“Let our rigorous testing and reviews be your guidelines to A/V equipment – not marketing slogans”
Facebook Youtube Twitter instagram pinterest

The Truth vs Hype about Expensive HDMI Cables

by December 23, 2013
Are expensive HDMI cables worth the money?

Are expensive HDMI cables worth the money?

One of the most common questions we are asked at Audioholics is, "Do pricey HDMI cables make a difference?" We've answered this in a number of highly technical articles, but this time around we wanted to answer it in more practical terms. What makes one cable different than another? What are some examples of good HDMI cables on the market? And how can I tell if a cable isn't working properly? The article and video below answer all these questions in simple terms.

Do HDMI cables make a difference?

We completely understand why we get this question so often. There are a lot of choices on the market, and a lot of marketing hype. Just checkout the image below, you are paying anywhere from about $400 to $240 dollars per foot! On a side note, that's not anywhere near as much as the WEL Signature speaker cable from Audioquest, which is $3,800 per foot!!

 AudioQuest Diamond Prices

I was going to buy a new car, but I bought an HDMI cable instead.

So, does a $10 HDMI cable make your system look or sound different from a $100 or $1000 cable?  The short answer is “Absolutely not.”

When a cable carries the signal properly, you are getting all the information.  There is no hidden, better signal to be wrung out with a cable that costs as much as a used car.  This is undisputable science. If an HDMI cable isn’t working properly, the consequences will be obvious, bordering on terrible. You may see sparkles, frozen portions of the picture, and get intermittent dropouts.

If you’re not getting these obvious errors, than the science behind how HDMI works is very clear: this is as good as it’s going to get.  You don’t have to take my word for it. Read the articles linked to at the bottom of the page, which are actually written by electrical engineers and reputable cable manufacturers, like Kurt Denke, the President of Blue Jeans Cable.

That’s not to say that there aren’t still quality differences between cables that can have a real impact on your system.

bad hdmi signal

This is what a bad HDMI cable looks like. Pretty obvious, isn't it?

The biggest enemy to HDMI cables is length.  The longer the cable, the higher quality it needs to be.  For 3-6 feet, you can get by with just about any undamaged cable built to basic HDMI specs.  The longer the cable, the higher quality it needs to be to pass the signal reliably, especially at distances of 25 feet or more.  But, that doesn’t mean that it has to cost $100+ per foot.

Another reason is future-proofing.  Higher resolution signals, like 4k, mean more information, or bits, will need to travel down your cable.  The amount of data that can reliably be sent down a cable, the bits per second or bandwidth, is dependent on the quality of the cable.  A higher quality cable will provide more reliable bandwidth and perhaps be able to handle future formats.

Right now, there are only two HDMI bandwidth ratings: “Standard Speed” and “High Speed”.  “Standard” is rated to handle 720p signals, though an over-engineered “Standard Speed” cable might handle 1080p as well.  A “High Speed” cable is rated for 1080p and beyond, including the HDMI 2.0 spec which provides for 4k resolution at 60 frames per second, among other advances.  It is the highest rating available today, though, an over-engineered “High Speed” cable may be able to handle the increased bandwidth of future ratings that don’t yet exist.

Once again, while quality cables can cost more, a more expensive cable is not necessarily a better cable.  For many boutique cables, you’re paying for a shiny connector, a pretty-colored net jacket, or the fancy name, and not necessarily for a better quality signal carrier.  Other cables offer significantly better engineering, scientifically backed and proven technology, and still cost much less than boutique cables. 

 BJC Belden Series -FE        Redmere HDMI 

Blue Jeans Cable Belden Series-FE           MonoPrice RedMere active HDMI

One example of this are Blue Jeans’ HDMI cables.  Their Tartan line offers exceedingly affordable, good quality cables.  However, for those wanting a cable with proven engineering to aid in future-proofing, or for reliable runs over longer distances, you can get their Belden-FE series cables.  The bulk cable for the Belden-FE series is made in the USA, and the final product runs $21.75 for a 6 foot cable, plus shipping.

Emotiva MHDMIAnother example is RedMere Cables by Monoprice (technically, they are Monoprice HDMI cables that use RedMere technology). Monoprice made its name on inexpensive HDMI cables that worked great, but were nothing out of the ordinary, save for the price.  Lately, they’ve brought some interesting technology from RedMere to the market.  When I needed a 50’ HDMI run, I chose a RedMere cable from Monoprice.   Redmere is an active technology that uses power from the HDMI port to transmit signals over distance using much thinner cables.  With a traditional cable, I may have needed to use something with 22 gauge conductors.  In other words, a thick, heavy cable that would be difficult to bend around tight corners and could put a lot of strain on the HDMI port of my projector. My 50’ RedMere cable used thinner, 28 gauge wire making the whole cable thinner, lighter, and easier to bend around corners, which is great when you’re crawling around a hot attic with fiberglass in your ears.

Beyond cables, it is worth noting that the HDMI sending/receiving circuitry in your AV equipment also factors in, so a cable may narrowly pass a signal with one set of equipment, where it fails with another.  A higher quality cable will provide a bit of system tolerance where HDMI circuitry may not be perfect.

In sum, there are quality differences between cables, but if the cable appears to be working properly (i.e. no visible artifacts), then spending more for an expensive cable won't yield better picture or sound.


About the author:
author portrait

Marshall is an Educator by trade, and currently lives in Oregon. He was lucky enough to grow up in a musical household, and though the AV equipment wasn't the greatest, it was always on. His dad introduced him to Queen, Paul Simon, and Sgt. Pepper's, and his mom played Lionel Richie and Disney Soundtracks. When Marshall was 14, his uncle passed down a pair of JBL towers and Marshall finally had his own system. Having enjoyed podcasting and video production over the past 10 years, Marshall is happy to be contributing at Audioholics.

View full profile