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The Difference Between Cheap and Expensive HDMI Cables

By Jason Imms

We learn once and for all, whether or not expensive HDMI cables are worth considering for your home theater.

HDMI cables range in price from $5 to roughly ALL of the money. Opinions from both the informed and the uninformed vary to a similar degree, though the commonly held opinion is that for most people, there is nothing about expensive HDMI cables that make them worth the price of admission.

Someone hoping to prove this widely held, yet oft-questioned theory is Zsolt Malota, owner of an audio visual installation company since 1995. Using a series of inordinately expensive devices, Malota has produced a set of results which shed some light on the subject. Stay tuned for charts!

The tests themselves revolve around image brightness and color representation. Malota wished to prove that four cables of the same category, but at wildly different price points, would perform in a uniform fashion regardless of price and implied quality. Achieving this was no mean feat, as many thousands of dollars worth of equipment were necessary to produce what proved to be quite damning results.

Tools and Tests

Cables

Generic cable included with a Toshiba BDX1200Y

2m generic HDMI cable ($12)

5m Cabac cable (~$20)

5m Audio Dimension cable (rrp ~$200+)

Samsung PS50C7000 Plasma TV

While a nice piece of kit, the display used for the tests doesn’t really make much of a difference to the results. Malota was only aiming to prove that all of the cables produce the same results, rather than make any comment on the quality of the setup as a whole.

X-rite i1pro Spectrophotometer and the X-right Hubble Colorimeter

In simple terms, a spectrophotometer measures light intensity, while a colorimeter quantifies visible color values. Used in conjunction, these devices can prove whether or not colors are being accurately reproduced on a display. Considering the fact that color reproduction is the primary function of a TV in displaying images, these tests should provide enough data to prove how well an HDMI cable performs when compared to its peers.

Results

The images below show the results of the two primary tests: Gamut CIE and RGB Balance. The Gamut CIE charts show where on the color spectrum the three primary colors, three secondary colors, and white should fall, as denoted by the black boxes. The white dots show where they actually fell in the tests. The RGB Balance chart shows how well the three primary colors are, well, balanced. Ideally we want all of the colored bars to line up perfectly.

$12 two meter HDMI cable
$200 five meter HDMI cable

As you can see, there is no significant difference between the cheapest and most expensive cables with regard to color reproduction. There are some minor variations, but they all fall within acceptable limits.

Other Metrics to Consider

The use of higher quality materials could have an impact on signal degradation when approaching the maximum length of an HDMI cable, but all cables are subject to specified max lengths.

Other key differences between HDMI cables comes down to which category of cable is being tested. In this case, all of the cables were perfectly capable of transferring data at 1080p, which means that they were either HDMI 1.3 Category 2, or HDMI 1.4 compliant. The actual distinction is relatively inconsequential for most people’s purposes, however. As long as you purchase a cable that is rated for your desired resolution, the actual price or brand makes little difference. It should be noted that the use of higher quality materials could have an impact on signal degradation when approaching the maximum length of an HDMI cable, but all will be subject to specified maximum lengths. Trying to sneak in a few extra feet above the maximum is a risky endeavor, it is always worth spending the extra on two cables and a repeater to ensure signal quality. If you’re interested, you can look further into the HDMI specification here.

As should be abundantly clear, expensive HDMI cables are simply not worth purchasing for normal use. In the case that you are running cable in a permanent fashion through walls or ceilings, it may be prudent to spend a little extra for heavier-duty cables for the sake of longevity, but if you’re spending extra on gold-plated connectors and the like, you are doing little more than embedding hard-earned cash in the walls of your home.

The original post can be found over at Overclockers Australia.