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HDMI cables: How much do you really need to spend?

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    HDMI cables: How much do you really need to spend?

    Issue Time:2019-06-24
    There's a certain visual irony in the fact that any discussion about cables is akin opening a can of worms. Few tech topics rile folks more than interconnects. Small wonder, given that cable prices run the gamut from bargain basement to penthouse suite, despite all doing fundamentally the same job.

    Well, we're here to tell you that your choice of HDMI really does make a difference, but maybe not in ways you might first imagine...and that 8K is about to throw another spanner in the works.

    HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) cables have been a hot potato for years now, thanks mainly to early price gouging from retailers. Keen to supplement revenue on hardware sales, unsuspecting buyers were often subjected to a hard sell in order to get overpriced cables into their shopping baskets. 

    While that particular hullabaloo has largely died away, the rollout of HDR has thrown an entirely new spotlight onto the issue of HDMI cable quality.

    So what should you look for when buying? How do specifications vary and can you really tell the difference between one HDMI cable and another?  

    The basics
    Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way: if you have a bog-standard piece of HD kit that you want to connect to an HD or Ultra HD TV, pretty much any modern (low cost) HDMI cable will do, although we have recommendations on cable design which could prove useful (stick with us). If a cable is included in the box, it’ll most likely do the job. 

    Conversely, if you own HDMI cables that date back to the early days when manufacturers were allowed to quote version numbers, such as v1.1 or v1.2, then we’d simply retire them. They will most likely be tortoise slow and unreliable. 

    Things become far more interesting with high quality AV sources. This is where you need to pay attention to branding. If you’re connecting a 4K HDR component, be it a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X, or have a UHD Blu-ray player and want to carry 2160p @60Hz with 4:4:4 colour sub-sampling (which is as good as home video gets these days, and requires 17.82Gbps), you absolutely should invest in a reputable High Speed HDMI cable. HDR and wide-colour hook-up issues over HDMI are rife, and can be difficult to troubleshoot. Often a poorly made HDMI cable is the culprit.

    It's possible to spend thousands on cables
    A High Speed HDMI (often referred to as HDMI 2.0, after the spec) cable should support a throughput of 18 Gbps. It’s essentially a conduit for whatever your hardware is routing out. The good news is that High Speed HDMI cables are common, and not necessarily expensive. 

    As an aside, an 18Gbps pipe isn’t just essential for full-fat UHD. It’s useful for Next Gen object-based audio too. The spec supports up to 32 audio channels, with sampling at 1536 kHz, twice the fidelity of HDMI 1.4 (768kHz).