Why Cheap HDMI cables are generally the best
At some point, you’re going to need some HDMI cables for your television.
It’s become the universal conduit for streaming devices like Roku, and just about any Blu-Ray player or gaming console on the market including PlayStation and Xbox.
There have been a number of improvements with picture quality coming from 4K TVs, gaming consoles and streaming devices. And there’s even talk now about the latest HDMI 2.1 connection standard.
But one thing hasn’t changed much.
Cheap HDMI cables offer the same picture and sound quality as expensive HDMI cables, including ones that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. As more people transition to 4K HDR TVs and gaming monitors, people wonder whether they need to pay an arm and a leg for their cables to ensure the best picture and frame rate possible. The answer is: You really don’t. Even if you’re a home theater enthusiast.
So why are there all these overpriced HDMI cables out there?
There are huge profits to be made from HDMI cables. And many marketing companies are simply not being honest about the so-called advantages with pricier cables.
Forbes magazine even wrote a story about how buying a HDMI cable priced at $13,500 is a bunch of nonsense. The most expensive one I found on Amazon was a “Diamond HDMI” priced just under $2,700.
Buying HDMI cables online vs brick and mortar stores
The two least expensive brokers of HDMI cables are still the best places to buy from – Amazon and Monoprice.
To get the best deal on HDMI cables, you’re going to want to avoid shopping at a brick and mortar store.
I did some shopping around a local Best Buy and a Target while working on this article. At Target, a 4-foot High Speed Cable with Ethernet was priced at $15. Outrageous. Best Buy was no better. I found a 12-foot HDMI cable for $130. These cables are no better than cheap ones you can buy online, so don’t fall for the flashy claims about enhanced picture and sound quality.
Know your HDMI cables
You only need a High-Speed HDMI cable for picture quality that’s 1080p, 4K, HDR and beyond.
High Speed HDMI cables are pretty much what you will mostly see for sale these days, no matter whether you’re shopping online or at your local WalMart. If you do run across a standard HDMI instead of a High Speed HDMI cable, just ignore it and DON’T buy it.
Standard HDMI cables only handle up 1080i, not 1080p. So you don’t really want a standard HDMI cable. Having a high-speed HDMI cable is where it’s at. There are four kinds of HDMI cables: standard HDMI, High Speed HDMI, and those same two that also support Ethernet.
Keep in mind: HDMI 2.0 is the current standard used with the HDMI send/receive chips inside your TV, game console or Blu-ray player. Lately, I’ve been buying High Speed HDMI cords that support Ethernet. I don’t really have any devices in need of the Ethernet connection, but the price difference is so minimal, I’m spending pennies for the extra feature.
Should I wait for HDMI 2.1 before I buy new cables?
No. In late November 2017, the HDMI Forum released a new spec that supports up to 10K resolution and 48 Gbps of capacity.
That will more than double the currently capacity of HDMI 2.0. Sounds great, right? Except you don’t have a TV or streaming device that can benefit from it. And your probably won’t for a while. It’s only been in the last 12 months or so that we’ve seen 4K televisions become more commonplace. Prices for 4K TVs dropped dramatically in 2017, and you can buy a great budget model 4K TV now for under $500.
Content providers have yet to widely adopt shooting movies and shows in 4K. Take a look around on your favorite streaming platforms, whether it’s Amazon, Netflix or YouTube, and you will see that only small portion of programming is being offered with 4K and HDR support. It might take a while for streaming platforms to catch up and offer more 4K HDR shows and movies.
HDMI 2.1 promises to handle twice the bandwidth compared to HDMI 2.0 so there’s a good reason to be excited about it. Here’s a nice graphic from the HDMI Forum to demonstrate what I’m talking about.
In 2018, you will probably hear a lot of hype about new HDMI 2.1 cords. You may even see some hit the market. But you can ignore all that and stick to a decent (and cheap) high speed HDMI cable. It’s going to be a good while before HDMI 2.1 is relevant.
If you’re skeptical about how HDMI 2.1 will be more or less a non-issue for most people, that’s fine. You don’t have to listen to me. No one has written more about HDMI cables than Geoffrey Morrison at CNET. And even he is telling people that HDMI 2.1 won’t be that important in the months ahead.
Do I need to upgrade my HDMI cable for a 4K TV?
Probably not. If you’re about to buy an Ultra HD 4K TV, any spare HDMI cable around your home will probably work fine.
A game console or Blu-ray player already has a HDMI 2.0 connection, and so doesn’t your snazzy new 4K TV that you want to connect your Blu-ray player to. Your High Speed HDMI cable is simply like a rail line that’s connecting one train station to another. There’s actually no such thing as a HDMI 2.0 cable. There are just 2.0 connections. OK?
How HDMI works
This gets at the heart of why claims about how more expensive HDMI cables are a bunch of garbage. There are no processors inside a HDMI cable that can improve picture quality or sound. In other words, there’s nothing inside the cable improves the data flowing from Point A to Point B.
A HDMI cable has 19 wires inside of it and 19 corresponding pins on each end. These are simply conduits carrying along whatever data – be it audio or picture – from a hardware device like your Blu-ray player to a TV.
