Which HDMI Cable to Buy?

HDMI Cables vary enormously in price, but they do not vary much in functionality. Is it worth spending so much on an HDMI v1.4 cable? Do you need HDMI v1.4 – what does that mean?

These are all typical questions that you might ask when you are looking for a new HDMI cable for your HDTV. There is a lot of confusion around especially since the introduction of 3D.

This article will help you to sort out which cables you should be looking at and why.

Version Numbers

First of all, HDMI version numbers have no relationship to the cables. An HDMI cable will not alter the features that are available from a TV or any other piece of equipment. A TV will have a number of features such as deep colour or multi channel sound or, more recently, 3D. These features will have been introduced at various stages in the development of the HDMI standards, some features were introduced with HDMI v1.2, some with HDMI v3 and some more recently when HDMI v1.4 was introduced.

Whilst these introductions have made significant changes to the features and functionality of any piece of equipment fitted with an HDMI socket, the socket itself has not changed. It is still the same 19 pin socket that was first introduced back in 2002 (new smaller versions have been specified since, but the full size, type A socket is still standard on HDTVs).

Similarly, the HDMI cable used to connect source equipment to an HDTV, has not changed either (with one exception, but that will be explained later). So an HDMI cable which was used back in 2002 could potentially still be used today on an HDTV having HDMI v1.4 features with no problems.

Cable Types

To reduce the confusion surrounding HDMI version numbers, cables will no longer state HDMI version numbers, but they will be marked as either High Speed or Standard Speed. Standard Speed cables can carry HDMI signals supporting images up to 1080i, while High Speed cables can carry images of 1080p and above.

A Standard Speed cable can carry normal 2D pictures with multi channel sound and can support deep colour, lossless audio and support the audio return channel as well as any other features applicable to 1080i images.

In addition to the above, a High Speed cable can carry 3D pictures and support resolutions up to 2160p.

The Ethernet Channel

Introduced with the latest HDMI v1.4 specification and the greatest cause of confusion, the ethernet channel allows suitable enabled equipment to be networked together and to access the internet. This is the only aspect of the HDMI v1.4 specification which has an impact on cable choice.

In addition to the Standard Speed and High Speed categories, there are now High Speed with Ethernet and Standard Speed with Ethernet categories. Equipment utilising this function can now be connected by a single HDMI cable to simplify wiring.

It is not necessary to buy an HDMI cable with ethernet unless you have equipment that utilises the ethernet channel. So 3D, 4k, lossless audio, the audio return channel and all other HDMI features will be available with the normal Standard Speed and High Speed category cables.

How much to Pay?

A common misconception is that pictures can be improved by the use of expensive HDMI cables. This is not true.

HDMI is a digital format. Digital data is send along the HDMI cable to be decoded at the other end. If data is received by an HDTV an image will be displayed (and sound reproduced, picture formats identified, copy protection activated, and so on). If data is not received, no image will be displayed. If data is corrupted, error correction circuitry will attempt to reconstruct the data and make it meaningful, resulting either in the original picture, or no picture at all. At no point in this process is the HDMI cable able to present the TV with data that will produce a ‘better’ image.

In general, however, an expensive HDMI cable will be of better quality than a cheaper one. An expensive cable should have been constructed using high quality materials with better copper for lower resistance, with gold plating on terminals to reduce corrosion, with better insulating materials and with better screening to reduce interference. It’s quality will have been monitored throughout the construction process to eliminate faults as much as possible.

The cheapest cables will not have been subject to such vigorous testing and lower quality materials may have been used. Such cables may have a high failure rate and may be prone to deterioration over time.

Most HDMI cables will be located somewhere between these two extremes. So paying a higher price can be justified, as long as you don’t expect a better picture.