What Makes a Good HDMI Cable?

BY: Shane Weaver

HDMI cables and money

So you just bought a brand new TV/computing machine and you wanna watch/play your favorite Blu-ray/video game with your best friend/sad and alone. You'll need an HDMI cable! But jeez, there's so many, amirite? Buying an HDMI cable is a lot like buying a car. Except usually, people have a vague idea of what they want in a car: something sporty, or something with good gas mileage, or something that can carry all their golf bags or groceries or children, whatever. So maybe it's nothing like buying a car. What I meant was, there are a whole lot of options when looking for an HDMI cable, from the $6.99 Quest to the $10,000 cable for the severe audiophiles, and to the uninformed it can be difficult and overwhelming to try and figure out which option is right for you. So, it's kind of like buying a car if your only initial qualification is "car".

CableOrganizer running team photo

Don't Fear the "Bad Picture"

The first thing you should be aware of is that every HDMI cable, whether it's priced in the single-digits or five figures, does the same basic thing. You may think that a higher priced cable will give you a better quality picture or sound. Well, this isn't really how HDMI works. If the cable is functioning properly, the picture and sound quality is the same no matter which HDMI cable you're using. HDMI isn't like rabbit ears -- it either works perfectly, or doesn't work at all. If it's fuzzy or spotty or sparkly, it means the cable is defective; whether it's cheap or pricey, it's broken and you should return it. Test after test has shown that the price of the cable has little or no effect on the quality of the picture or audio displayed on your screen. So if you're thinking of spending a mortgage payment's worth of money on a cable because you think it's going to be "HD-ier" you may want to think about giving your money to someone trustworthy to manage it for you.

jitter bug dancing

The Jitter-Bug

But that won't stop the fancy HDMI cable manufacturers from using whatever they can think of to spook you into spending more money. One of the main concerns they like to bring up is "Jitter", which refers to audio interference that can supposedly mess up your sound. More expensive HDMI cables like to tout that they can reduce jitter. But is that necessary? Well, jitter is a real thing, so it's not exactly like when Chrysler advertised its rich, entirely fictional Corinthian Leather. But just because it's real doesn't mean you should fear it. Why? Because jitter isn't actually proven to be perceptible by human ears. So any jitter that a fancy cable would reduce would be something you'd never be aware of in the first place. Think of it this way: there are thousands if not millions of creepy crawly bugs and bacteria crawling all over you right now. Just all up in every nook and cranny of your fleshy form (you should work out more). I mean, there are mites that live their entire lives on your eyelashes. If I said I could sell you a soap for a million dollars that would eliminate these critters, even though you've never noticed them before and you can't feel or see them and they aren't causing you any harm, would you buy it? If you answered yes, then perhaps you're the type of person who thinks spending thousands on a cable to reduce jitter is necessary. For the rest of us, a cheaper cable should do the trick. Also, enjoy tonight's nightmares!

superman, man of steel

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

Jitter is just one of many scare tactics to get you to buy overpriced cables. But the reality is simply that claims regarding picture and sound quality are pretty much a sham, unless you're some freaky X-Men mutant whose power allows you to actually perceive jitter. If that's the case, I'm really sorry that you didn't get a cool power like claws or a healing factor or flight or mind control. But back to cables. You may be asking: if there's no difference in signal quality, does that mean all HDMI cables are the same? Not exactly. There are factors beyond price to consider when choosing the right cable. For example, HDMI cables are separated into Standard Speed (Category 1) and High Speed (Category 2) models. The difference between them is that Cat 1 is rated up to 1080i resolution, while Cat 2 is rated for 1080p and higher. In practice, however, most Standard Speed cables are quite capable of handling 1080p. However, since there are reasonably priced options available for both, if you want to be absolutely sure you're maximizing your resolution, you might as well go with the High Speed option if you're dealing with 1080p. Whichever speed you choose, just avoid Speed 2: Cruise Control. Even Keanu Reeves knew not to stick around for that one. Speed jokes...timely, right?

princess bride on television with HDMI cables

"Let Me Explain--No, There Is Too Much. Let Me Sum Up"

So after all the car and horrible bug analogies and old movie references (yes, there is more than one back there), hopefully you have a somewhat clearer understanding of the HDMI cable landscape. But which one should you buy? Ultimately, rather than relying solely on price, you should really choose the cable that suits your needs. The cheapest cable will provide a fine signal, but a more mid-level model will probably feature a more solid construction that can hold up to more wear and tear. Length is also a factor: if you're running a cable over a ridiculous distance, like 50 feet or something, a cheaper cable may have trouble getting the signal where it needs to go. But seriously, why do you even need a cable that long? Whatever, it's not my place to judge. Also, there are lots of variations in the style of cable, such as flat cables, or cables with a swivel-hinged plug that are ideal for tighter spaces. Vanco makes a wide variety at very reasonable prices and the WireWorld Island is pretty much as good as an affordable cable gets. If, on the other hand, you're an insane billionaire who needs a cable with twice the amount of conductors of your average HDMI cable, even though the technology to support the bandwidth really isn't even available yet, then the really high end stuff is right up your alley. It's a bit like buying a Lamborghini when all you need your car to do is make it to the mailbox at the end of the driveway, but hey ... to each their own.