Why all HDMI cables are the same: part 2

Not so long ago, we wrote a piece provocatively titled "Why all HDMI cables are the same". There was a ruckus, which we expected.

But the post also generated some great questions. So let's take a look at some of the more common and persistent questions from the initial article, and flush some more of the myths surrounding the decidedly-not-magic HDMI cable down the drain.

Is it true that all HDMI cables are the same?

Forgive us our bit of sensationalism in the title. Of course, two cables from different manufacturers are likely to be physically different, although every branded or no-name HDMI cable comes from only a handful of Chinese manufacturers. The picture quality, though, is going to be the same. Because of how the HDMI technology works, it's not possible for the cable to do anything to the picture but make it disappear.

If the cable is defective, you're likely to get no picture or "sparkles", which look like white dots or snow. If you get this, return the cable; it's broken. If you're getting an image, it's exactly what your Blu-ray player, Foxtel box or free-to-air receiver is sending, 100 per cent.

If you think you're seeing sparkles, there are a whole bunch of images showing sparkles in the original article.

I need to run 30m of HDMI cable through my walls to a TV in my bedroom. Are you really saying I only have to spend $50?

Well ... sort of. We did some testing on cheap, long HDMI cables. The more expensive cables were more likely to transmit the data over long runs with a wide range of equipment.

Before a bunch of you scream "Ha! See!" and chuck your mac and cheese at the PC, let us explain. When the cheaper cables worked, they looked exactly the same as the expensive cables. It's just that the expensive cables were more likely to transmit all the data. Some of the cheap cables would either have sparkles or not have any picture at all. Sometimes, they would work with some equipment, but not with others — for example, with one TV, but not another, or from one Blu-ray player but not another.

Regardless of what you choose, it is vital to test the cable before you run it through walls. Even if you do this, if you change equipment (TV, receiver, Blu-ray player, whatever), the cable may not work.

One possible trick, though, is if you're only running cable TV or free-to-air TV , you're only sending 1080i max. All of the cables we tested could handle 1080i easily. Even 1080p/24 is easily transmittable. It's 1080p/50 that's tricky. Thankfully, there are very few sources that are 1080p/50 — games, really, and some concert Blu-rays.

Whenever I look at HDMI cables at a store, they list data rates like "15Gbps". What is the difference between these data rates? Will I notice it when using my Xbox 360 or PS3?

There are four types of HDMI cables for the home, and only four types:

  • High speed (Category 2)
  • Standard speed (Category 1)
  • High speed (Category 2) with Ethernet
  • Standard speed (Category 1) with Ethernet.

Standard-speed HDMI cables are rated up to 1080i. They might do more than this, but they're just rated for 1080i. High-speed HDMI cables are rated well above 1080p, which is the maximum possible resolution from your Xbox 360 or PS3.

Even 3D doesn't require more than what's possible over a cheap high-speed HDMI cable. You can buy a high-speed HDMI cable for a couple of dollars, so just buy that and don't worry about the rest.

You're an idiot!

You have no idea.

I bought an (insert expensive brand name here) HDMI cable, compared it to the one I got for free with my DVD/Blu-ray player and there was a huge difference. You're an idiot.

Do you know that last guy? Interestingly, we also got letters saying the exact opposite, that they bought a better cable, saw no difference, so they returned it. There are two potential possibilities at play here.

The first is flawed testing. We recently did an article about the problem with A/B comparisons. If your testing methodology is flawed, you can get all sorts of weird results. Without being in the room, we don't know what you saw or how you tested it. Maybe you did see something, but it wasn't the cable.

There's also the problem of expectation. Having just blown $100+ on something, most people want it to work, so they'll see what they want to see. We all do this. The virulence of some of the comments on the original article was hardly surprising. People don't like being told they're wrong or got ripped off.

I was told I needed a special HDMI cable for my new 200Hz LCD TV to work.

