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Why Xbox One X owners should care about HDMI 2.1

Seen across most consumer electronics of today, HDMI has become the standard for connecting media devices to displays. And with its latest revision, HDMI 2.1, the capabilities of the interface are getting a major upgrade. Following its recently finalized specification, features of the revised standard are set in stone, delivering some welcome improvements to both video playback and gaming.

While HDMI 2.1 is still in its early days, Microsoft has pledged support for its flagship 4K-driven console, the Xbox One X. Specifics may be scarce, though existing console owners can expect new features going forward.

What is HDMI 2.1?

HDMI High Speed Cable

HDMI High Speed Cable (Image credit: Windows Central)

HDMI 2.1 is the latest revision of the HDMI interface, which is used to transmit both video and audio signals between devices. Building upon existing versions of the interface, HDMI 2.1 delivers improved bandwidth and new features, alongside all capabilities of previous revisions. Despite using the same connector, the revised interface requires dedicated ports and cables designed for the new specification. For specifics on HDMI 2.1 itself, take a look at our comprehensive guide to HDMI 2.1 and its capabilities.

HDMI 2.1: Everything you need to know

Xbox One and HDMI 2.1

While still in its early days, Microsoft has previously committed to delivering HDMI 2.1 support to Xbox One X in the future. Although new hardware is often required to take advantage of the revision, Microsoft claims the Xbox One X was futureproofed with the required hardware already onboard. This should mean that once ready, HDMI 2.1 compliance can be added via a quick firmware update.

Nevertheless, the HDMI 2.1 specification was only recently finalized and the official "HDMI 2.1 Compliance Test Specification" is yet to be published. And without HDMI 2.1 displays even on the market right now, Xbox One X support is assumedly a while off.

What could HDMI 2.1 mean for Xbox One gamers?

Microsoft has remained quiet in regards to what exactly HDMI 2.1 means for Xbox One X. While details have previously surfaced on Variable Refresh Rate (VVR) support, details on other aspects of HDMI 2.1 implementation mostly come down to speculation. But with Microsoft delivering HDMI 2.1 support through an update rather than a full hardware upgrade, expect the console to support only a few features of the full specification.

Looking at the HDMI 2.1 specification itself, several features have clearly been implemented with gamers in mind. However, exactly which features the Xbox One X will leverage is down to Microsoft. We've rounded up some of the highlights of the specification for gamers, and whether they could come to Xbox One X owners.

Variable refresh rates

As of launch, the Xbox One X doesn't offer support for VRR outputs – an increasingly common feature in PC gaming. Adapting the refresh rate of your display to that of outputted content reduces screen tearing and stuttering, without the input lag suffered when using a similar software solution known as "V-Sync."

When support for HDMI 2.1 rolls out to the console, Microsoft is slated to leverage AMD's in-house VRR technology, "FreeSync." More specifically, AMD's "FreeSync 2" is on track to hit the console, which offers an enhanced feature set over its predecessor. Allowing the console's GPU and a supported display to communicate over HDMI, the duo should maintain a stable refresh rate, based on the current output. Essentially, you'll be getting a much smoother and consistent gaming experience, where the display and console work together to output the best image.

If support arrives on Xbox One X, you'll likely be able to use your existing console alongside a FreeSync 2 monitor. Microsoft has reportedly implemented the FreeSync 2 standard already, meaning you won't need a console upgrade to take advantage of the feature. However, FreeSync over HDMI is still uncommon, with more manufacturers expected to debut both TVs and PC monitors with support baked-in. Like many of HDMI 2.1's features, this isn't something to worry about for now, though establishes a strong foundation for the console's future.

Dynamic HDR

HDMI 2.1 also delivers improvements to HDR10's potential – the High Dynamic Range (HDR) standard utilized by Xbox One X. Currently, HDR displays a wider color gamut and improved contrast ratio on compatible TVs. With the arrival of HDMI 2.1's "Dynamic HDR," which processes dynamic metadata on a frame-by-frame basis, color settings can be tuned on the fly. This means that certain HDR settings can be tuned in accordance with the on-screen image, pushing the most out of supported content.

Once again, Dynamic HDR support may never make its arrival on Xbox One X, unless Microsoft chooses to implement it. But with support already established for "Dolby Vision" over HDMI 2.0, its arrival for HDR10 could make this a welcome addition to the Xbox One X's media capabilities.

Higher resolutions, higher framerates

Your Xbox One X won't be getting any major visual upgrades once HDMI 2.1 support debuts, though adopting the technology might open the console to higher potential resolutions and framerates.

