Even though the cable looks the same, modern HDMI connections are vastly more capable than when they first arrived over 20 years ago. The latest version, called 2.1b, is only a small update, but 2.1 in general is a big deal with lots of performance improvements and new features. The standard is found in the best new TVs, including recent models from LG, Samsung, Sony, TCL, Vizio and more. HDMI 2.1 is also on both of the next-generation game consoles, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. In fact, to get the most out of those consoles you'll want a TV that supports at least some HDMI 2.1 features.
That doesn't mean you need HDMI 2.1, however. For most people the extra features are not a good enough reason to buy a higher-end TV. If you're on a budget, those new consoles will play perfectly well (and still look spectacular) on a TV that lacks HDMI 2.1. Many midrange and higher-end sets support the new connectivity standard, though, so it's worthwhile to understand what it means if you are looking to purchase soon.
The short version is HDMI 2.1 allows for higher resolutions, higher frame rates and a lot more bandwidth. The connector itself isn't changing, however, so new HDMI 2.1 gear will be backward-compatible with your current cables and equipment. But if you want to take advantage of everything 2.1 has to offer, you'll need some select upgrades and potentially new cables, too. Here's what you need to know.