One HDMI cable is as good as another, right? Wrong. The old saying “an HDMI cable will either work or it won’t, because digital is all or nothing” is a myth. A poor-quality HDMI cable can deliver a degraded signal, resulting in a snowy picture or worse. A crappy HDMI cable, especially a long one, can also cause problems that you can’t see: radiating enough electromagnetic interference (EMI) to cause problems on your Wi-Fi network.
Having said that, bad HDMI cables are pretty hard to find, at least when asked to carry 1080p video just a few feet. It can be a different story when you enter the realm of 60-frames-per-second 4K video with high dynamic range, high-resolution multi-channel audio, and perhaps even ethernet. According to the standard, an HDMI 2.0 cable should be capable of delivering “ultra-reliable performance at the full 18Gbps bandwidth.”
To that end, HDMI Licensing LLC—the group responsible for developing and maintaining the HDMI standard that’s used on nearly every TV, PC, monitor, projector, Blu-ray player, A/V receiver, and media streamer shipping today—has announced a new cable certification program. Instead of hoping for the best—or paying ridiculous prices for cables made by companies with marketing budgets that dwarf what they spend on manufacturing—you could just shop for HDMI cables labeled “HDMI Premium Certified Cable.”
Cables labeled as such will have gone through expanded cable speed tests at an HDMI-authorized testing center to certify that they are capable of delivering bandwidth of 18Gbps, and that they radiate very little EMI. The certification label will have a QR code printed on it that you can scan with your smartphone to verify the cable’s certification status and that it’s not a counterfeit product.
The impact on you at home: The certification process and the labels, however, are completely optional, and manufacturers that choose to participate must pay a fee on top of the royalty they pay for the right to use HDMI in their products in the first place. Consumers will be expected to pay that cost—and probably a little more—in exchange for the assurances the certification program provides. But cables labeled “High Speed HDMI Cable” or “High Speed HDMI Cable with ethernet” (minus the “Premium Certified” and the label with the QR code) should perform just as well—provided they’re made by a legitimate manufacturer.
If you’re wondering why you’d ever need an HDMI cable that can also carry ethernet data, you probably never will. When I asked HDMI Licensing President Rob Tobias about that during a briefing last week, he said “We’ve seen it in industrial applications where it was useful to use just one wire. For consumer applications, the growth and maturity of Wi-Fi has been good enough.”
“HDMI has a lot of diversity,” added HDMI Licensing Tech Evangelist Jeff Park. “The spec has optional features to give manufacturers flexibility. It would be great if every device had every feature, but then every device would cost $10,000.”
The HDMI Cable Certification Program became available to HDMI adopters at the end of September. Certified cables should be available in the first quarter of 2016.
Michael is TechHive's lead editor, with 30+ years of experience covering the tech industry, focusing on the smart home, home audio, and home theater. He built his own smart home in 2007 and used it as a real-world test lab for product reviews. Following a relocation to the Pacific Northwest, he is now converting his new home, an 1890 Victorian bungalow, into a modern smart home.