Never buy from that store again. You were lied to, either maliciously or by someone who has no idea what they're doing. Either way, avoid them. The maximum resolution possible from any consumer equipment is 1080p/50 (which, as mentioned above, is rare). That 1080p/50 is converted by the TV internally to 100Hz, 200Hz or whatever. All that's ever transmitted over HDMI is 1080p/50 from your Blu-ray player or 1080i from your cable/free-to-air/PVR box.

In theory, if you have a home theatre PC, it could output more than 1080p/50, and a high-speed HDMI cable could transmit that higher resolution and frame rate to the TV. But why would you want to? The TV, if it accepts that higher rate (it probably won't) will just convert it back down to 1080p/50 and then up again to 200Hz.

All HDMI cables can handle 1080i. High-speed (Category 2) cables are rated up to 4096x2160 (or 4K) at a progressive 24 frames per second. In other words, even if you buy one of Sony's new 4K projectors for US$25,000, your $5 high-speed HDMI cable is rated to carry all that resolution.

Got more questions for Geoff? Feel free to message him on Twitter @TechWriterGeoff.


Add Your Comment 13

Post comment as

80slibertine posted a comment   

The only problem I've had is that cheaper cables, whilst giving the same picture quality as the higher priced, tend to break or malfunction over a period of time due to 'wear and tear' compared to the higher priced cables. If you drop, lose or break lots of things like me the higher priced option may provide more durability.


BenS9 posted a comment   

Ok, as a veteran of the commercial AV industry I use HDMI every day, and here's how it goes. The HDMI standard ( and that's really the crux of it) specifies that there needs to be guaranteed signal transmission over cabling up to 5m. Anything over that and technically you're on your own. Yes, there are cables on the market that are longer than that, I've seen them up to 30m but they may or may not work, depending on both your source device and your display. But here's where it gets interesting. Over any specified distance greater than 10m, the cabling DOES become a factor, mostly because of the manufacturing standards. I've seen one brand of cable flake out and hit the digital cliff at 10m and another stay rock solid using the same devices over 20m of cable.So at the end of the day, it depends on the application. From your Blu-ray to your LCD/plasma the cable will pretty much always work. If you don't have the image, it's probably not the cable. But if you have to go longer than the 5m maximum specified then it pays to go after reputable brands, look at manufacturers liks Extron, Kramer and Lindy. You won't find them in Dickies or JB, but if you Google, you will find them easy enough.


Maverick_John posted a comment   

WTF people seriously said you guys were idiots...!!! bloody brainless fools, if they only know how much money they wasted on their expensive rubbish..
I've dealt with home technology personally for 20 years. All my HDMI are cheap 10 dollar cables... The only thing you ever upgrade for cables is your speaker cables (instead of the stock standard given in your receiver sound system) and a decent optical cable.


Qwerty posted a comment   

Hi I work at,a leading australian electronic retailer and on a purely personal level we refuse to stock monster cables! i feel that it serves no pupose to fool customers into buying a $500 32" lcd a cheap hdmi dvd & a @#$@$# $200 cable....shame harvey norman shame!what a joke, that is not being anyway helpful to anyone but yourself. And I am thrilled at this article! well done


JohnH7 posted a comment   

Some of the big, reputable mobs are the worst offenders with this. Especially the more specialised AV ones and extra especially when they're dealing with older, repeat customers who knew the value of good cabling back in the day. I've just kept my mouth shut more than once - they were happy so I just suggesting ringing me next time they're looking to buy AV equipment.

Good on you guys for talking about this. I hate the term but the kinds of people who come to sites like this are probably the technology "opinion leaders" within their circles of friends and families. It's like our duty to spread the good (or bad) word.


eDDie posted a comment   

That 200hz comment reminds me of my friends saying they get more framerated in wow then I do, I think the get like 100 and I get 80. THe don't listen when I tell them the framrate of most moniters are only 60hz and that it doesn't matter. -___-


BillWindows posted a comment   

Most HDMI cables, like you said, do the same job. Monster Cables are another money spinner for the companies that make them, they bring absolutely nothing to the table. The only thing these supposed high end cables do is bring revenue into the companies producing them.

Sponsored Links

Recently Viewed Products