Smart TV makers are quickly adopting HDMI gaming features, such as variable refresh rate and 4K120 Dynamic HDR, available to console and PC gamers via HDMI 2.1a connectivity, giving gamers an affordable high-end PC, Jeff said Display Replacement Park, CTO of HDMI Licensing Administrator, Inc. (HDMI LA).
Gamers have responded with their money, buying smart TVs for gaming, and in the process prompting smart TV makers to roll out more gaming-capable models. As the glue that holds gaming devices and displays together, the HDMI Forum (the group that developed the HDMI specification) must be at the forefront of supporting these gaming features and others, Park said.
In this Q&A, Park discusses gamers’ crossover from monitors to smart TVs; HDMI-enabled enhancements from the recent HDMI 2.1a specification, such as source-based tone mapping (SBTM), to make games more realistic; gaming Manufacturers adopt 4K120 and VRR Dynamic HDR; and how HDMI connectivity to audio/video receivers (AVRs) and sound bars can enhance the overall entertainment experience in the living room, with greater gaming integration as smart TVs become more widely adopted by gamers high.
How well HDMI gaming is doing today, especially with the announcement at CES of more TVs offering HDMI 2.1a gaming features like Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), Auto Low Latency Mode, and the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles supporting HDMI 2.1 support?
Jeff Parker: I think HDMI technology has really taken the lead in gaming because, as you mentioned, all consoles are HDMI 2.1 capable. We expect them to support HDMI 2.1a functionality as well, as both platform owners of the consoles were supporters of SBTM during its development.
I’m personally amazed that so many TVs are jumping in so quickly to support things like Dynamic HDR with 4K120 and VRR. By the way, VRR is actually added to many TVs via software updates. Most people don’t realize this. I think there will be a lot of pleasant surprises because these consoles are so powerful.
I am a PC gamer. If you had told me years ago that the Xbox and PlayStation would always have this HDR capability at 4K120 — not just these side-scrolling, low-res games, but actually running full-featured AAA games — I’d say, “Impossible” because I had to pay $2,000 for a video card to have a chance.
But now, if you spend $500 on a console, you can have a PC that was $3,000 or $4,000 a few years ago. I think it really helps to push the HDMI capability on the display side.
We’re seeing great content streaming to take advantage of that, and you’re seeing TV manufacturers being more aggressive in addressing that demand. We see more crossovers.
Let’s talk about cross-border.
The capabilities of HDMI 2.1a have prompted many gamers to think of their TVs as gaming monitors. You’ll see this with PC folks. More and more people are using TV. You’re seeing a trend towards TVs as gaming monitors.
We see a lot of push for 4K to make TVs bigger and bigger. But over the past few years, LG’s flagship OLED TVs, for example, are shrinking. They actually go from 55 inches to what I think is 48 inches. Other TV manufacturers are even smaller at 42 seconds. So you’re seeing shrinkage as manufacturers see demand for PCs.
Why do you want a small TV? It doesn’t make sense to have a giant 65-inch monitor staring at you if you put it on your desk — maybe 55 inches. I personally use a 55″ TV as a monitor as it provides the same viewing capability as four monitors. But once you get into the 40-inch range, it becomes a more viable solution for pretty much any gamer to use on the desktop.
But the point is that HDMI 2.1a brings this capability. Not only that, but now if you look at a 35-inch 4K120 monitor (top-spec), it’s going to cost you thousands of dollars at least. For example, if you look at an LG OLED, you’ll see an OLED panel, 120Hz, G-Sync, and FreeSync. work. Seems like $1500. I mean, it’s ridiculous if you compare it to a PC monitor. If you think of it as a TV, well, that might be a bit pricey. But if you think of it as a monitor, it’s a ridiculous deal. So, I think that’s what’s happening, and it’s really beneficial for consumers because now you don’t have to rely on a monitor to play PC games.
It’s not a huge option, but it’s a lot more than it was a few years ago. That’s what’s happening with gaming and HDMI technology. Game consoles did push the TV market to support all the advanced features, but at the same time, this kind of functionality was creeping into the PC gaming market as well.
Are there other reasons to push the crossover?
Image Quality. TV folks are crazy about picture quality because, well, it’s a TV.
Have you seen games that support Dynamic HDR with 4K120, VRR, and more?
Absolutely. You know, the Xbox is aggressive with 4K120, HDR and VRR. It depends on the platform. So, for example, the Xbox Series X can upscale old games to 120Hz; you don’t need to recode or anything like that, whereas with the PlayStation you have to do some coding to add support — not the heavy lifting, not redoing the game, But I think they need to do some extra work to make 120Hz usable in some games.
Regardless, both platforms support it, and you’ll see more and more games using it. If you look at a lot of the settings in these games, they’re more and more PC-like. It’s not complicated in terms of being able to change every single setting, but now you can have fluid mode in the game or whatever they want to call it, the player can decide to use 4K120 and lock it to 120Hz for that game, or You use 4K30 but get super high quality graphics like ray tracing and high resolution textures.
It blurs the lines between PC and console gaming. You have to remember that the $500 console is delivering that experience. I think we’ll eventually see, basically, any game being enabled with 4K120 as we go, and now we’re seeing higher-end TVs supporting 4K144.
Sony recently reported that the PS5 supports variable refresh rates. Why did it take so long? Are there any PS5 games that take advantage of VRR?
I can’t answer the first question because it’s Sony’s decision. As for the game, they can take advantage of it. Several game patches have been released that take advantage of VRR functionality.
People may ask why they need a patch to have VRR. The answer is that some games, especially consoles – unlikely on PC – lock it to 60 frames per second, for example. All code is based on 60fps for frame consistency. They probably don’t want that particular version of VRR, so there are patches. Regardless, there are already games supporting it, and the list is growing every day.
What about sound? Gamers traditionally wear headphones. As gamers turn to their TVs as the monitor of choice, are you seeing an increased use of soundbars and AVRs?
I’m a gamer so I prefer headphones. But, having said that, it depends on the application. If I’m playing a game, especially an online multiplayer game, accurate tracking of the audio is critical. Most non-competitive and casual players don’t really appreciate this because they’re not in a competitive environment. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard voices behind me, turned around to either avoid a kill or get a kill, and the precision of hearing has saved my character.
But if I’m playing a single player game – some epic story-driven type of game or watching a movie – I have a soundbar installed under my TV/monitor. This is what I use. So, I think it really depends on what you’re looking for.
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