You’ve may have read about HDMI cables that are simply made better, and that’s why they’re more expensive. The implication is that they’ll last longer. But let’s face it: you’re not putting your HDMI cable through a meat grinder. You’re not using it to lash the back of some pour soul who overcharged you for six pack of Diet Coke at the supermarket.
You’re plugging the damn thing into your TV, and it’s just sitting there. Monoprice has a lifetime warranty on wires, so if it suddenly doesn’t work, you can get a new one free of charge. All for just a few bucks.
So if you’re not sure about whether you need a new cable or not, just try out what you have first. You will know pretty quickly whether you need to buy something. I’m betting (unless you have a cable that’s exceptionally old) you will be just fine with what you have.
What about active HDMI cables?
Most active cables can only be plugged in one way, but its designation has nothing to do with picture or sound quality. Active cables draw in power from an HDMI port to boost your signal.
That’s helpful with really long cable runs. But you should understand that it has nothing to do with picture quality. People may be confused because plugging an active cable in the wrong way can sometimes introduce errors into your signal. I run a couple of pretty long High Speed HDMI cables from my TV to a couple of game consoles in a nearby closet. I don’t use active cables and my gaming is as fast as ever.
What about other cheap HDMI cables?
There are some other inexpensive HDMI cables out there that might better fit your unique needs.
For whatever reason, you might want a longer or thinner cable. Some folks even prefer a different color scheme like the Palette High Speed HDMI cable offered at Monoprice.
KabelDireckt makes a widely popular 30-foot High Speed Ethernet HDMI cable that sells for just under $16. Out of 2,233 customers on Amazon, 85 percent give KabelDireckt a five-star rating.
If you’re among the PlugLug High Speed HDMI Cable (2.0) with ARC Ethernet is also a popular choice. The PlugLug cables are triple shielded with a nylon braided jacket on the outside. A 25-foot cord is about $14. All of these cables are fine. So long as you stick to getting a High Speed cable with a low price point, it’s hard to go wrong.
Again, I use about 20 ft of a typical High Speed HDMI cable for streaming and gaming and have zero issues.
Having said that, let’s talk about longer cables for a moment. A good rule of thumb with long HDMI cables in particular is: the longer the cable, the higher the quality it should be to pass data along.
I’m not saying you need to plunk down $50 or $100 per foot for some cable. Any of the choices listed above should serve your needs just fine.
Amazon Basics does a good job with using high quality materials, including its copper wires. You can see in the diagram below what Amazon uses to construct its HDMI cords. I’ve used the Amazon Basics High Speed HDMI cord (10 ft.) on my 4K TV for various product testing throughout the year, and it has consistently delivered a solid performance.
CABLE ALTERNATIVES: HDMI cable vs Wireless Video Transmitter
There are some people who just don’t want to run HDMI cables across (or under) a room. Maybe you have a nice large TV mounted to your wall and the last thing you want to see is a couple of HDMI cables dangling beneath it.
That’s fine. You can buy a wireless video transmitter. A wireless transmitter will pass video and audio to your TV. You also may be looking at a wireless option if you want to transmit your cable signal to two TVs in your house at the same time.
Transmitting your signal wirelessly can save you from having to rent another cable box (and from having to pay your cable company a hefty setup fee.) The transmitter can send video to two receivers connected to TVs.
Transmitting HDMI 4K signals wirelessly
The J-Tech Digital HDbit T SeriesWireless HDMI Extender is designed to transmit HDMI video and audio up to 660 feet away in 4K. The transmitter does not support Dolby Digital. But it does give you a greater range in controlling other devices through an IR signal from your remote control.
So if you are watching TV in your office, and your Blu-ray player is a couple of rooms away, you can still use your remote with the DVD player from where you are sitting.
If you are using the J-Tech on two TVs simultaneously, you should be aware of the slight delay – between 0.6 to 0.8 seconds between the two TVs. This won’t be an issue for you if the two TVs are out of earshot from one another.
People also use HDMI transmitters for projectors, and their home security system. The JTech Digital HDbit T Series comes with free lifetime technical support from the manufacturer and a one-year warranty. JTech also makes receiver and transmitter kit for 1080p signalsthat has a ranges of about 164 feet or 660 feet, depending on the model you choose.
If you only need a wireless video transmitter that transmits 1080p picture quality, the logear GW3DHDKIT Wireless HDMI Digital Kit does a nice job with transmitting up to 100 feet away. The logear costs much less than the J-Tech, but it’s a good fit for those who only want to transmit a signal across a short distance.
Amazon Basics vs Monoprice: Which is best for HDMI cable?
Monoprice is the way to go if you only need a 6-foot HDMI cord. You can typically get one for as little as $4 or $5.
If you’re looking to buy a 15 or 30 foot cable, Amazon Basics will give you a better price. There are a couple of caveats here to consider. Depending on the size of your overall order, Monoprice might end up charging you for shipping.
Amazon is known to fluctuate prices (sometimes wildly) in order beat the competition. You might get a slightly better deal at Amazon if you’re already a Prime member, which includes free shipping. So shop around.
No matter which of these brands you go with, you’ll be getting a good deal.
MENTIONED IN THIS REVIEW:
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble