Why You Should Never Spend More Than $10 On An HDMI Cable

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To get the best out of your HD equipment, be it a nice widescreen television, a Blu-ray player, a PS3, or an HD streaming set-top box, you need at least one HDMI cable. Or more than likely, several HDMI cables. The thing is the pricing of HDMI cables varies wildly, from a few cents on one from the likes of Amazon to $100 or more from big-box retailers and ’boutique’ manufacturers.

Why does the pricing vary so wildly? And is there any connection between the price paid and the quality of the product? If you’ve read the title then you’ll already know the answers to these questions. And if you have already paid more than $10 for an HDMI cable then be prepared to find out just why you’re a bit of an idiot. Or very gullible. Or just easily swayed by pushy sales assistants.

What Is HDMI?

Let’s begin with the basics…

The acronym HDMI stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface. It’s the digital upgrade from analog cables of old such as RF and SCART. The first big consumer push for HDMI was when HD television sets started gaining popularity. Since then it has become the standard method of connecting many forms of digital equipment, from digital cameras to smartphones, from Blu-ray players to games consoles.

HDMI is an ever-evolving standard, with new specifications released as and when needed to support new technologies. Many people will own HDMI 1.3 cables which don’t support the integrated Ethernet channel or 3D. The latest specification (at the time of writing) is HDMI 1.4b, so if you want to future-proof your digital connections as much as possible these are what you should currently be looking to buy.

Just don’t spend more than $10 on an HDMI cable. Ever. If you do then you’ve been robbed, quite frankly.

Standard & Digital

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As previously noted, HDMI is a standard. This means any and all HDMI cables essentially do the same job, regardless of cost. If the box says an HDMI cable is 1.3a then it meets the specifications that all HDMI 1.3a cables meet. And it doesn’t matter whether it costs $1, $100, or even $1,000 (follow the link, seriously).

As previously noted, HDMI is also digital. The signal is delivered between the two devices connected via an HDMI cable in a digital format made up one ones and zeros. This means that assuming an HDMI cable isn’t flawed from the outset it will deliver whatever is passed through it error-free and without degradation. If it is flawed from the outset then it will be more from being in a bad batch than being manufactured on the cheap.

Rip-Off Merchants

Those manufacturers producing the high-end (read expensive) HDMI cables are, in my opinion, nothing more than rip-off merchants. There are companies whose whole reason for being are to sell these overly-expensive HDMI cables. They produce ’boutique’ products, apparently. Although I’m not sure what’s so boutique about cables rolling off a continuous production line.

The retailers who try and sell these wares to consumers because of the high margins involved are also rip-off merchants. They prey on the vulnerable, the tech unsavvy, the nOObs, and those who believe whatever sales patter they have rammed down their throats. And when a salesperson is looking at adding a few dollars to his or her paycheck with commission they’ll pull out all the stops to secure a sale.

Both of these remind me of the tonic sellers of the Wild West. They will talk you into handing over your cash, promise you the earth, and just hope you never discover the truth.

Paying A Premium

You may imagine there is a reason to pay the premium being charged here. But there really isn’t. There is no discernible difference in what the lowest-priced HDMI cable you can buy can do and what the highest-priced HDMI cable can do. Both deliver whatever is fed in one end and back out the other end. And (especially over short distances) the variation in price will make no difference to anyone but the most-ardent audio/visual geeks.

In terms of build quality there may well be some differences, so the $100 cable may last longer. But how often do HDMI cables break anyway? And if a cheap one does break then you can replace it by spending just a few dollars. If an expensive one breaks then that’s another $100 down the drain. With nothing to show for it.

Buying cheap also means you can upgrade to the newest specifications as and when needed without breaking the bank.

Conclusions

If you spend more than $10 on an HDMI cable then you need your head examining. And no argument can suggest otherwise. You’re also the victim of companies, retailers, and salesman taking advantage of people not knowing about an emerging technology. So you’re a fool I actually have some sympathy for.

This opens up a wider point that should see people educating themselves before heading out to buy whatever new gadget or piece of consumer technology they fancy splashing the cash on this month.

Do some research online, ask friends and family for opinions, and find out what your options are. Because if you don’t, you’ll end up not only wasting money but being called names by some random guy on the Internet. And surely no one wants to suffer that ignominy.

