The great thing about standards is that they provide a standard

A common framework that the manufacturers in any given industry can design around.  That's amazing when everything works the way it's supposed to but sometimes the system goes haywire.

Sometimes things just don't work out as planned.

HDMI standards are a mess

Take the world of HDMI.  The HDMI standards are a mess.  That's particularly true of the HDMI 2.1 standard. That is only haphazardly supported by the major television manufacturers, cable makers, and the manufacturers of the devices required to set up gaming systems on modern televisions.

HDMI 2.1 is already a mess – and that’s because you’ve got no idea what you’re getting when you buy a device or cable that claims to support it. In theory, version 2.1 means you get support for 10K resolution and variable refresh rates – but in practice, it might not. That’s because, like USB-C, just one label is used for any device which supports any of the capabilities of HDMI 2.x.

According to the HDMI Licensing Administrator, now that HDMI 2.1 exists, there is no HDMI 2.0 standard anymore: all new HDMI 2.0 ports should be lumped into the HDMI 2.1 branding, despite not using any of the new features included in the “new” 2.1 standard.

The same will be true of HDMI 2.1a.

HDMI 2.1a will function in a similar manner: once the standard is released, by the HDMI Licensing Administrator’s rules, all new ports will, in theory, be labeled HDMI 2.1a — but they won’t have to offer the new SBTM or even any HDMI 2.1 features.

The HDMI Forum’s argument is that this is always how its standards have worked, and that optional features allow manufacturers to have flexibility in what functionality they offer (an entry-level set, for example, probably doesn’t need ports that support 8K 120Hz VRR gaming). And the group says companies are required to list what features their hardware supports so that it’s clear to customers what their hardware is capable of, beyond the number expectation.

Essentially the problem is that a bad standard means spotty support for it.  Spotty support means an increase in consumer frustration. Unfortunately, the new 2.1a standard probably isn't going to help and may actually make things worse.


What is SBTM?

The hallmark of this new standard is the addition of something called Source-Based Tone Mapping or SBTM for short.  It's a new High Dynamic Range (HDR) feature that offloads a portion of the HDR tone mapping to whatever the source of the actual content is (your computer, your Xbox, or whatever).

This tone mapping is done in tandem with whatever your TV itself is doing, which should be a good thing.  Since the workload is being divided, it should get done more quickly.  It could also help existing HDR setups work better and more effectively by removing the need to have the user manually calibrate their screens. Doing that can be a lesson in frustration.

Unfortunately, in practice, most users won't get access to the new feature unless they update their equipment. This is because support for HDMI2.1a will only be available on existing devices via firmware updates that most manufacturers are slow to provide if they provide them at all. Even worse is that SBTM is listed as an optional feature. This means that relatively few manufacturers will prioritize support for it.


My perspective

Again, standards are wonderful things when they are well designed and broadly embraced.  That's definitely not the case here and that's a real pity.


This standard has been treated like... Yada, yada, yada


By Denis Wilson

Cybersecurity Expert, Small Business Technology Consultant, Managed Services Provider, Managed IT Support

Thanks for reading this post. I always take into mind that your time and attention are precious. And these posts need to be timely, to the point, and short.

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I am also a published author and speaker on cloud computing, work-at-home, and cybersecurity. I work extensively with business and professional associations to provide free small business technology education programs.


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