32K Is Coming! (Or, a Lesson in the Importance of Data Rates)

Got your attention? OK, now of course there haven’t been any 32K announcements… but it shows that by using this form of video identification it’s become easier to convey these types of claims and discussions pertaining to HD and UltraHD TV.

Now, the common technical use of 4K, 4K60, 8K, 10K — and maybe someday 32K — may be a good thing, but it does leave out substantial details; and remember, the devil is in the details.  

Recall the introduction of 4K60 in 2013, for Rev 2.0. That revision was considered a massive increase in data rates, plus the addition of “Status and Control” that now had to manage more sets of instructions within the interface including error detection.

These are all good features with a goal to improve system functionality and provide end users a better video experience. However, a little hiccup spoiled deployment — the use of “4K60” (60Hz frame refresh or fps, frames per second).  

At that time, it was insinuated these systems were all operating at the new 18Gbps specified in Rev 2.0. But the 4K60 being marketed was really a stripped-down model with reduced color space and color depth.

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Very few were aware of this, even the manufacturers. DPL Labs attended tradeshows where big names touted new 4K60 offerings, not realizing their limitations. It’s not like they all lied; many just didn’t know. It wasn’t until HDR surfaced the following February that true 4K60 emerged at a full 18Gbps data rate.

To add fuel to this fire, a new version of content protection (HDCP) was introduced designed to work with the new video products but was missing from the first batch of displays delivered — a mess.

Fast-forward to today and the current HDMI revision, Rev 2.1a. With that came 8K, which is all we seem to hear about. But again, this is only a small part of the big picture of 2.1a. I can’t tell you how many calls we get asking if we’ve certified any 8K cables.

The answer is, “Well, yes and no.” Why? Because 2.1a offers a ton more options. In fact, Rev 2.0 was thrown into 2.1a basically eliminating the revision and increasing the details of 2.1. This can be a real game-changer.

Take 8K60, for example. That’s now been reduced to just 8K except it is offered in formats such as 8K60, 8K120 and 8K30. The lower the frame rate, the more other goodies you get like Deep Color a better color space. But look at all the offerings, not just 8K. We still have 4K60 … and 4K120 and 4K30, also with a variety of color attributes.

You can’t just assume you have an 8K system and all the 2.1 features waiting for you. When choosing a cable device, it will typically have printed on it or its packaging some product info noting capabilities such as 8K. But which version? 8K can come with data rates as low as 6Gbps per channel (total of 24), but it may not have the color levels you’re seeking.

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Jump up to 8K with 8Gbps (total of 32) and you are into a more robust offering. What about 4K? It too has data rates down to 3Gbps where it dips to only a 30Hz frame rate. But it can be purchased at higher data rates offering 60 and 120 frame rate levels.

What about 10K? This has only two formats, 10K30 and 10K48P and requires 10Gbps per channel (total 40Gbps). Going over 40Gbps does not necessarily bring much except for compressed formats.

This is why 48Gbps has become the standard since it covers 720P, 1080P, 4K30, 4K60, 4K120, 8K30, 8K60, 8K120, 10K30 and compression. The only way to really know is to understand what’s spelled out on the packaging or data sheets. To absolutely be cleared for any of these offerings, you need only know the data rate.

Jeff Boccaccio, president of DPL Labs, can be reached at info@dpllabs.com.

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