The secret to buying a good HDMI cable: They're all good

Sean asked me what he should know before buying HDMI cables.

There's nothing complicated about buying the right HDMI cable. If it's long enough and not damaged, it should work.

But the people selling the cables may not want you to know that. The more worried you are about buying the right cable, the more likely you'll spend more money.

[Email your tech questions to answer@pcworld.com or post them on the PCW Answer Line forum.]

HDMI has become the default audio-video cable standard for good reason: It sends the best quality image and sound over a single cable with a moderately small connector. And there are very few things to worry about when buying a cable.

There are four different types of HDMI cables, not including those for automobiles. You've got Standard, Standard with Ethernet, High Speed, and High Speed with Ethernet. Cable manufacturers are required to clearly display the type on the cable itself.

Standard cables are rated for 720p and 1080i signals. They might be able to handle 1080p, but that's not guaranteed. You'd definitely want a High Speed cable for 3D.

I should point out that this labeling standard didn't come into use until late 2010. All three of the cables in my home are older than that, lack either a Standard or a High Speed designation, and manage 1080p just fine.

As you can probably guess, the Ethernet versions allow for data transmissions.

A legitimate, licensed HDMI cable will be labeled as to which of the four types it adheres to. The label might be in the form of a flag, as shown here, or it might be printed on the cable jacket.

But one thing you don't have to worry about with cables are the numbered versions of HDMI. For instance, 3D requires HDMI 1.4, and that might be an issue with your receiver--assuming you want to daisy-chain it between your 3D-capable Blu-ray player and 3D HDTV. But it's not an issue with the cables through which you'll do the daisy-chaining. In fact, HDMI Licensing, the organization that controls the trademark, doesn't currently allow manufacturers to put version numbers on their cables.

And here's two other concerns you don't have to worry about: price and brand names. Cheap, generic HDMI cables provide just as good an image and sound as the high-priced alternatives. In an analog world, cable quality matters; in a digital one, not so much. For more on that, see Technology's Biggest Myths.

This article has been altered to correct factual errors.

Subscribe to the Now Playing Newsletter

Comments