Image Credits: Images Money, Anonymous, Chris McClanahan, Laura Lewis, 401K

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Comments (48)
  • Stan

    As a technical person I’m not even going to bother reading the whole article.
    I’ll only say that HDMI cables work the same way – they do transmit HDMI signal but depending on the materials they’re made of there’s certain signal loss with the distance the signal goes.
    In other words HDMI signal becomes weaker the further it goes over HDMI cable. Hence you cannot expect a cheap cable to be capable of transmitting HDMI signal all the way to 20 metres.
    It’s all to do with shielding and bandwidth.
    In addition, you might want to invest in a high speed HDMI cable with Ethernet HDMI 2.0 compliant. (make sure it’s HDCP compatible too)

    Regards,

    Stan

  • Sam Jones

    Ignorance by itself is bliss, but combined with righteousness its dangerous. There is a fundamental flaw in this article: “The signal is delivered between the two devices connected via an HDMI cable in a digital format made up one ones and zeros”. No the signal does not travel in ones and zeros, thats beyond ignorant to be under that presumption. If you could do that you would solve all of worlds problems and the hunt for a superconductor would be over. It travels like it always has as electrical current and is susceptible to all the same degradation as any other cable. In fact it is more vulnerable than the older cables, thus the limitation in length, unlike the older connectors.

    Yes digital has a way of correcting for what is ‘dropped’, however, the correction itself is not perfect. So the better the cable, in terms of shielding, resistance and capacitance the less correction is needed, thus better performance

    • Tina

      Sam,

      You are of course right, digital signals are delivered as electrical current or voltage. The voltage levels represent the digital logic, which is made up of ones and zeros and nothing more. So the recipient of the signal, e.g. a TV, interprets the voltage levels into ones and zeros, thus translating the signal back into actual data, e.g. a video.

      Personally, I don’t see a fundamental flaw at the basis of this article. Dave merely made a simplification. His point is that – for the average user – an expensive cable doesn’t bring any significant benefits because it does the exact same thing as a cheap cable, which is transmit the signal.

      Of course you are right again when you say that more expensive cables probably offer better insulation to shield the signal and protect it from degradation as it travels through the cable. However, this flaw in cheaper cables is hardly recognized by the average user.

      It’s like comparing $10 and $200 headphones. The average user is not an audiophile and can’t appreciate the subtle differences; provided they listen to an audio format that offers the full spectrum in the first place, which mp3 does not.

      So taken together, someone who invests a substantial amount of money into his enormously sized LED or plasma TV and wants to watch high quality videos, should probably invest in a proper cable. But someone who struggles to afford a decent TFT can put their mind at rest and go with a cheap cable. And I would guess that this applies to most of us.

    • Sam Jones

      Tina you should have written the article; the way you say it is the right way. The way this article says it is: (I paraphrase) ‘you have to be plenty stupid to believe anything other than 1’s and 0’s flow through the wire- thus making it fool proof’ there is even visual aid of both a stupid person and digits.There lies the problem; my point is that you have to be totally brainwashed by what you read to believe that digits flow through wires, moreover that the HDMI cable is any different from any other cable. ITS NOT!

      This article is grossly misleading because it claims that the reason there is no difference between hdmi cable performance is because the signal travels digitally (lol) and further states that its either right or you get nothing at all. It makes bold, authoritative, and blanket statements on erroneous facts. It lumps users of “nice widescreens televisions” and streaming devices in one breath. The Title of the article claims NEVER spend more than $10. I wonder how people would interpret this article if they were properly taught that it makes no difference when you are using it in a non critical application- because there is a error-correction unit built in the receiving unit, which resolves most errors; but it has its limits. The easiest test that proves its limitations is when the cable gets longer; go past a certain length and the error correction cannot keep up. Also true in an extremely noisy environment. I think people would come to more conclusions more suitable for their environment.

    • Tina

      Sam,

      You must be a scientist or at least you think like one. :)

      Did you ever hear of Randy Olson? He is a former professor for marine biology who earned his PhD at Harvard and dropped his professorship to become a rather successful film director.

      Anyhow, I recommend you to read his book ‘Don’t Be Such a Scientist’. I’m a scientist (not working as one anymore, but still at heart) and I had to read the book twice because it is so good and made me understand so many things about communication in science vs. the real world.

      Why am I telling you? Well, the book will help you understand why often things are better expressed in oversimplified ways, rather than in scientifically correct ways. The idea is to reach a certain (broad) audience and too many details are just confusing. It’s annoying for scientists or in this specific case technology geeks, but it helps the majority of people understand the key message. The details don’t really matter.

    • Sam Jones

      Essential info:Is there a difference between HDMI cable quality? Especially between a $10 and $30 cable?
      Sure there is; The HDMI standards group them in category 1 and 2. Category 2 is heavier gauge and better construction, and performance. A category 1 cable can perform as good as category 2 in some instances, but it is not constructed or guaranteed to so so, category 2 is. A $10 cable which has to be made for $3, and quality compromised. So it may perform the same on day one, but its non-oxygen free copper, cheap gold plating, very poor shielding, will all fade quickly.

