CES 2022 to introduce HDMI 2.1a — everything you need to know

Woman plug an HDMI cable into a TV
(Image credit: Cristian Storto | Shutterstock)

It doesn't seem that long ago that HDMI 2.1 was unveiled, forcing new PS5 and Xbox Series X gamers to upgrade their cables to get a full 120fps refresh rate while gaming. Well, at CES 2022, a new version of HDMI is going to be introduced, bringing with it one major HDR feature.

According to The Verge, HDMI 2.1a will be introduced at CES 2022. This new standard is more of an upgrade versus a complete overhaul. HDMI 2.1a will bring Source-Based Tone Mapping, or SBTM.  

What is HDMI 2.1a and Source-Based Tone Mapping?

Source-Based Tone Mapping in HDMI 2.1a is a new HDR feature that lets the original content source (such as a PC, 4K Blu Ray player or console) optimize tones before sending a video signal over to a monitor or to one of the best TVs. Of course, displays will still be able to do its own internal tone mapping as well.

What this means is that users will not need to calibrate displays for HDR content. The source can take care of all tone mapping optimization and pass it over to the display. This could especially be handy when switching from one display to another as it won't require the user to go in and fiddle with display settings.

The HDMI Forum said that it's possible for set-top boxes, gaming companies and TV manufacturers to add HDMI 2.1a support via a firmware update "depending on their design." For major TV manufacturers such as Sony, LG and Samsung, there's a chance that some previous top-of-the-line sets could be updated to HDMI 2.1a via software. All these companies have a history of sending out firmware updates to add additional features.

Can I buy an HDMI 2.1a television?

As for buying an HDMI 2.1a cable or capable television, you can't just yet. The new feature has yet to be fully released. But it does seem that SBTM will be optional for TV manufacturers, meaning that consumers will need to carefully read the specs before buying a 2022 television.

Based on the HDMI Licensing Administrator’s rules, a port may be labeled as HDMI 2.1a but may not support SBTM. Heck, per the rules, it's possible for TV manufacturers to label a port HDMI 2.1 when in reality it's still an HDMI 2.0 port in terms of features. This is because a cheap 4K television may not even support 8K video at 120fps, meaning there would be no need to add all those fancy 2.1 features.

According to The Verge, the HDMI Forum does state that companies must clearly state what features its TVs do support.

Per an explainer by TFT Central, while manufacturers have been differentiating between HDMI 2.0 and 2.1 ports on television sets, per the rules, makers could label each port as 2.1 and not get into any trouble.

While it's understandable why the HDMI Forum has taken such a flexible approach regarding HDMI 2.1 labeling, it ultimately may end up being too confusing for most consumers. Generally, the higher-numbered product should equate to a better overall feature set. The iPhone 13 vs iPhone 12 is a clear example of this. But if consumers have to dig into spec sheets on their television to see if an HDMI 2.1a port supports all 2.1a SBTM features, it defeats the purpose.

Still, we're hoping to hear more about HDMI 2.1a from TV manufacturers at CES 2022 early next year. In the meantime, check out all of the top TV trends for 2022 and the most anticipated Netflix shows for 2022

Imad is currently Senior Google and Internet Culture reporter for CNET, but until recently was News Editor at Tom's Guide. Hailing from Texas, Imad started his journalism career in 2013 and has amassed bylines with the New York Times, the Washington Post, ESPN, Wired and Men's Health Magazine, among others. Outside of work, you can find him sitting blankly in front of a Word document trying desperately to write the first pages of a new book.