Are Premium HDMI Cables Worth the Cost?

The popularity of the High Definition Multimedia Interface has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. The increase in the rendering capabilities of Graphics Processors, as well as the popularity of High Definition Television and Blu-Ray and HD DVD formats spurred the widespread adoption of HDMI. The HDMI cable replaced the need for multiple cables for digital audio and video transfer, as was the case with the Digital Video Interface, or DVI. There is a major price differential between high end and low end HDMI connectors ranging from a few dollars to a few hundred. The question is: are premium HDMI cables worth the cost?

As you’re most likely already aware, the High Definition Multimedia Interface is a bidirectional, high-speed format for sending both digital audio and video data on a single cable. For those with serious, heavy-duty media rendering needs, HDMI is far superior to other standardized formats like S-Video, VGA and so on. Having evolved from the earlier Digital Video Interface, HDMI is fully backwards compatible with DVI if you have a simple adapter to connect the two. Many high cost HDMI cable options are available at prices upwards of a hundred dollars. However, there’s no need for these pricey cables and any budget option will do just fine.

Low cost HDMI cables are available from a number of different sources. There’s the old standby of Amazon.com, which is frequently the vendor of first and last resort. A decent cord will run $10 at most. They’re all typically compatible with screen resolutions of 480p, 720p, or 1080i. In addition, many are forward compatible with 1080p if your system is capable of that kind of high-definition picture quality or you plan on upgrading any time in the near future. Peruse the reviews on any hardware website and you’ll find many a satisfied customer that opted for budget cables and are completely happy with the performance and quality.

Some companies market extremely expensive cables with claims of cutting down on the bit-error rate, or BER, with advanced features like silver coating on the signal wires and double or triple layer shielding. Specifically, they make the argument that these cables offer superior rendering and reduced pixel errors. Even if the marketing hype promoted by such manufacturers were in fact true, the improvements in BER they cite wouldn’t be great enough to be detected by the human eye. So the difference is negligible and hardly worth the extra money. Anyone asking themselves the question “Are premium HDMI cables worth the cost?” should have their answer by now.

The fact of the matter is that HDMI is a standard, and to even be classified as such manufacturers have to meet pretty strict and exacting requirements for signal loss and integrity. Raj Nair wrote one of the more highly referenced articles detailing the lack of distinction between high priced cables and $10 equivalents. So for a more in-depth, technical analysis, you can check out that article for a wealth of information on things like resistance, signal loss and degradation. In addition, many premium cable manufacturers will advertise things like additional circuitry within their products that somehow improve the streaming of raw, uncompressed digital data. Real world experience and testing shows that these claims are patently false.

So, are premium HDMI cables worth the cost? The final word on the matter is that no, they are not. The improvement in performance and fidelity achieved by such peripherals isn’t discernible to the human eye and as such hardly worth the extra expense. The bottom line is that any cable branded as adhering to the HDMI format will deliver great picture quality. So save yourself a few bucks and opt for a cheap cable. The money you don’t spend on that fancy HDMI cable can be put to better use elsewhere.