    • Sam Jones

      Funny you should write that. That is exactly what this article fails to do. Any authority (or scientist if you like) should oversimplify for the sake of universal comprehension. Dave has hilariously oversimplified a fundamental lack of understanding. Any fool can do that. However, even fools have merit when you consider the following: Who is the real fool, one that believes the common stone he possesses to be a precious stone, or the one that tries to convince him no stone should cost more than $10.

    • Dave Parrack

      Those things you mention may make a small difference, but they do not justify the exorbitant prices. The aim of this article was to stop people from being ripped off because normal people who have better things to do than study black levels and all that BS will be fine with the cheapest HDMI cable they can buy.

    • Sam Jones

      p.s. you would also be ripping off those who had paid good money for hdmi by robbing them of their joy.
      I dont know if there is any difference between hdmi cables, I came here to find out. But when I read your theory, I could not believe how stupid folks can be to not at least tell you that digits do not travel down wires.
      I pay some attention to the credibility of folks who make recommendations. I would be a right idiot for getting suggestions for bacon from a muslim.

    • Sam Jones

      Please consider the value of our discussion. If you are wrong, its you that is ripping people off by advising them to buy Chinese junk that wont allow them get the full potential out of their $2000 TV.

    • Sam Jones

      My point is: your argument is nonexistent, because you grotesquely have the fundamental facts wrong. Your case is entirely based on the premise that 1’s and 0’s flow through the wire. You even have a picture of it above- its hilarious. The guys who believe their $1000 cable will cook dinner for them, are closer to reality than you.

      We should be questioning your competence to make the distinction. Do you believe there is a difference between a $1 rca cable and one that cost $50?

    • Dave Parrack

      The pictures are representative and not meant to be taken literally. I stand by what I said. I believe there is no reason to spend more than $10 on an HDMI cable. You’re entitled to believe differently. Thanks for commenting.

  • Vic Allen

    your stupid & wrong….probacly blind

    • wjw

      come on vic, we know you were tricked into spending all that money on those cables, but a lot of other idi..sorry people did the same..no point in taking it out on dave…lol

    • vic

      I know … I was a bit harsh…Dave I apologize….. because your stupid & probably blind. No really, compare them ,buy a cheap cable & buy one with lets say 5%silver in it. If you then can’t see the difference I’d be amazed. But that woulnd’t be the first time.
      Some people think LED TV’s look better than Plasma….. ?

    • Dave Parrack

      Please, fill me in as to why I’m wrong. And stupid. And probably blind. I’m all ears. But not eyes, obviously.

  • Richard

    Great article. Thanks.

    • TinKicker

      Yeah, great article! Everybody just go to Monoprice (or at least start your price comparisons there), and be done with it. I’ve had GREAT luck with their stuff, and it’s CHEAP :)

    • Dave Parrack

      No problem, Richard. I hope it helps.

  • Matthew Leingang

    Interesting article.  I don’t quite understand how the fact that the signal is transmitted digitally implies that it’s guaranteed to be an error-free transmission, though.  And it seems like a cable that sells for cheap is more likely to be bad, no? Has anyone run side-by-side tests of cheap vs expensive cables?  That would be some good research.

    • Dave Parrack

      The signal is made up of 1’s and 0’s. Whatever enters at one end of the cable will come out the other. If if doesn’t then you get no picture at all and you have a faulty cable. Paying more for analog cables made some sense, but it doesn’t for digital.

      I’ve seen numerous tests online comparing the two. There is no discernible difference.

    • Sam Jones

      Hello Dave, have you had a chance to look into your mistake. Your whole argument is based on sheer stupidity that the signal is made up of 1?s and 0?s. Thats as ridiculous as believing voice travels down a phone line. ONLY electricity travels down electronic wires. The exception being fiber optic cable.

      And no what goes in one end is NEVER what exactly comes out the other. In any cable. And no, it functions just fine when the output is different than the input. Your understanding of digital is also wrong.

    • Dave Parrack

      The fact remains only A/V-philes will be able to tell the difference. Normal people do not need to spend more than $10 on an HDMI cable.

    • Sam Jones

      Not true at all. Its precisely that ill-informed mindset that has kept a perfect $50 cable from the market. They figure idiots will be in 2 camps, either those who feel that a cable should or could cost $1000 and then the others who think anything over $10 is a waste.

      The word digital is like the word Turbo use to be in the 80’s. They would put it on everything and folks would foolishly believe it solved all the problems. Remember turbo sunglasses. Cables are still analog, putting a source of noise next to one will quickly show you if they make a difference.

      The best indicator however is that, you cannot have long distance runs of HDMI. Why not if cable does not make a difference?

    • Village Idiot

      That’s right because it’s digital not analogue. That HDMI cable will either work or it won’t. With VGA cables, distance can contribute to signal degradation because they are analogue. Not so with digital such as HDMI and DVI.

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.