I’m sure you’ve gone into a store and someone’s tried to sell you an expensive HDMI cable. You know, those costing $75, $150 or even $500 or more. You’ll be told all sorts of things as to why this cable is better than that one. For the unsuspecting consumer, it can certainly make you pause or wrestle with a seemingly tough decision.
First of all, you need to know that the markup on TVs and electronics isn’t that much anymore. The margins are slim. Many stores makeup profit margins by selling cables, accessories, and extended warranties. Here, I want to focus specifically on whether or not expensive HDMI cables are worth it. I’m now going to draw a distinction between expensive HDMI cables and quality HDMI cables. As far as HDMI cables go, the more expensive the cable doesn’t mean it’s better quality. Remember that as I take you through myth and fact.
First of all, yes, the quality of your HDMI cable can make a huge difference in the reliability of your setup (note again that I said quality, not expensive). However, if your HDMI cable run is less than 10-15 feet, than any HDMI cable will do–even the inexpensive $4.00 cables you can buy from www.monoprice.com or the $8.00 HDMI cables from www.bluejeanscable.com. The reality is that all inexpensive HDMI cables come from China and likely come from the same sources.
So, whether you are paying $3.00, $8.00, or $50.00 you are buying exactly the same cable with perhaps only a prettier color or outer jacket.
|I use several 8-foot BlueJeans Cable HDMI Cables from their BJC Belden Series-FE and their Tartan Series cables. That’s $24 for the former and $4.70 for the latter. They both work just fine.|
The real issue you need to focus in on is long HDMI cable lengths. Once you start going with HDMI cable lengths of 25 feet or more then you need to pay a bit more attention to your HDMI cable quality. That does not mean, however, that you should be spending $100 or more for the cable. All you need to know for our purposes is that like all cables, signal interference and attenuation in an HDMI cable increases as the cable gets longer. At a certain point, that interference will become too great and the signal-to-noise ratio will become too great. When that happens, the signal will degrade.
You may be asking yourself, “Well, an HDMI cable is all digital so it shouldn’t have any problems, right?” Wrong. Many people mistakenly think that just because an HDMI cable is “digital” that the signal is the same no matter what. That’s just not true and let me show you why.
The signal in an HDMI cable is measured with what’s known as an “eye diagram”. Below, you’ll see two images courtesy of the HDMI licensing organization. The image on the left shows an undistorted digital signal being sent via HDMI. Notice that it has a large, “eye”. The grey area in the middle, known as the “mask” has plenty of black space around it. Having the mask with plenty of black around it means that the signal is strong and that there isn’t much noise in the signal. In other words, all those digital zeros and ones go from the source to their destination without a problem.
|The “eye diagram” is used to analyze the quality of a digital signal sent over HDMI. The HDMI eye diagram is used to show how an HDMI cable does or doesn’t maintain the integrity of its signal over distance. The eye diagram above is courtesy of HDMI Licensing: www.hdmi.org|
Now that you see the eye clearly, contrast that with the image on the right. The entire image looks like it’s been stretched like a rope to the left and right and now the grey mask has bled into the signal. There isn’t that clean and clear black area around the mask. In this instance, signal noise and attenuation in the HDMI cable has closed the “eye”.
So, my point here is very simple, the better the quality of the cable, its construction, materials, etc. will determine how well it performs over longer distances—how well it rejects noise that can close the eye. High quality HDMI cables, for example, can maintain the “eye” for distances as long as 25 feet (or more). In my case I’m using a 25 foot Blue Jeans Cable that’s coupled together with another 25 foot Monoprice cable (that’s 50 feet altogether) and I’m able to pass my HDMI signal flawlessly. I didn’t even spend close to $80 for both cables.
So, as a general rule of thumb, you always want to make sure you are purchasing a certified HDMI cable—that means simply a cable that is able to maintain this “eye pattern” for the distance you’re buying.
To simplify things for you here’s what I recommend you do:
- For short distances under 25 feet, any HDMI cable will do. If you want something that’s really going to give you the best value, go with HDMI cables from either www.bluejeanscable.com or www.monoprice.com. There are a few other brands that I’d also recommend (Tributaries come to mind) that will give you a nicer exterior jacket and feel if you want that and at the same time they won’t gouge you with the price.
- For distances 25 feet or more, make sure you get a certified HDMI cable and/or an amplified cable. There are two options here:
|Monoprice HDMI cables with Redmere are
super-thin but can be long distances
- Go with the longer cables from bluejeanscable.com They are certified to work at the distances they sell them at. I’ve been using some of their 25 foot series 1 cables for years without any issue. The only drawback is that they are a bit thick. (BlueJeans Cable has an excellent article on HDMI cable length that you can reference here).
- Go with an amplified cable with RedMere technology. You can buy these from www.monoprice.com. RedMere cables have a small chip in them that can keep the cable thin while also certifying it for longer distances. 15-25 foot RedMere HDMI cables are as thin as an iPhone USB charger. Longer cables such as the 30 foot or more RedMere cables are a bit thicker. The only issue you need to be attentive to with RedMere cables is that they are directional! Even though the connectors are the same on both ends, one end must be plugged into the source end and the other end must be plugged into the display. If you plug in the cable backwards, it won’t work. Each end of the HDMI cable is labeled and tells you which is source and which is the display. HDMI cables with RedMere command a bit of a premium, but are still very reasonably priced. However, unless you need ultra-thin HDMI, you’re better off going with the non-RedMere HDMI versions. You can save money by doing so.
So don’t get suckered into overpaying for HDMI cables. Get a good quality cable at reasonable prices.