There are numerous articles out there stating that cheap HDMI cables are equal to any expensive HDMI cable but in truth not all HDMI cables are created equally.
HDMI is a standardisation not a form of quality control. These cables provide uncompressed transfer of digital audio and video over an Ethernet connection according to EIA/CEA-861 standards. Even though the basic components may be strikingly similar, the transmission in picture and especially sound quality can change depending on the cable.
Here is a look at what separates a cheap cable from an expensive one and what to look for when buying HDMI cables.
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HDMI cable prices usually reflect the amount of precious metals used in the construction of the cable. The clarity of sound transmission is directly determined by the conductivity of the metal used on the connection points and by solid core construction using high grade metals.
Gold is the most conductive of the precious metals followed by silver and then copper. Electrical resistance is influenced by both the material, the amount of impurities in the conducting metals used and the length and thickness of the wire. For example, electrical resistance will be much greater in a long thin copper wire than in a short fat copper wire and the resistance in a gold wire will be significantly less than in a wire made with an alloy full of impurities. The molecular structure of precious metals makes them excellent conductors. Gold, for example, forms a type of web at the atomic level called a densely packed iconic lattice with delocalized electrons. This atomic structure is what allows the electrons to freely disassociate and carry current. Impurities disrupt the lattice at a fundamental level and increase resistance in the transmission of electrical current.
Ultra expensive HDMI cables can cost upwards of £500. These cables use gold throughout the construction and while part of the cost is often the branding of the cable, there are tangible costs involved in making this type of cable. Professionals and someone looking to round out a heavenly home theatre setup may find these cables are exactly the right purchase. HDMI itself is a standardisation that is exceptionally fast and accurate. Any HDMI cable that is sold as a “Hi Speed” HDMI cable rather than a “Standard” HDMI cable must transmit 1080p for video transmission. However, there are many high end cables that far exceed this standardisation. HDMI version 1.3 added lossless audio for both DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD. HDMI 1.4 cables include Audio Return Channel (ARC) that allows the transmission of audio upstream to a receiver. ARC is common in medium to high grade cables. Moreover, the design of high end cables often includes Bit Error Rate testing and quality control. Everything from the quality of the metal alloys used to the amount and types of insulation used to reduce interference can increase the cost of a cable.
Below gold-plated cables there are a variety of cables that primarily use silver at the connection points. While not quiet as good as gold, silver is also an excellent conductor and most of the medium range cables use silver or a combination of silver and gold at the connection points to ensure clarity. Ugly Cable from Australia, Viablue from Germany, Rocketfish and Monster are all excellent alternatives to ultra-expensive cables.
Then there are the rest. Most of the cheap HDMI cables use little to no precious metals in the construction of the cable or on the connectors. This absence, particularly on the connectors, can translate into a transmission that ranges from passable to pass-up-able. The good news is that the cables are cheap enough that switching them out isn’t a disaster.
Quality Plastic and Insulation, HDMI Cable’s Longevity Factor
How many people out there have white faded bits on their car? Anyone? Plastics are particularly susceptible to air and sunlight. Most plastics quickly degrade even without being exposed to sunlight. Higher quality plastics and rubber used in the construction of HDMI cables will remain flexible for years. The thickness of the plastic used to insulate the wires as well as how well the plastic is joined to the mental connectors are both things to look for in HDMI cable construction. In addition, really stiff cables can be difficult to work with while cables that bend too readily are prime candidates for broken-necks in the future.
Usage Should Influence HDMI Cable Purchases
Both the quality of the systems in use and the amount of wear and tear the cables will see determines the quality of cables that a person should buy. In professional settings where cables are constantly being plugged and unplugged a high quality cable is a must. Most home theatre systems are well served by medium grade cables or even by their cheaper peers. Before choosing a cable also take into account accessibility for replacement. Changing cables can be easy or a 5-hour nightmare depending on how the system is set up.