One of the questions I get asked a lot is “are cheap HDMI cables worth it?” and I’m not surprised there’s so much confusion.
I was at an electronics store recently and saw a wall of HDMI cables.
There were cheap HDMI cables for a few bucks to pricier options claiming to be the best HDMI cable around with a list of features and claims of the improved picture quality.
So in this world of expensive HDMI cables, are cheap HDMI cables worth it? How much should a HDMI cable cost? Will cheaping out on this part of your home theatre setup cause problems? Keep reading to find out!
What is a HDMI Cable?
Let’s start with the basics.
HDMI stands for High Definition Multimedia Interface. It was designed to carry digital audio and video signals through a single connector.
HDMI stands for High Definition Multimedia Interface
This greatly simplified media setup – reducing a tangle of audio and video cables to a single HDMI cable. I personally celebrated as my home theatre setup suddenly got a whole lot neater!
Whilst there’s a lot more info over at Wikipedia on HDMI, the key thing we’re interested in is that HDMI is a digital connection.
With a digital connection, you’ll either get a perfect image if the cable transmits the data or nothing at all.
So as long as that cheap HDMI cable transmits the signal fine (and it almost definitely will), you’ll get the same audio and video quality as more expensive HDMI cables.
This is different to analog technologies such as composite video where poor quality cables introduced issues such as ghosting or static.
Types of HDMI Cables
There’s really only two types of HDMI cables (Four if you count the Ethernet variants)
- High speed (with/without Ethernet)
- Standard speed (with/without Ethernet)
Standard speed cables handle 1080i signals though this is low by today’s standards.
High speed HDMI cables are required for 1080p and above so this is what you should be buying. Ethernet over HDMI isn’t used widely so I wouldn’t pay extra for cables that support it but most will have it anyway.
High speed HDMI cables are required for 1080p and above
Keep in mind that additional features such as 3D, Audio Return Channel (ARC) and CEC have been added to later HDMI versions but these don’t require special cables, despite what companies tell you.
So Will Any Cheap HDMI Cable Do?
Essentially yes, but there are some exceptions. For short lengths, pretty much any HDMI cable will do the job. You’ll get the same crystal clear audio and video for a fraction of the cost.
The main issue with cheap HDMI cables is how long they can be before you start experiencing issues. The longer the cable, the greater chance errors will occur in the signal.
The main issue with cheap HDMI cables is how long they can go
Better quality HDMI cables have features to minimize this loss. This may include additional shielding, thicker cables or use additional circuitry (called active HDMI cables) to boost the signal.
That said, for standard distances (say under 5m/16ft), a $6 HDMI Cable will provide the same audio and video quality as that $1500 HDMI Cable I mentioned before.
With longer HDMI cables, you might see some issues with cheap cables. However, most people won’t use cables this long. If you need to, I’d recommend you spend a bit more and grab an active HDMI cable like this one.
How Much Should a HDMI Cable Cost?
As a general rule of thumb, I wouldn’t pay more than $10 for a high speed HDMI cable. I’ve used plenty that have cost under $5 and they’ve been perfectly fine.
Obviously, if you’re wanting an active HDMI cable or specific features then you’ll need to up your budget.
Where to Buy Cheap HDMI cables
Now you know that expensive HDMI cables won’t give you better audio or video quality than cheap cables.
So the question is “where to buy cheap HDMI cables?”.
I typically buy my HDMI cables from a number of sources:
The Amazon Basics Range of HDMI cables are excellent. Not only are they backed by a lifetime warranty, they’re cheap and durable.
If you’re wanting cheap HDMI cables, I’d check out Amazon’s first.
There’s no shortage of HDMI cable sellers on eBay. However, you’ll need to be a bit cautious as some sellers may have sub-par cables. That said, I’ve bought HDMI cables for $1 and they’ve worked fine.
Monoprice is slightly more expensive for basic HDMI cables. However, if you’re wanting an long HDMI cable, I’d recommend their active HDMI cables featuring Redmere technology to reduce the chance of issues for long HDMI cable runs.
It’s pricier than a standard HDMI cable, but if you need to run long HDMI cables (for example, from your amplifier to your projector), I’d recommend you spend more for an active cable to minimize the chance of issues.
Have you bought an expensive HDMI cable? Ever had issues with cheap HDMI cables? Let me know in the comments!