Public Service Announcement: Do Not Spend More than $5 on an HDMI Cable0
Matt posted in Games, Playstation 3, Public Service Announcement, Xbox 360 on June 6th, 2008
I was at Fry’s Electronics picking up a new power supply for a computer, and I decided to stroll through the video game aisle. I was surprised to find that Ratatouille for the 360 was already down to $19.99. Anyway, I was browsing the PS3 section when I saw that two guys were about to purchase a poorly received game. I figured it would be criminal not to mention to them that they may be making an incorrect purchase. We talked games for a bit, and they asked me what HDMI cable they should buy. They were holding Sony’s PS3 HDMI Cable and USB pack, which retails for $79.99. I told them that they should buy the cheapest one possible because since it is digital, it will not make a difference on the quality. For example, I got one for $5 including shipping from Amazon.com’s marketplace. The next day, I realized that I too needed another HDMI cable, but I was too lazy to drive all the way to Fry’s. I figured Best Buy would have some reasonably priced HDMI cables, and it’s in walking distance from my apartment. I knew I wouldn’t get one for $5, but I figured it’d be worth the $10 extra to get the cable right away. Yeah, I was way wrong. The cheapest HDMI cable they had was $39.99, and they had the ridiculous monster cable ones for $99.99.
I know some people automatically equate expensive to better, but let me explain why there is no visual difference in the quality of the picture even for a cable that is 20 times more expensive. HDMI is a digital signal. That means it transmits at two voltages – 0 volts and 1.0 volts. The device receiving the HDMI signal just checks if it’s above a certain non-zero threshold to determine whether it’s a zero or a one. The actual value on the receiving end doesn’t matter as long as it’s above the threshold when it is supposed to be a one. For a 6 foot cable, there’s no way you are going to lose any of the signal even with a $5 cable. (Please note that I haven’t yet tested the $5 cable with a HDMI 1.3 signal, which features a higher bit rate than previous HDMI revisions. I’ll update the article when I try it out, but the point is still the same – you can get a 1.3 certified cable for $15)
If you don’t believe me, PC World did some interesting tests with HDMI cables that support what I’m saying. They found some cables had problems when the signal was around 0.15 volts (0.3 volts for HDCP info), but if your device is outputting a signal that weak, it’s broken – not your cable. Interestingly, they had the biggest problem during their tests with Monster’s $300 cable because it wouldn’t stay in the HDMI port.
As PC world mentions, if you need a really long cable like 25 feet or longer, the resistance of that much copper may degrade the signal to a problematic level. So, if you need a cable that long, you may be stuck paying more for your cable than you’d like.
Now, note that this is not true of analog cables – component, composite, s-video and speaker cables all transmit analog signals. Some make the argument that the expensive cable is better for analog signals, but I personally think the amount of signal degradation you get from inexpensive wires is going to be extremely minor. I think anyone who knows me can vouch that I’m really anal retentive, so if cheap cables don’t bother me, they probably won’t bother you either. Again, to back me up, PC World did a test of analog cables in the same article, and didn’t see a noticeable difference in quality.
So the real question is – how does Monster Cable stay in business? Or at least, how can they in good conscience sell these outrageously priced digital cables? I guess it’s because people don’t know any better. Some people believe more expensive is always better and the packaging on the Monster Cables boasts all sorts of crazy features that are really unnecessary for a simple digital signal.