With every new home cinema system we are always on the lookout for equipment that better suits our needs with the least money possible. We always want the latest technologies but we don’t want to pay a fortune to have them. This means that some times we are cutting corners to be able to bring the budget in manageable levels. In order to do this we usually buy the cheapest cables we find for the job. Is this the way to go? Is there any need to buy this ultra expensive HDMI cable or a 5 dollar one can do the job just as good? So this is what we will find out in this article. A question that people tend to pay little attention to. What HDMI cable to buy?
First of all in order to understand what cable to choose we need to understand the current technologies in order to determine what is needed. Then we will look at different cables and scale our needs to find the one that will be able to do the job we want.
With the arrival of HDTVs there was a need for a new connection cable as the ones we were using until now in our devices (dvd players, VHS) were not enough any more to transfer the necessary information. So we were introduced to a new cable called HDMI that was capable of transmitting digital information in contrast to the older cables that were using analogue signals. Now I have read a lot of articles that say that it doesn’t matter what HDMI cable you should buy as all the data are in digital form, not analogue, so it doesn’t matter if you would buy a cheap or expensive cable. The result would be the same.
In the early days of HDTVs this was true as even the most cheap HDMI cables were more than enough to carry the necessary digital information. But now with the arrival of 4K UHD and HDR the bandwidth needs have increased and the same thinking doesn’t apply any more.
In the beginning HDMI cable manufacturers were using the HDMI version in their packaging to identify the kind of cable necessary. When bandwidth needs increases a lot of manufacturers stopped using the HDMI version in their packaging and instead starting advertising the maximum bandwidth the cable could support. The most recent development came from the creators of the HDMI technology that created the Premium HDMI Cable Certification Program. This programs ensures that each cable that comes with the programs stamp supports the full 18Gbps bandwidth from the HDMI 2.0b specification plus an EMI test to ensure cables minimize interference with wireless signals.
The program was created in order to give consumers confidence when purchasing new HDMI cables for their 4K/UltraHD products that may include features such as 4K@60Hz, BT.2020 and HDR. Participating HDMI Adopters can promote their ATC-tested High Speed HDMI Cables as Premium High Speed HDMI Cables or Premium High Speed HDMI Cables with Ethernet using a unique anti-counterfeiting authentication label on their products.
But instead of this program to help clear things, matters has gotten worse as nowadays (2018 at the moment this article was written) manufacturers are still using all three ways to advertise their cables and I have seen in shops cables being advertised both with their HDMI version as well as their bandwidth or HDMI Premium stamp. And for the techies it may be easy to find what they need after some research by for the mainstream consumer they have to rely on the mercy of the seller to guide them through all this confusion.
Analyzing HDMI versions
HDMI cables are distinguished by their version with the first one being 1.0. Nowadays even the cheapest cables are version 1.4 and up. I haven’t seen in the market older versions than this so the chances someone trying to sell you one of the older ones are minimal but you should always keep your eyes open just in case. With version 1.4 the cables were more than enough to carry all the information needed if you have a Full HDTV. They can even carry 4K signals but not all instances as you will be able to see on the table provided in the article below. So if Full HD is what you have and don’t care for anything else most cables in the market will do for you even the cheapest ones. Just be careful to be version 1.4 at least.
Now if you are interested in 4K then this is were it becomes tricky and you should be extra careful of what you choose. The lowest version that supports 4K video is version 1.4. If your TV is one of the early versions that support 4K but doesn’t support HDR then even the old HDMI 1.4 cables are enough because they can transfer 4K resolution up to 30Hz. But if you TV is of year 2015 or later then it may support 4K resolution as well as HDR. If it does then you should be extra careful of the HDMI cables you choose. Because you will need the latest 2.0a HDMI cable that support bandwidth up to 18 GBps in order to be able to pass the necessary information in order for your TV to display HDR. With anything less you may have problems making your home cinema work incorrectly.
Now there is no visual information on the HDMI cables themselves to give you an indication of what version they are. That’s why you should rely on the manufacturer’s specifications for that. Now some cheap HDMI cables in order to sell they don’t say what version they are. They may just refer to them as HDMI High Speed cables. This is a very vague description and better to avoid these as you cannot know for sure what these cables are. In the table above you can find a summary of all the HDMI versions and what technologies they support in order to give a better idea of what you need to buy.
In the other hand if a cable is only advertising it’s bandwidth then it is also a bit unclear of it’s capabilities even if it gives you a small idea of how good it is. Assuming for example that a cable is advertised as a 18 Gbps bandwidth cable then it will probably support the latest protocol 4K@60Hz, BT.2020 and HDR. Last but not least if a cable has the Premium HDMI Cable Certification stamp then this is the only safe way to know that the cable supports the latest technologies.
From the above you understand that there is no clear cut way on how HDMI certification is advertised. If you want to be sure about the quality you are getting then we suggest you the following simple steps. If you want the latest technologies supported then go for a cable that has the Premium HDMI Cable Certification stamp. This ensures you get the latest in HDMI technology. If you cannot find a cable like this then go for a cable that has the HDMI version on the package ensuring this is HDMI ver. 2.0a in order to support HDR. If this is also not an option then go for a cable that shows the bandwidth of the cable ensuring it says at least 18 Gbps that will give you the biggest chances that it will support the latest protocols.
As a side note we would suggest you to avoid cables that simply write High Speed because this tells you nothing of the cable capabilities and could very well be an older HDMI version that could potentially create you problems.
So what cable to choose…
Having said all the above we are are going to give you two suggestions.
AmazonBasics High-Speed HDMI Cable
If all you need is resolutions up to 4K but without HDR then AmazonBasics High-Speed HDMI Cable is a perfectly fine cable. It may even support HDR but since there are reports that say it didn’t work with HDR in some instances I am not going to suggest it for that. But for Full HD or for 4K viewing without HDR it is more than enough and you don’t need to pay a high price for it.
Cheapest place to buy:
SecurOMax HDMI 2.0 Cable
If you need a cable that will ensure you get the full 4K signal but will also be sure to support HDR then we suggest you go for the SecurOMax HDMI 2.0 cable. This is a just a bit more expensive that the AmazonBasics one but with this one you are sure you are fully covered for today’s technologies and it supports HDR also among all the other technologies.
Cheapest place to buy:
Ending this article we would like to emphasize how important it is to always check the cables you buy. Either you get the ones we suggested or different ones, you should check the manufacturer’s specifications to see if they support your needs and always look exactly to see what version they are. Sellers will always find cool names to sell you anything like High speed or Premium cables but these names are not giving you any information that you need and the best way to combat this is to be informed. This is the only way to make your money worth.