High-End vs Low-End HDMI Cables

You've probably heard claims about high performance HDMI cables, and seen cables that cost upwards of $500. You've also probably heard that high performance cables are a myth, and all HDMI cables work the same.


Which of these claims is true? Well, the answer is not so simple. While spending hundreds of dollars on a cable may not be worth it, not all cables perform equally, and a cheap cable can be a detriment to your entertainment system. To figure out the truth behind these claims, we have to dive into the function of HDMI cables.


What Does HDMI Do?


Prior to HDMI, the images on a television could only be transmitted in a 4:3 aspect ratio in standard definition, due to the nature and limitations of composite cables, or A/V cables. HDMI allowed for the digital transfer of audio and video signals. This allowed for widescreen images, like a 16:9 aspect ratio, and high definition picture. The latest HDMI 2.1 update increased the maximum resolution to 10k. It also allowed for lossless audio transmission, bringing theatre-like quality audio and video right into your living room. HDMI also offers a few other advantages, such as:


  • No quality degradation: The signal in an HDMI cable doesn't need to be compressed, so there's no loss in quality during transmission.
  • Device authentication: Digital signals allow authentication between devices.
  • Fewer external configurations: With two-way communication between devices, electronic components can automatically identify and configure the best resolution, rather than doing it manually.
  • Dolby/DTS support: With high quality and lossless audio transmission, consumers can use DTS Master, DTS:X, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, and other high-end audio streams.


Overall, HDMI can deliver crisper images, brighter colors, and higher fidelity sound.


Debunking Myths


There are quite a few claims made about HDMI cables that aren't exactly true. Since most consumers don't know much about how HDMI works or what it offers, sellers can get away with making false claims about cable quality. These are some common myths in the HDMI cable industry.


More expensive HDMI cables have better picture and audio quality: This is the most common myth. Image and audio quality doesn't improve with cost.


Premium HDMI cables work well at any distance: Many premium cables highlight high performance in long cable lengths. However, all copper cables are less reliable as distance increases, regardless of the materials or construction design of the cable. It's just physics.


Cheap cables have poor quality: A cheap HDMI cable can function just as well as a premium one, depending on the circumstance.


You can boost your system quality with a premium HDMI cable: The image and audio quality of your system will not increase beyond the performance capabilities of your components, no matter how great the HDMI cable is.


Does Cable Quality Make A Difference?


The above statements may not be true, but does getting a premium cable over a cheap one make any difference at all?


Well, yes, of course.


However, a premium HDMI cable can not offer better image and sound quality. HDMI cables either transmit the signal, or they don't, and there's no in between. Expensive HDMI cables can't make the picture any crisper, or the colors any more vibrant, than the cheapest cable on the market.


There are other benefits to higher quality cables:


  • Reliability in bandwidth support
  • More flexible materials
  • Stronger connectors
  • Lower chance of defects or failure
  • Aesthetics of the cable


Investing a little more in a cable gives you more reliability and durability. In other words, you don't have to worry about the signal cutting out if the cable hits a weird angle, or the cable breaking after a couple months of use. Additionally, when it comes to extra long cables, this type of reliability becomes extremely important, and the specific material and design choices in a cable can make a big difference.


When choosing an HDMI cable, take into account the bandwidth requirements for your equipment and resolution, and the length of cable you need. It's recommended to research how much bandwidth your devices are capable of and get an HDMI cable to match. If you need a cable longer than the capabilities of copper, consider a fiber optic cable or a hybrid AOC cable that can support high resolutions at lengths of over 30 metres.