at CES offering HDMI 2.1a gaming features such as Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), Auto Low Latency Mode, and Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 console support for HDMI 2.1?
Jeff Park: I think HDMI technology is really taking a leadership role in gaming because all of the game consoles, as you mentioned, support HDMI 2.1 features. We expect them to support HDMI 2.1a features as well because both platform owners of the consoles were supporters of SBTM during its development.
What surprised me personally was that so many TVs jumped on board so quickly to support things like Dynamic HDR with 4K120 and VRR. VRR, by the way, was actually added to a lot of TVs with a software update. Most people don’t realize that. I think there are lots of pleasant surprises coming because the consoles have been so capable.
I’m a PC gamer. If you would have told me a couple of years ago that Xbox and PlayStation are going to have this 4K120 capability with HDR consistently—not just these side-scrolling, low-res games but actually AAA games running full capability—I would have said, “No way,” because I would have had to pay $2,000 for a video card to even have a chance.
But now, if you spend $500 on a game console, you have the capability of a $3,000 or $4,000 PC from a couple of years ago. I think that’s really helping to drive HDMI feature implementations on the display side.
We are seeing a nice flow of content to take advantage of that, and you’re seeing the TV manufacturers are being more aggressive to meet that demand. We’re seeing more crossover.
Tell me about the crossover.
The capability of HDMI 2.1a is motivating a lot of gamers to take a look at TVs as gaming displays. You’ll see that with the PC guys. More and more are using TVs. You’re seeing the trend is towards TVs as gaming display.
We saw with 4K that there was a lot of push towards TVs getting bigger and bigger. But in the last couple years, a flagship OLED TV, for example, from LG, is shrinking. They actually went from 55-inch to, I think, 48-inch. Other TV manufacturers are going even smaller, to 42s. So you’re seeing the shrinkage because the manufacturers see the demand from the PCs.
Why would you want a small TV? If you have it on your desk, it doesn’t make sense to have a giant, 65-inch staring at you—55-inch maybe. I personally use a 55-inch TV as a monitor because it gives me the same seeing capability as four monitors. But once you get into the 40-inch range, it becomes a much more viable solution for almost all gamers for use on the desktop.
But the whole point is that HDMI 2.1a brings that capability. Not only that, but now if you look at a 35-inch 4K120 monitor—top spec—that’s thousands of dollars, at least. If you look at, for example, the LG OLED, you get an OLED panel, 120Hz, G-Sync, and FreeSync. The works. It’s like $1,500. I mean, it’s just ridiculous if you compare it to a PC monitor. If you look at it as a TV, OK, that may be kind of expensive. But if you look at it as a monitor, that’s a ridiculous deal. So, I think that’s what’s happening, and it’s really beneficial to the consumer because now you are no longer tied to monitors to play PC games.
It’s not a huge selection but way more than a few years ago. That’s what’s happening with gaming and HDMI technology. The consoles really pushed the TV market to support all of the advanced features, but at the same time, that kind of trickled into the PC gaming market.
Any other reasons driving the crossover?
Picture quality. The TV guys are very keen about picture quality because, well, it’s a TV.
Are you seeing games supporting Dynamic HDR with 4K120, VRR, and other features?
Absolutely. You know, Xbox was aggressive with 4K120, HDR, and VRR. It’s platform-dependent. So, for example, Xbox Series X can upscale old games to 120Hz; you don’t need to recode or anything like that, whereas for the PlayStation, you have to do some coding to add the support—not heavy lifting, not redoing the game, but I think they need to do some additional work to make 120Hz available on some games.
Regardless, both platforms support it, and you’re seeing more and more games feature it. If you look at a lot of the settings in a lot of these games, they’re more and more like PC. It’s not as complex in terms of being able to change every single setting, but now you have things like fluid mode or whatever they want to call it within the game where the player can decide to go 4K120 and lock it into that 120Hz for that gameplay, or you go 4K30 but get ultra high-quality graphics, such as ray tracing and high-resolution textures.
It’s blurring the lines between PC and console games. You have to remember that a $500 console is delivering this experience. It’s getting to a point where I think we’ll eventually see, basically, any game can be enabled with 4K120 as we move forward, and now we’re seeing even higher-end TVs supporting 4K144.
Sony recently reported the PS5 supports Variable Refresh Rate. Why did that take so long? Are there PS5 games available that take advantage of VRR?
The first question I can’t answer since that’s Sony’s decision. As for the games, they can take advantage of it. There are game patches that have been released that take advantage of VRR functionality.
People might ask why they need a patch to have VRR. The answer is with some games, but especially consoles— it’s less likely on PCs—they lock it at 60 frames per second, for example. All of the code is based on 60fps for frame consistency. They may not want VRR for that particular release, so there are patches. Regardless, there are already games out there that support it, and that list is growing every day.
What about sound? Gamers traditionally wear headphones. Are you seeing soundbars and AVRs being used increasingly as gamers adopt TVs as their preferred display?
I am a gamer, so I prefer headphones. But, having said that, it depends on the applications. If I am gaming—especially multiplayer online gaming—it’s vital to have precise tracking of the audio. Most non-competitive players and casual players don’t really appreciate that because they are not in a competitive environment. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard something behind me, turned around to either avoid the kill or get the kill, and hearing precision is what saved my character.
However, if I am playing single player—some epic story-driven type of game or watching movies—I have a soundbar mounted under my TV/monitor. That’s what I use. So, I think it really depends on what you are looking for.
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