The current HDMI revision supported by Xbox One X right now, HDMI 2.0, supports transfer rates up to 18 Gigabits per second – imposing a limit of 4K (3,840 × 2,160 pixels) resolution at 60 Hz. HDMI 2.1 increases this limit to 48 Gbps, allowing for 10K resolution and 120 Hz at lower pixel counts. On supported displays, 8K (7,680 pixels x 4,320 pixels) at 60 Hz will be possible, as well as 4K at 120 Hz.

But with the Xbox One X hardware often pushed to its limit to achieve 4K at 60 frames per second (FPS), don't expect major improvements, if any, once HDMI 2.1 support lands. While specifics on the Xbox One's port are yet to be discussed, there's a chance the console will be unable to support these new configurations, despite being HDMI 2.1 compliant.

Quick Frame Transport

"Quick Frame Transport" (QFT) is another feature tailored toward gamers, designed to make for a snappier and more responsive gameplay experience. When using QFT, frame output latency is reduced, which delivers a much more responsive experience to displays and VR headsets. During those moments where every millisecond counts, this can even further reduce controller input latency on supported devices. Microsoft would need to enable support for the technology to take advantage of its benefits, but sits among the features targeted almost exclusively toward gamers.

What the future holds for Xbox One X

These are just some of the features from the final HDMI 2.1 specification, which could be among the improvements brought to Xbox One X. But as a firmware update rather than a full hardware upgrade, don't expect the full feature set of the specification to hit the console. For now, it's just down to Microsoft to follow through with implementation and announce its plans following the upgrade.

What do you think of HDMI 2.1? Which aspects of the specification would you like to see on Xbox One X? Make sure to drop into the comments with your thoughts.

HDMI 2.1: Everything you need to know

Matt Brown is Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.

  • I guess even XB1X supports all these features, my current 4k TV doesn't. However, if by any chance I would upgrade the TV in the future, it would be great that there's console already supports these new features.
  • If your TV is 2016 or later then its more useful than Xbox x from an upgrade point of view. I suspect a hardware revision of x will come quicker.
  • eARC is about the only thing useful right now for hdmi2.1.
  • Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) is the #1 feature I'm interested in, specifically for gaming. eARC is also cool - finally, true surround sound from my Amazon Fire Stick.
  • I wonder if they would improve the HDMI port in future revisions. Hoping for a 2TB revision at e3.
  • What is 2TB though. Article says 18&48 Gbps
  • I'll be getting a 65" OLED next year. I hope they come with VRR of some kind
  • This is good news! I recently purchased a 65inch 4k OLED TV and it's crazy Hot! I love it!! Gaming on this TV is an amazing experience and watching Netflix 4k HDR shows is awesome. However one down size Xbox one x it's missing Dolby Vision, wish it had this feature because my TV has it. Mostly all Netflix shows are now Dolby Vision and new 4k movies are coming out with Dolby Vision which I'll be missing out if I'm to watch them in the Xbox one x because the system currently does not support Dolby Vision. I would be forced to buy another media device that's Dolby Vision ready to only watch 4k Dolby Vision & beyond movies and honestly don't want to. I'm hoping Microsoft can add this support by software update which can be done. However my TV has Both Dolby Vision and HDR10. They both are awesome but from what I read Dolby Vision is better. Ok, getting back to the main topic, The feature I'm interested in and hope we all get with the HDMI 2.1 upgrade is Dynamic HDR or HDR10+, or Dolby Vision.
  • I agree!!! IMHO, Dolby Vision is better! My Vizio supports DV and comparing the Netflix versions of a show on Xbox X and my tv the Vizio wins every time!!
  • Oh Yes! 65inch 4k HDR TV is the way to go!!!!
  • So basically you're telling me to wait with the purchase of 4k HDR TV until there is a model to fully support all these features? Fine, another year of life for my old plasma TV.
  • I was one of the first to move to HDTV.  I spent big dollars.  I'm still running 720P.  Works fine.  I'm saving lots of money by not falling for the endless upgrade game.  Marketings goal is to separate you from your money.  They got mine once.  Oh sure, I will go to 4k in the next few years or so but it would be easier if my old stuff would stop working so well.
  • you need to go ahead and get a new one! How many years ago? Sounds like you got the first iPhone and waiting for something (you think) is better!! Hahahahaha
  • I guess I will need better eyes at some point soon.
  • Yea there’s no way that Microsoft can support the full HDMI 2.1 spec in the one x. First of all, the spec was just released in late November. They already had the hardware finalized for the Xbox sometime before then. Secondly, the first chipsets supporting the full 48gpbs spec will be available around March. I doubt the one x hardware can support that. Hardware designers never release hardware supporting a spec that hasn’t been released, especially if it’s an industry standard and would have to be compatible alongside other hardware. What is more likely to happen is that the one x will be able to support specific features of the 2.1 spec through a firmware upgrade such as dynamic hdr, but if you’re hoping to get that 48gbps, keep dreaming.