A male HDMI connector.
HDMI connections are the new darling of high definition audio/video systems. This type of connection, which is available on the newest models of HD TVs, game systems, and Blu-ray players, requires a cable that can run upwards of $50 to $100 at your local electronics store. But, is it really necessary to spend all that money on a cable? Read on to find out.
1. HDMI is a digital connection. This means that, in theory, an HDMI cable need only to be “good enough” to consistently and accurately send bits of information (ones and zeros) between two HDMI devices. The cable either transmits the signal, or it doesn’t.
This is different from component cables, in which a wider range of quality is apparent depending upon how well the cable shields signal quality. A well constructed cable will deliver a high quality picture. A poorly constructed cable will deliver a poor quality picture–but the picture still gets through.
2. However, contrary to this simple theory, dozens of different HDMI cables are available on the market, each boasting its own special gold-plated, signal-boosting, or “ultra high speed rating” design. To begin, let’s take a look at some common claims about HDMI cables and how they apply to average users.
Length is the biggest limitation in HDMI cable design. HDMI cables require extra shielding in lengths longer than about 6 to 10 feet. Without this extra shielding, longer cables are unable to transfer data between two devices at all. Therefore, a 25 foot cable will be significantly more expensive than a 6 foot cable.
If you only need to connect a TV to an immediately adjacent DVD player, then a 6 foot cable is plenty long enough for your needs, and at this length, a cheap unbranded cable will really perform just as well as any other.
However, if you need a longer cable, choose a manufacturer in whose quality you are confident. Monoprice and Blue Jeans Cables are relatively inexpensive online dealers who carry both short and long lengths of cables and who receive favorable customer reviews. (Links for all referenced websites are located below in the “Resources” section.)
Often a salesman will claim that you need a “120Hz” cable to really see high definition on your new equipment. The truth is–there’s no such thing as a “120Hz” cable. (See the audioholics link in “Resources.”)
There *are* different versions of HDMI (1.3 is the most current) and different categories of HDMI (Category 1 and Category 2). Technically, a Category 2 cable is necessary for a 1080p resolution on an HDTV, whereas a Category 1 cable is good enough for 720p or 1080i resolution TVs. But, even on a high end HDTV, most users will not notice a large difference between different versions and categories of HDMI cables.
That said, a version 1.3 category 2 cable can be purchased inexpensively anyway: A 6 foot cable of this type runs for about $6 on Newegg and $10 on Amazon. (If you’re interested, you can find older versions for as little as $2 on eBay.)
If you expect to be moving your equipment frequently (e.g., taking the cables with you every day for your profession), the extra money spent on a more durable cable may be worth it. Monster brand cables are known for their quality construction (and notorious for their large price tags).
For the casual user, however, spending $70 on a Monster cable is overkill. If you just want to connect your Blu-ray player to the TV and tuck the cable out of sight, don’t worry about durability. In fact, online cables in the $10 range usually include manufacturer or seller’s replacement warranties. If you purchase from an online seller, you also have the benefit of reading reliability reviews posted by other buyers.
6. ***GOLD PLATING***
In the case of HDMI, gold plating will not significantly improve signal quality. However, gold plated cables will last longer–if only because gold never tarnishes. Gold plating alone does not warrant a significant difference in cable price.
7. ***BUYING LOCALLY***
If you prefer to buy locally, follow the advertisements in your local newspaper. Walmart and Target carry cables around $25; sometimes these go on sale. Cables at electronics stores like Best Buy or games stores like Game Stop are more expensive, often starting around $50.
The truth is, in most cases the average user will see no difference between a cheap, unbranded online cable and a $100 “premium” cable. If you just purchased a new HDTV and Blu-ray player and want to hook them together, buy a cable from a good dealer online and save some money.
For a six foot, version 2, hdmi 1.3 cable, you should not have to pay more than $10~15. Listings at Amazon, Newegg, and Monoprice all fall into this range and have good, consistent customer reviews.