How to Buy Best HDMI Cable

There are many different HDMI cables that can be bought at a variety of prices - we look at some of the guidelines for buying n HDMI cable

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If you look at any store that stock HDMI cables. Some are low cost, whereas others cost a huge amount. It can be difficult to know which cable to buy.

One of the advantages of HDMI is that it is very easy to connect different audio visual items together. The cables are bidirectional, relatively flexible and easy to use.

These days, HDMI is often the only way to make an HD-capable connection. Although most TVs still have a component input, it has virtually disappeared on Blu-ray players, and SCART cables and connectors have long gone (fortunately) - so HDMI cables are needed to make the connections.

However when buying an HDMI cable, there are a few points to note ensure that the best buy is made.

HDMI type A connector
HDMI type A connector

Buying HDMI cables: basics

The first thing to note is that HDMI is a digital standard, so unlike the older analogue standards where the cable could be argued to sometimes make a difference, the same is not true for HDMI cables.

If the connection is made properly, then there won’t be any difference between the most expensive and the least expensive cables, unless there is a real issue with one. Digital video transmission typically delivers a clean, clear picture or no picture at all. The data is digital, so the bits either get through or they don’t. If they get through it will work, or they don’t the system won’t work. There is no in-between land of poor quality cables distorting the picture.

The advice given by many is not to be lured in to buying a really high quality cable to get a better picture or better sound - it won’t happen.

Points to note when buying HDMI cables

Whilst there is normally no difference between the cheapest and the most expensive cables, there are a few points to note and take account of.

  • HDMI versions:   The main point to note is that HDMI is an evolving standard. There have been several versions including 1.0 through to 1.4 and 2.0 onwards. With each new version, new capabilities have been introduced, however if a piece of equipment has the latest version of HDMI it does not necessarily mean that it supports every feature, as it may not be relevant. Instead look at the feature list. Normally the cables state the features they can support.

    With the latest HDMI versions supporting 4K video, and this is needed, then check the cable will support a sufficiently high release. However if the cable is only required for a simple connection, then it should not matter too much.

    HDMI lead with standard type A connectors
    HDMI lead with standard type A connectors
    If you need all the latest technology and gadgetry and the capability to use the cables with new equipment, it may be worth buying cables that conform to the latest version, 2.1 and later, but if there is not issue with having all the latest capabilities, some of the older leads may suffice. There could be a cost saving, but be aware, there could be some issues if new equipment is bought that may required the latest spec.
  • Reliability:   Whilst there will be no picture quality difference between good and bad cables, there can sometimes be a difference in build quality meaning that the cables may be able to stand up to more use, although if they are plugged in and left in situ then there should be no issue. The only issue is likely to be if they flexed and moved repeatedly.

    That said, even most low cost cables are very reliable. In addition to this, there is possibly little data about reliability for particular cables, so it is really a matter of the choice of the individual. If you go too cheap, then there may be some issues, but in general they will be fine.
  • Required length:   many cables need to only connect between connectors that are a short distance away from each other. Cable lengths of 0.6, 0.9, 1.5, 1.8 metres and more are all available so there is a good choice. If the cable is to be installed and left, then there can be an argument for getting the shortest cable possible and in this way, it is not necessary to coil up the unwanted length leaving an unsightly coil. But make sure that any shorter cable will actually reach.

    To measure the length, run a length of string between the two points and leave a little extra to accommodate bend radii to make use that any shorter cable may be OK. Also remember if you want to change the set-up later, you may want a longer lead to provide for future flexibility - it is a decision that needs to be made. It can be very annoying to buy an HDMI cable and then find it is too short.
  • Longer cable runs:   Most HDMI cables are up to a couple of metres or so and this is more than adequate for most systems - in fact sometimes it may be too much and you will need to coil the cable to loose the extra length. However on some occasions it may be necessary to have longer lengths.

    Sometimes long runs are needed for HDMI cables. Cable lengths of ten metres and more are available. The simple passive cable technology will not work over a certain length. When a very long HDMI cable is needed, then it is necessary to have what is termed an active cable that has an amplifier to boost the signal and equalise it for the long run.

    Another alternative is to use an extender. An HDMI extender is a single device (or pair of devices) powered with an external power source or with the 5V DC from the HDMI source.
  • HDMI connector size / style:   There are the three main types of HDMI connector that are in use: standard, mini & micro. Although there is the dual, Type B connector, this has hardly ever been used and the Type E is for automotive applications. When buying cables, make sure that the correct connector types are chosen. The most common type if the standard to standard HDMI cable (Type A to Type A), but there are also mini-HDMI and micro-HDMI cables as well.

    HDMI standard (Type A) connector
    HDMI standard (Type A) connector
    There are also HDMI cables that transition from standard to mini-HDMI or micro-HDMI. These may be used for connecting items like camcorders, cameras and other items to a unit that uses a standard HDMI cable. Before buying an HDMI cable, check the sizes of HDMI connector for both ends.
  • Straight or right angled connectors:   One option that may be worth considering when buying an HDMI cable is whether straight or right angled connectors are needed. Cables with straight connectors are the most common, but as the cables need a certain bend circle, this can be an issue if there is not much space between the equipment and the wall or back of a cabinet, etc. Where this is an issue, consider buying a cable with a right angled connector, either at one end or both ends. It may make things a lot easier.

When buying HDMI cables, there are many choices. One of the main things is not to be drawn into buying very expensive cables on the promise of better performance. However there is a balance between basic quality, length, and general requirements.

Also there are possibilities for longer leads which may be needed in some instances. Also right angled connectors on the HDMI cable may have advantages for some A/V installations, so consider whether these might be an option to buy.

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