Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Are Expensive HDMI Cables Worth It?

You bought a new LCD TV, AV System and well probably a PS3. You spent about RM 5000-6000 (that's about USD 1500-3000), so the sales guy approaches and persuades you to buy a branded HDMI cable which cost about RM300 ++ (Usd 50-100). Then you start to think, "I spent so much already, might as well spent a few more hundred to get a premium grade cable?"

STOP! For normal Home A/V use where most of your devices are close to each other, cheap HDMI cables is usually sufficient enough. Quality and material build may be critical for analog cables for analog speakers (those copper ones with the split red and black cable), they are not important at all for a HDMI cable. They do not affect the quality of the display and sound being projected by your TV and AV System.

Why? Unlike analog cables, HDMI carries digital signals which consists of 1's and 0's. This means its either the devices receives the signal successfully or not. If it does, perfect. If it doesn't you'll see distortion and rubbish on your screen because the frame is corrupted. This means as long your cable is able to transmit the signals from your source to your TV, your cable is fine, even if its made of iron!

Another thing that confuses consumers is the various versions of HDMI. The sales guy might tell you that you need to replace your HDMI 1.2 compliant cable with a HDMI 1.3 one if your TV is HDMI 1.3 in order to get full utilization of the higher bandwidth, speed and resolution. Again, this is just another marketing talk. Physically, from the birth of HDMI up to HDMI 1.3, there is no difference made to the cables. In fact, HDMI 1.0 cables were already "prepared" to handle future enhancements without the need to alter the cable. Perhaps for HDMI 1.4, you might need to get new cables due to the slight alteration in the cable characteristics, but that's in the future. There's no HDMI 1.4 devices in the market yet anyway.

The only time when you really need to purchase these premium cables is when distance is an issue. If the cable length is only 3-6 feet in length, the cheap cables will do. However, the length exceeds that, you may need to consider those premium cables. Due the strict timing in data transmission, the cable have to be robust enough to transmit those gigantic bursts of data, especially across long distances. This is where the build and material quality of those premium cables shine. This is also the reason as why there are specific length when you look at premium HDMI cables, and they must never be altered after production. This means you can't cut a cable to be shorter and terminate it yourself. You'll end up burning your cash in the end.

If premium cables are still the way to go, I'll recommend Monster. If you are looking for cheap, affordable ones and living in the US, check out Optimization World. They have pretty cheap cables with free shipping.

The AudioHolic guys also did testing on various HDMI cables here. If you're interested, go have a look. You'll see that at 6 feet, all the cheap cables passed.

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