Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Fuss About HDMI Cables

I see the price of HDMI cables at stores like Harvey Norman and Best Denki, and I can’t take it anymore. Here’s a public service announcement. HDMI cables are cheap, and they are relatively straight-forward. Granted there are no longer any of those $200+ type of HDMI cables (at least I don’t see them anymore), but they are still plenty overpriced at most retail outlets. Sometimes even near to the $100 mark.

So let me share a little something with you. HDMI cables at Amazon can be gotten at easily under US$10. Too troublesome to ship? Alright. How about getting from Element 14, for just S$2.76? Yes, that’s right, not a typo. That’s cheaper than most USB cables you can lay your hands on in Singapore. Oh, and there’s free shipping too with a minimum S$30 order.

Let me get back again on the price, because before that, I’m sure you’re thinking, there are so many types of HDMI cables and this one from Element14 must be a little substandard. So let’s address that myth of HDMI cable types. The reality is that HDMI cables are reasonably straight-forward. There are only 4 types of HDMI cables at this time (excluding automotive HDMI cables):

  • Standard Speed
  • Standard Speed with Ethernet
  • High Speed
  • High Speed with Ethernet

Yes, that’s right. There are only these four types. What about those special cables that support 3D? Well, 3D is part of HDMI High Speed specifications. What about 1080p Full HD support, 4K resolution, and some snazzy deep colour thingy? It’s all part of HDMI High Speed too.

How about Audio Return Channel? It’s part of Ethernet. The Ethernet part is actually known as HEAC (HDMI Ethernet and Audio Return Channel).

HDMI defines only those four cable types (plus Automative cable type, which is beyond the scope of this post). The important thing is about what cable type you have. There’s no such thing as a “3D cable”, or a “4K resolution” cable, or a “1080p Full HD” cable. They are all simply HDMI features that require one of those four HDMI cable types.

Let me digress a little. If you’re familiar with computer networking, particularly the wired Ethernet cabling, you may have heard of “Category” rating (e.g. Cat 5, Cat 5e, Cat 6, Cat 6a). These specify the technical standards of the physical cable construction. In order to run Gigabit Ethernet, all you need is Category 5e cable. There is no such thing as a “Gigabit Ethernet UTP cable”. It’s Category 5e cable you need. (However, Category 6 cable is reasonably affordable nowadays, I would suggest to go with Category 6 to be more future-proof.)

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For most people, HDMI High Speed cables will suffice, so you need not buy more expensive cables. However, let me bring you back to the real cost of HDMI cables. My old 1m run of HDMI High Speed cable costs S$2.76. You can buy a 1.5m run of HDMI High Speed with Ethernet cable for just S$2.78. So why bother with the shorter and less capable cable? The top end is only just S$2.78. Just go for it.

Let me debunk more marketing nonsense.

What about 24K gold plated connectors? They aren’t useful. HDMI uses digital signals. The signals either get through, or they don’t. It is not like an analog audio signal where attenuation could degrade the sound quality. We are talking about digital here. Sure, the signal transmitted could be degraded enough to garble the recovery of digital data. However, built-in error correction algorithms help to mitigate that. What if the signal is so garbled that the digital data is just completely lost? Well, if the cable is so bad, it should have failed the technical standards specified for that HDMI cable type.

Again, let me digress to compare with Ethernet cables. When a cable is labelled as Category 6, it means it must have been constructed according to the Category 6 technical standards. It must have been tested, and passed, all the requirements set forth by the Category 6 technical standard. A Category 6 UTP cable will transmit 1000BASE-T (the most common Gigabit Ethernet kind you’d use with your computer). If the cable is crappy enough to “damage” the signal sufficiently to affect 1000BASE-T, it could not have passed the Category 6 test. (For the record, Category 5e cable already supports 1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet, and that 1000BASE-T was in fact designed for Category 5 cabling, but Category 5 has since been superseded by Category 5e so we seldom talk about Category 5 anymore.)

Some manufacturers talk about how their cables are more “professional”, because they more accurately reproduce the video image, or transmit the audio. Well, let me remind you again that HDMI transmits digitally. What is at the source gets sent to the other end perfectly. Do you worry whether your UTP cable will accurately transmit your email letter-for-letter the way you typed it? Do you worry that the beautiful photo you’ve emailed to a friend, will somehow get blurred along the way because of a lousy UTP cable?

Now you know, you can buy HDMI cables very cheaply. Please don’t spend more than S$10 on a cable.

Update: As I write, I noticed that the 1.5m High Speed with Ethernet HDMI cable is no longer stocked at Element 14. The 3m one, also High Speed with Ethernet, sells for S$3.09 (before GST). Also a good price. For a single piece, delivery is charged at S$10. Total cost for one piece, with delivery and GST, is just S$14.01. If you order more than S$30 online, delivery is free. The main point, still, is that HDMI cables ought not to cost more than S$10.

6 thoughts on “Fuss About HDMI Cables

  1. Very useful post. I was actually going to buy the hyped up 4K HDMI cable costing a few hundred $$ for a measly 1.5m! Your post woke me up.

    While I agree with your logic that gold plated connectors make no sense for digital signal transmission, what about the manufacturer’s claims about superior cable materials that can withstand kinks and outside electrical interference? Any element of truth to those claims?

  2. Hi, thanks for the useful information on hdmi cables..my current set : LG bluray player to yamaha soundbar to LG Tv, some bluray disc giving intermediate sound issue..image is ok, can you advise what type of hdmi cable should i buy and from where online? Thanks

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