This year's OLED TVs have only two HDMI 2.1 connections – here's why that's not good enough

QD-OLED TV: Sony XR-55A95K
(Image credit: Future)

Is anyone else getting that feeling of déjà vu? I certainly am; less than a year ago I was venting my frustrations regarding the (at the time) upcoming MediaTek Pentonic 1000 chipset which, despite being initially billed to come with a full suite of four HDMI 2.1 sockets, inevitably delivered just two connections.

That's not to say the TVs that used this processor were ruined, in fact, the Sony A80L took home Product of the Year in the TV category at our annual What Hi-Fi? Awards, with the Panasonic MZ1500B and Philips OLED808 both following closely behind with five-star reviews.

However, in each of these TV reviews, you will find a constant motif in the 'cons' list near the top of the page. "Only two HDMI 2.1 sockets" is the recurring refrain that plagues these TVs; but why do we make such a big deal of it? Put simply, HDMI 2.1 sockets are precious commodities, especially if you are a serious gamer who also happens to care about home cinema audio.

The main draw of HDMI 2.1 is the ability to carry 4K 120Hz signals, which is what the latest batch of consoles support. Both the Sony PS5 and Xbox Series X need to be hooked up to a suitable HDMI 2.1 connection to deliver the smoothest and highest-resolution gameplay, which is, surely, what you want if you are spending the best part of £500 on one of these consoles. 

You are also likely to want to use the variable refresh rate (VRR) and auto low latency mode (ALLM) features to reduce the possibility of stutter and screen tearing as well as controller lag. In fact, the PS5 specifically requires an HDMI 2.1 socket to unlock these features, not to mention a TV that supports them; you can check out our best gaming TVs if you need inspiration. 

However, HDMI 2.1 also serves another function. It is used to carry high-quality audio over an enhanced audio return channel, otherwise known as eARC. If you have a Dolby Atmos soundbar or AVR, then you will know that it needs hooking up to the designated HDMI eARC connection on your TV – which also happens to be one of the HDMI 2.1 sockets. 

So, let's say you have a PS5, Xbox Series X and a Dolby Atmos soundbar; you are immediately going to run into some issues. The soundbar will take up the eARC slot, while the consoles will need to fight it out for the remaining high-speed HDMI connection. I am well aware that it isn't the end of the world, as the consoles will still technically work just fine in another HDMI socket – but it's the principle. 

OLED sets aren't cheap, especially if you opt for a Sony or Panasonic which historically tend to be more expensive than alternatives from LG and Samsung. The irony here is that LG and Samsung boast four full-bandwidth HDMI 2.1 sockets on their respective OLED TVs. In fact, LG has just upgraded the entry-level B4 to include four HDMI 2.1 sockets, something that caught my attention for this very reason during its announcement.

If you're shelling out north of £2000 for one of the very latest OLED sets, you shouldn't really have to compromise on features. And while there are workarounds, they aren't exactly ideal, nor are they blanket solutions. 

Some Dolby Atmos soundbars feature HDMI 2.1 passthrough, and while that might sound like the ideal solution, some won't support 4K/120Hz passthrough. Sony only recently enabled VRR and ALLM in a software update to the HT-A7000 and HT-A5000 soundbars, while Sennheiser's soundbars feature only HDMI 2.0 passthrough ports. This issue can also plague AVRs; despite the Award-winning Sony TA-AN1000 having all six of its HDMI inputs labelled as HDMI 2.1, only two of them actually handle 4K/120Hz.

Ultimately, there are greater concerns in the world of AV, but this has been grinding my gears for some time now. In my original rant (let's call it what it was), I remained hopeful, stating:

"Looking ahead to 2024, we really hope that MediaTek has a step-up version of the Pentonic 1000 with four HDMI 2.1 sockets up its sleeve. More fully featured gaming TVs would mean more choice for gamers, and that can only be a good thing."

And yet here I sit, bitterly disappointed and treading familiar ground in the great HDMI 2.1 debate. Here's hoping for 2025 I suppose.


Read our full LG C3 42-inch review

Here's our picks for the best gaming TVs

As well as our overall picks for the best TVs

Lewis Empson
Staff Writer

Lewis Empson is a Staff Writer on What Hi-Fi?. He was previously Gaming and Digital editor for Cardiff University's 'Quench Magazine', Lewis graduated in 2021 and has since worked on a selection of lifestyle magazines and regional newspapers. Outside of work, he enjoys gaming, gigs and regular cinema trips.

  • ruffian
    This really isn’t an issue. You can’t play both games at the same time, so just unplug the HDMI from the back of your X-box when you want to use the PlayStation.
  • podknocker
    To make it easier, can't they make all the HDMI ports 2.1 AND eARC?

  • Corpus_Chain
    podknocker said:
    To make it easier, can't they make all the HDMI ports 2.1 AND eARC?

    ARC can cause problems for some equipment. My blu-ray player gets audio lag when I use that port.
  • Friesiansam
    Only ever use two HDMI connectors, so this would be a non-issue.

    Next psuedoproblem please...
  • Azzuro
    This is not Sony, Panasonic or Phillips's fault as they are stuck using Mediatek. TCL ends up using one of its HDMI 2.0 ports as the eARC port but I think that means they have to use their own chipset and I hear mixed reviews about the reliability of that eARC port.

    The best work-around is to purchase a 3rd party HDMI 2.1 switch (they cost ~US$30-40 if you look on-line) - some of which have an automatic switch function (although from experience the automatic switching doesn't always work smoothly). Otherwise you can use the remote to switch inputs on that device - but that means yet another remote!

    I honestly think the best solution would be for the manufacturers to at least sell their own proprietary HDMI 2.1 switch accessory that works smoothly with their own OS. This would make sense because the TV's OS would recognize them as additional inputs in the UI - meaning you don't need another remote and you can then customize picture settings for each of those inputs. It would mitigate the competitive disadvantage they would have compared to LG or Samsung who typically have 4 HDMI 2.1 ports using their own proprietary chipsets.
  • mbinz
    so do tv's allow split screen to play more than one games console at the same time? Don't understand the issue, but then I'm not a gamer `¬) ...are the majority of people buying TV's only buying them for multiple games consoles use rather than for as a 'TV' `¬P