You’ve just paid thousands for a brand new 4K HDR LED TV. You cannot wait to get it home and bask in its high definition glory. But before you can rush out of the store with your TV in tow, the salesperson starts talking about all of the fancy new cabling that you’ll need to make the most of your new TV. Before you know it you’re being bombarded with tech jargon you can’t make heads or tails of. HDMI 2.0? Gold-plated? 10-bit color? Frames per second? Before you know it you’re spending a fortune on “top-of-the-line” cables whereas up until now you’ve always gone with the cheapest option on the shelf. And you may be wondering, are there differences between HDMI cables from different brands, or are all HDMI cables the same?
Of course you want to justify all of the money that you’ve spent on your fancy diamond coated HDMI cables, so you start repeating the same rhetoric the salesperson threw at you. Eventually you start to believe it. You claim you can see the difference between the super expensive cables and the cheapie ones. Unfortunately, you’ve been duped.
Experts in the field have weighed in on the debate and the conclusion is always the same: there is simply very little to no difference between expensive HDMI cables and cheap ones. You’ve probably noticed that some HDMI cables are $5 while others are $500. So the question remains: are all HDMI cables the same? Sort of. Most of the articles written on the subject tend to rely on the same techno-babble that confuses consumers in the first place, so we’ll try and break it down in layman’s terms to explain the HDMI cable differences, if there are any!
How HDMI Cables Work
If you want to learn how exactly a HDMI cord delivers a signal you can check out the Wikipedia page on HDMI cables. For the rest of us, HDMI transmits a digital signal from one piece of equipment to another (e.g. PS4 > TV). In the old days of analog cables, the signal would degrade as it made it’s journey from source to TV. Naturally this resulted in poorer picture quality. As a result people snapped up better quality cables to prevent this from happening. This simply isn’t necessary with HDMI. Without getting too technical, HDMI delivers a signal with an all or nothing approach. The signal transmitted by an HDMI cable is perfect, until it isn’t (in which case there will be no picture displayed whatsoever). In other words, the difference between HDMI cables of different “qualities” is very little, if there is a difference at all. An HDMI cord either works, or it doesn’t.
More Expensive Cables = Better Picture?
The common misconception is that a more expensive HDMI cord is going to deliver a better picture. However, there is no difference in picture quality between a cheap HDMI cable and a more expensive one. This is because all HDMI cables adhere to the same specifications, regardless of sticker price.
That being said you can spot a poorly made cable from a mile away. With shoddy cables, there will be artifacts in the picture, usually resembling some kind of interference (e.g. snow). This doesn’t mean that you have to spend a fortune to get a competently made HDMI cable. As with anything manufactured in large quantities, there are bound to be a few duds in the batch, so stick to the cheaper HDMI cables, but avoid the dollar store deals. If you’re unlucky enough to get a defective one, it’s not going to break the bank to buy a replacement.
The Difference Between HDMI Cables
There are currently four different types of HDMI cables on the market:
- High-speed (aka Category 2)
- High-speed (aka Category 2) with Ethernet
- Standard-speed (aka Category 1)
- Standard-speed (aka Category 1) with Ethernet
Standard speed (or Category 1) HDMI cables aren’t really around any more so it’s safe to say that any HDMI cable you pick up will be a High speed cable. This is good because high speed cables are rated to deliver resolutions well beyond 1080p (full HD) all the way up to 4K (including 3D). Long story short, as long as you have a high speed HDMI cable you’re good to go.
Note: Over exceptionally long distances (10 meters/32 feet) you might want to invest in a more expensive “active” HDMI cable, however it isn’t 100% necessary.
Why Are Expensive HDMI Cables So Expensive?
Aside from companies wanting your money, there are a few explanations:
- Warranty – some of the more expensive HDMI cables offer lifetime warranties. Considering these cables cost about the same as a used car, we would expect nothing less.
- Durability – expensive cables are often wrapped in protective netting that can make them less susceptible to wear and tear. However this increases the bulk, which can be annoying.
- Bragging rights – HDMI cables with diamond connectors to go along with your caviar and champagne, sir?
Are All HDMI Cables The Same? Conclusion
An expensive HDMI cable is not going to magically improve picture quality. An HDMI cord is an HDMI cord, simple as that. Picture quality is determined by the source of the content and the television displaying it. Simply put, the idea that more expensive HDMI cables deliver a better picture is marketing mumbo jumbo.
As long as you stick to certified High Speed HDMI cables you’ll benefit from the best picture, no matter what the price. That said, we would recommend avoiding super cheap options from lesser-known retailers, as they could be poorly made. Stick with a reputable brand, and you’ll be fine!