Venerable hi-fi company Klipsch has just launched its latest high-end soundbars, and while they include support for expected features such as Dolby Atmos audio and 4K HDMI passthrough with Dolby Vision, they're also a world-first (to T3's knowledge) in that they also support HDMI 2.1 passthrough, which makes them very interesting for PS5 and Xbox Series X owners.
Their HDMI 2.1 support means they can passthrough 4K 120Hz video with Variable Refresh Rate, and even 8K video. Even better, they have two HDMI 2.1 inputs, so if you bought a TV with a single HDMI 2.1 port, then congratulations – now you can have one for each console!
The Klipsch Cinema 1200 is a full surround system, featuring a main soundbar, a subwoofer, and two rear speakers. The promised speaker power of 1,200W is colossal, and that comes over 5.1.4 channels, including real Dolby Atmos height. This will be available in August for £1,449/€1,499.
The Klipsch Cinema 800 is a 3.1 system consisting of seven drivers in the main soundbar, plus a separate subwoofer. It will decode Dolby Atmos for positional audio, but won't feature upfiring drivers. This will also release in August, with a price of £899/€999. You can add two wireless rear speakers later, if you like.
Both soundbars seem like they're aiming for a serious assault on our list of the best soundbars – they're premium priced, they're big, and the amount of power and speaker technology in them is top stuff, even without talking about those HDMI ports again. There's Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for streaming, plus Alexa and Google Assistant support.
I expect them to sound excellent even for these prices – Klipsch doesn't tend to screw around – but I will say that them being the first HDMI 2.1 soundbars is what really caught my eye.
Why HDMI 2.1 matters
If you're not sure what the hell I'm talking about then… well, fair enough, it's a lot of random words and numbers. HDMI 2.1 is the newest version of the HDMI standard, and it offers much more connection bandwidth, which makes it capable of carrying not only 8K video, but also 4K video at 120 frames per second instead of the 60 frames per second that HDMI 2.0 provides.
The PS5 and Xbox Series X both support playing games at 120fps, and the best gaming TVs also feature HDMI 2.1 ports, so that you can actually see the higher frame rate on the screen. The Xbox also supports Variable Refresh Rate (and Sony says the PS5 will one day), which makes games appear to run more smoothly – another HDMI 2.1 feature.
However, some TVs only include a single port with HDMI 2.1 support – this is even true in 2021, as you'll see in our recent Samsung QN85A review. This presents two problems: 1) if that port is also the eARC port for sending hi-res audio to a soundbar, then you effectively lose the use of it for your PS5, because it's going to a soundbar instead; and 2) if you want to get both next-gen consoles, then only one can be connected to the port that actually enables the console to run at its best.
The only wrinkle here is that to make the most of all this, the HDMI 2.1 port you connect the soundbar to must also work as an HDMI ARC or eARC port, since otherwise the soundbar can't do its job of receiving sound from the TV.
If that sounds like an awful lot to think about, look at it this way: these seem to be the most future-proof soundbars on the planet right now. You can use them for whatever setup you have now, and in the future if you're looking at a TV with HDMI 2.1 and a games console, you won't find that your soundbar is suddenly an impediment.
Whether their audio quality is as groundbreaking as their feature list, we'll aim to find out in a review soon enough.