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Are Premium HDMI Cables Worth the Cost?

If you step into Best Buy, Fry's, Microcenter, and most other electronics retailers on the search for an HDMI Cable you'll quickly be directed to “premium” products from companies like Monster and Rocketfish. Retailers argue that these products, which often cost between fifty and one hundred dollars for a simple six-foot cord, are the only way to go. But are these premium cables really worth the cash?

What Matters in HDMI Cables

Most premium HDMI cable companies surround their cables with a wall of impressive jargon. The Rocketfish cable sold at Best Buy, for example, includes features such as “dual-layer 100% aluminium Mylar foil shields” and “multistrand high-purity copper conductors.” These features sound impressive, but in truth they don't mean anything at all.

HDMI is a standard. What this means is that a consortium of companies including Hitachi, Sony, Toshiba, and others came together to decide on the technical specifications for a video and audio connection which would work with all of their products. No where do these standards state that cables need gold plating, high-purity copper conductors, or Mylar foil shields. They don't state that because such features are superfluous and have nothing to do with the operation of the standard.

The most important feature any HDMI cable can boast is compatibility with the most recent version of HDMI. This compatibility is in fact very inexpensive, and there are cables which can be purchased for less than ten dollars which are fully compatible with the HDMI standard and work as well as products costing fifty dollars or more.

The Standards to Look For

The most recent HDMI standard is HDMI 1.4. This standard adds new features like the HDMI Ethernet Channel, which allows an HDMI cable to transfer network signals between devices, and full support for 3D over HDMI. HDMI 1.4 cables are only really required if you intended to take advantage of those features, however, so a HDMI 1.3 cable will work well.

You'll also want to make sure that the HDMI cable you purchase is a Category 2 certified cable. Category 2 cables using HDMI 1.3 have a bandwidth of up to 10.2 gigabytes per second, which is more than enough for displaying high definition video with surround sound. It is interesting to note that some of the premium products do not actually appear to be Category 2 cables because their rated bandwidth is below 10.2 gigabytes per second. Be careful of this pitfall. Expensive products are not faster by default.

In summary, you'll want to purchase a HDMI 1.3 or 1.4 cable which is also rated as a Category 2 cable. Only cables which meet these standards are of high quality no matter the price tag or the language on the box.

Where to Buy

Some retailers do stock less expensive HDMI cables alongside the premium products and will reluctantly guide you towards them if you specifically ask for something less expensive. It is also possible to purchase these products online. Monoprice.com is a well know distributor of inexpensive, high-quality HDMI Cables. Newegg.com also sells some great inexpensive HDMI cables.

Don't waste your money on a so-called premium HDMI cable. It is entirely possible to buy a great six foot long HDMI cable for less than ten dollars. You don't need Mylar shields or gold plating. You just need a cable which supports the most recent HDMI standard and has the bandwidth to transfer information smoothly.