HDMI Cable Buying Guide – How To Pick Right One
There is a lot of different HDMI cables on the market, if you have recently purchased a new TV from one of the main electrical retailers they have likely tried to up-sell you a HDMI cable, usually with an extra warranty. The HDMI cables that the salesman usually recommends with your new TV are usually gold or platinum plated and come at an eye watering price, but is this worth it? In this article all you need to know about HDMI cables which will help you pick the right cable for you.
Before I progress on the on which HDMI cables to but it’s very helpful to have an understanding of the HDMI standards and what speeds/ resolutions that these supports. I will be writing a blog on this soon. As time has gone on the data carrying capacity has had to dramatically increase to be able to support HD resolutions like 4K and UHD, whereas when HD TV’s first came out these only were really required to display 720p. Beneath are some of the HDMI standards in order:
HDMI2.0 – 4K - Ultra High Definiton
HDMI2.1 – 4K - Ultra High Definition
It’s important to note that as each HDMI version has progressed it is backwards compatible with the old standards, so no need to go and buy a new cable if you want to connect an old DVD/ Bluray etc. I personally at present install at least HDMI 2.0 cables for my customers to future proof our installations as much as possible. No point burying cables in walls if you have to cut away at the plaster and brickwork if you need to replace them again.
HDMI Cable Length
Another thing you need to consider when buying HDMI cables is the length of the cable that you need. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of a system where you can terminate HDMI connectors onto cable so these can’t be prepared to size like you can with TV coax cable or data cables. You’re going to need to buy the right length. Obviously you not going to want a reel of cable behind your TV if you have purchased HDMI cables that are too long, but what’s even more important is that the cables are not too short as these will not reach the HDMI ports on your TV and AV equipment. You also don’t want HDMI cables that are just long enough as this could place stress on the connections themselves and break the HDMI cable,or even worse the TV.
HDMI cables can commonly be purchased in the following lengths:
0.5m, 1m, 2m, 3m, 5m, 7.5m, 10m, 15m
HDMI lead lengths in between the lengths above can still be found above but these are the most common. When you purchase a new TV or install new AV equipment, like a Sky box for example with a HDMI cable included it’s likely to only be 1-2m so longer leads will be required. The ones I used the most are 3m and 5M HDMI cables for TV wall mounting installations where extra lead length is required to reach the new TV position. If you’re installing a TV on a wall a full motion or double arm bracket that allows the TV to be pulled away from the wall you will need to allow for some slack behind the TV so please allow for an extra 1-1.5m for this purpose. If you do not do it, it’s likely that HDMI cable will prevent to TV from pulling away from the wall or moving freely. Again, if it’s too tight you could run the risk or damaging the cable or the TV itself whilst moving the TV.
Very Long HDMI Cables - >15m
If you need a very long cable to be installed in between your TV or TV’s and your AV equipment, you will want to purchase a very good quality cable. These are typically mush thicker than most leads to help overcome the cable resistance. Over distance the HDMI signal can decrease in quality which can cause no picture, or problems with the TV picture. A common thing is speckles appearing on the screen. There are a few approaches that can be taken in this scenario. Beneath are some suggestions.
Use a very quality HDMI cable. If you’re having trouble with the HDMI picture a HDMI repeater, sometimes referred to as a HDMI clocker/ re-clocker can be installed near the TV to help extend the HDMI signal length.
If you want to send HDMI over 20m personally I wouldn’t bother with a HDMI lead that is this long. I would purchase a set of HD – Cat5/6 video baluns which are installed at either end. One near the TV and one by the AV equipment with a HDMI lead connecting between each balun. In between these a connecting twisted pair data cable connects the two baluns together. I recommend using at least Cat 6 for this task especially for some of the higher resolutions. If you’re looking for a set of baluns to buy for this task I recommend buying some that are HDBaseT certified. Also most baluns will allow for IR signals to be send down the cable. Perfect if you wanted to hide the AV equipment.
HDMI Active Optical Leads
HDMI Active Optical Leads can be used for sending HDMI signals over great distances. My main supplier sells one that is 100m long. These work by using copper for the HDMI handshaking process and the optical allows for the high bandwidth over distance. A word of warning though these are very expensive so don’t expect much change or any change from several hundred pounds/ dollars.
Right Angled HDMI Cables
If you have a wall mounted TV and limited space behind your TV. These are perfect as they dramatically reduce the cable bend radius which will allow the TV to be installed as close to the wall as possible. These have become less and less popular as time has gone by for a couple of reasons. You can just install a HDMI right angled adapter on a normal straight HDMI cable which achieves the same result and means that you don’t have to order or stock both types of cables and also, most TV’s these days have the HDMI ports sitting parallel to the wall that the TV is mounted on and not at a right angle, so the cable comes out sideways and there is rarely any issues with the lead not fitting in limited space and no need for the right angled connection.
