Nothing boils my blood like going into an electronics retailer and having them try to sell you over priced HDMI cables. And when I try to reason with them that there is no difference in the higher priced cables I am amazed at how they will argue with you. You need these $100 cables to get the higher refresh rates, you need this cable if you want surround sound, and this cable will give you deeper colors. That is a bunch of crap.
HDMI is a digital transport. It is all 1’s and 0’s. Colors are not going to be “better” with one cable vs another. Audio will not be “better” with a certain type of cable. Bits (the 1’s and 0’s) will either flow or not which means that it will either work or not.
The quality of the cable is the key feature that you need to look for. Cheap cables will disrupt the flow of 1’s and 0’s and you will have a bad experience. But once you have a quality cable that passes bits, look no further – all cables will pass bits the same way after that point. But we need to talk about speed next.
What you need to know is that as of my writing this article – there are only two categories (speeds) that HDMI cables are tested against. This is kind of amazing as most retailers have at least 4 different types of HDMI cables for different uses.
- Category 1 – Standard: Tested to perform at speeds of 75 Mhz or up to 2.25 Gbps – the equivalent of a 720p/1080i signal
- Category 2 – High Speed: Tested to perform at speeds up to 340 Mhz or up to 10.2 Gbps – which can support 1080p signals including increased color depths and refresh rates. This can also support WQXGA cinema monitors which support resolutions of 2560 x 1600.
There is nothing besides these two category ratings that would differentiate a cable from another cable (other than quality that I spoke of earlier). Remember, it’s just 1’s and 0’s and a better cable will not make the colors brighter or the audio better.
Don’t let them tell you that a cable is HDMI 1.1 or HDMI 1.2 or HDMI 1.3. These are the HDMI protocol versions themselves and do not have much to do with the cable. HDMI 1.3 does require a Category 2/10.2 Gbps tested cable – but otherwise the cable does not care what version of HDMI you are using. You just need to know what the cable was tested against – Category 1 – Standard or Category 2 – High Speed.
The electronics stores will try to tell you that your device needs a Category 2/High Speed interface. The sales person at Best Buy told me when I was looking at a new DirecTV HR20 DVR that it was going to push 10.2 Gbps – however when I look at the documentation on their web site it clearly states that the HDMI interface is only a “Standard” interface. I would like to say you should research your device to determine what type of cable you need – but that is way too much work. Just read on and we will move way beyond all this technical stuff and make the case to buy inexpensive high speed cables all the time.
But don’t I get something for those $100 high-end HDMI cables that they try to sell me? Sure. You get fancy gold plated connectors, you get a braided sheath around your cable, you get fancy graphics on the cable, and some even come in really fancy packaging. But that is quality right? Maybe – but not quality that is going to affect performance.
So resist the pressure from the sales person, tell them there is nothing better about the more expensive cables, and refer them to this document if you have to. Hopefully at this point I have discouraged you from spending $100 for an HDMI cable and you are now looking at the less expensive cables – cables that might be in the $30 range. But spending $30 is even too much!
Buying HDMI cables is about planning ahead and being prepared. You do not want to buy HDMI cables when you are at your electronics retailer holding that new Blu-Ray player in your arms and then you realize that you do not have another cable and you have to purchase one now. Last time I was in Best Buy the least expensive 2 meter HDMI cable they had was $29.00. If you go to their web site you will find one for $12.99 (2 meter) or $8.99 (1 meter) – but you will not find these in their stores. Why will you not find the lower priced cables in the store? Because you need these cables when you buy your new HDMI device – you need the cable now. You will buy the more expensive cable from them because you have to purchase it now. Cables have some of the highest markups of anything in those stores.
Plan ahead. Go to Amazon.com. There are a lot of HDMI cables on Amazon for under $10. But I needed mine right away – so I purchased the Amazon Basics cables as they were shipped from Amazon (vs another retailer) and they could have them to me in 2 days. What does a 2 meter Amazon Basics High Speed (Category 2) cable cost me? Not $100, not $69, not $29, and not even $12.99. I paid $6.25.
I have been using these cables and they work great. They are not gold plated (1’s and 0’s do not care about gold – save it for your jewelry), they do not have a braided sheath around them (they are just getting dusty behind my entertainment center), and they don’t have fancy graphics or packaging. But construction quality looks great and they work and who needs more than that?
Buy 4-6 of these Amazon Basics High Speed cables. With shipping costs you will still spend about as much as you would have on one of the less expensive cables ($30-$50) at a retailer – but you will have them on hand when you need them.
If you want the fancy looking cables – go for it. One day I will build out my dream home theater system and pimp it out like a ’68 Chevy Impala. But when that happens it becomes as much about the look as the function. But for now, I am all about function.