Slimline HDMI Leads – Perfect For Routing In Tight Spaces
If you need to route your HDMI wire through a tight space you may want to consider buying a slimline HDMI cable. These have thin heads and wire so that it can fit into spaces that many normal HDMI cables will otherwise not. I use these on occasion where I need to route a cable behind the plasterboard on a dry-lined dot and dab wall for a TV's mounted on plasterboard. This is where the plasterboard has been stuck onto brickwork leaving often leaving a very small gap behind for cables to be routed around the lumps of adhesive holding the plasterboard to the wall.
I prefer not to use these where possible, even the ones that are rated HDMI 2.0 or 4K compatible because as the cable size is so thin it must have very slim conductors and little to none screening to protect the cable from sources of outside interference. A cable shield or screen is of particularly importance if you intend to route the cable next to a power cable. That being said, they could save you from having to cut a channel or multiple holes in your wall.
EMI Rings vs No EMI Rings?
You will notice when shopping around that some HDMI cables have a round cylinder near the HDMI connector itself at either end of the cable. These are called EMI rings and their intention is to stop interference travelling along the cable from device to device which can cause problems with the performance of the cable and could cause the TV picture to fail altogether. The problem with EMI rings which also called a ferrite bead or ferrite choke is that they are thicker than the cable and connectors itself which makes it difficult for feeding through things, you will need to drill a much larger hole than your normally would and you literally have no chance of fitting it behind the plasterboard on a dry-lined wall so you may want to consider using a cable without EMI rings. You may still be okay with a stud wall though. Clip on EMI rings can actually be purchased so this may be a good work around solution for you. Over short distances EMI rings are not the most important thing in the world but if you’re using long HDMI cables it may be worth considering buying a HDMI wire with these included.
Flexi-form & Solid-State HDMI Leads
The Flexi-form and Solid State cables can be manipulated into all sorts of positions that they will remain in until they are physical manipulated out of shape again. These can be very useful when a cable needs to be routed through some awkward angles and positions and the cable can be bending into and remain in advantageous positions that normal HDMI leads will not. They are also very useful if you have one lead that you can’t stop falling out from your wall mounted TV and they can just be bent up out the way.
Gold & Platinum Plated HDMI Cables
When I head the term “Gold” or “Platimum” before HDMI cable I immediately think, there is someone trying to build value. I refer back to the salesmen in the electrical store selling the TV then offering the up sell of the HDMI cable,often at a discounted price that is still very expensive. Gold plated HDMI leads are completely unnecessary and a waste of money in my opinion, especially over shorter lengths. It’ important to note that HDMI is a digital connection, so in many respects the TV will either receive the required information or not. If the TV is not receiving the bits of information required you will know from the TV picture, it will not affect picture clarity. I remember when SCART leads were popular there used to be the same type of up sell here too, even with some coax RF leads. Rather than worrying about whether the cable has gold or platinum plated conductors check to make sure that the lead is of the latest HDMI2.0 or HDMI 2.1 standard and save yourself some money, a lot of money in some cases.
HDMI + Ethernet Channel
Some HDMI leads and cables you will find are branded as ‘HDMI + Ethernet’. This was introduced as part of the HDMI 1.4 standard which allows a 100Mb/sec Ethernet connection to be shared from your TV which to connected to the internet with connected AV equipment via the HDMI cable itself. This can be very helpful as it means that you do not need to connect all your AV equipment to a hard wired internet connection(I still would for performance reasons) or the WIFI. For the Ethernet connection to work over the HDMI cable from the TV, both the TV and the AV/satellite RX/ PVR both need to be compatible with this standard.
Some leads will specify the conductor size in AWG, this stands for American Wire Gauge and the lower the number the thicker the conductors, the thicker the conductors the lower the resistance which is better. Shorter leads that incur less resistance typically have a 30AWG whereas some of the longer ones will 26-24AWG. Please note that with improvements on the conductor size the cable will therefore be thicker and heavier.
How Much Should I Spend on a HDMI Lead?
If you really want to spend a bit extra you can of course do so, but as I have already said I wouldn't do this on the basis that it has gold plated connections. Some real bargains can be picked up these-days and you should buy at least HDMI 2.0 or HDMI 2.1 certified cables. It's likely that this will again be upgraded at a later date so keep your eye out for the lastest HDMI standards. I would recommend spending around the following on HDMI wires:
<3m - £10/ $12, 3m - £15/ $18, 5m - £18/ $21, 7m - £25/$30.
Like I said if you really wanted to buy the best cables then go ahead and do so. I just wouldn't buy them with your TV as you're likely to be dealing with a salesmen on commission.
Other HDMI Considerations & Questions
I’m going to be writing another blog soon on some of the features and terms behind HDMI technology like ARC, MHL and HDCP. I recommend that you come back soon that. In the meantime if you have any questions regarding HDMI cables or if you’re looking for advice on picking the correct HDMI cable, please do POST YOUR COMMENT IN THE BLOG COMMENTS SECTION BELOW. By doing this you:
- Give everyone reading the blog the benefit of the question asked and the answer given
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Until next time,
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