Ask LH: Should I Buy Expensive HDMI Cables?

Ask LH: Should I Buy Expensive HDMI Cables?

Dear Lifehacker, I am thinking about a UHD TV as my next TV. But the big name stores all tell me I need to throw away any HDMI cable I have now that is more than two years old because the technology has moved so rapidly. In my experience, they work or they don’t. Do I need new cables now? Should I wait until I get the TV? Thanks, Cable Cynic

HDMI picture from Shutterstock

Dear CC,

The sales people are lying to you. High-priced HDMI cables are a complete rip-off and an utter waste of your money. HDMI is a digital signal. It either gets there or it doesn’t. The only person who benefits from selling you a massively overpriced cable from Monster or a similar rip-off merchant is the manufacturer and the retailer. Save your money and buy bargain-priced cables. Our favourite source for these is Hong Kong-based sellers on eBay. If you want something a little more local, OzBargain often has good deals listed.

Yes, very occasionally you’ll get a dud. But if your $6 cable breaks, you can buy another one and still have paid one-tenth of the retail rip-off rate. Don’t fall for the sales patter.

As far as UHD televisions are concerned, our advice would be to hang back a bit and wait for prices to drop before buying. There’s still very little 4K content out there for UHD screens, and the TVs are currently overpriced. Earlier this week, we saw LG drop the price of its 55-inch model by $4000. You’d feel like an utter idiot if you purchased that last year. At the other end of the scale, Kogan has just announced a sub-$1000 UHD model — so we’re definitely seeing prices fall fast.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Ezyhd is a aussie company I have bought from on a number of occasions. Great quality and prices check them out.

    • I’ve used them in the past, but use a similar company here in Perth simply because it’s local and the cables arrive the next day. Both their cables are exactly the same, just with a different logo.

      I agree with the article, but if you need something like 3D or a 10m cable, it’s probably worth while getting a better cable than a $5 one, but I’m still not advocating Monster rip-off ones.

    • If you are close to an MSY, you can get cheap cables from there. Or alternatively Jaycar have them pretty cheap too.

  • Couldn’t agree more with Angus. Most retail shops way over charge HDMI cables. I just brought four 1.5meter HDMI cables for a total $6 from Hong Kong. I’d be paying $24+ just for one if I brought it here.

    People bang on about how you should buy from bricks and mortar places but that’s just another example as to why you shouldn’t.

  • To be fair, the question doesn’t state they said he needs to buy a Monster cable or anything, just cables two years or older will likely need to be upgraded for UHD. That’s probably reasonable given that (I think?) you need HDMI 1.4 to support a res that high. I completely agree you don’t need high priced cables and your local computer store can sell you a HDMI cable that will work perfectly for under $5.

    • Agreed, I think people are missing the point here a tad. There ARE different standards of HDMI cables, and (especially for long cables) certain ones will not be suitable for high end applications. E.g. I have a 10m long, 4-5 year old cable from MSY, and while it is completely fine for 720p, at 1080p it results in “sparkles”, which are a sign of incomplete transmission of one channel of information.

      So I would suggest the correct answer is to buy a cable that meets certain minimum standards (basically, HDMI 1.4, like you said), but find the cheapest one that doesn’t look like it will fall apart.

  • I’m not arguing that electronics stores will attempt to sell you ridiculously overpriced hdmi cables, but perhaps the sales guy was talking about HDMI *version*.. HDMI 1.4 does stuff that HDMI 1.3 cables don’t, so the sales guy is right to a degree – If the new TV has functions that only work with 1.4 cables, those functions won’t work with an old HDMI cable. (
    UHD means a soft requirement of HDMI v2 cables – I read somewhere that that UHD works with 1.4 cables, but the framerate is limited to 30fps – so not sure you’d even notice in most cases.. But if it were me and I were spending an utter pile on a UHDTV, I’d shell out the extra for a cable that would give me the best result..
    Whether to buy it from the store and be gouged is a different story, and I’d definitely go elsewhere.

    • +1 I get my cables from eBay too, and they are cheap, but when I got my 55″ 3D TV I had to get the latest version cables to make it work…! Something Angus should have taken into consideration…! 🙂

  • Try independant little electronics/audio/computer stores. A local audio store near me sells (what seems like) good quality HDMI cables for about $5 off the top of my head.

  • Lifehack: Go to JayCar 20 – 30 bucks. Still probably to much but better that the anywhere between 40 and 200 bucks you see at JB and Gerry’s place.

    • Jaycar sell crap… They’re Ok for plugs and connectors, but anything that is active will either be DOA or pack up very quickly. They buy the cheapest crap they can find from China. eBay is the best way afaic, the cost including postage is negligible, and it comes straight to your door.

      • I’ve never had an issue with a single product I’ve purchased from Jaycar, and this accounts for anything from an LED to full circuits, to cables and pre-packaged functional items.

        • I started buying Jaycar stuff awhile ago before I figured that eBay was cheaper. I bought plenty of plugs and adapters and several pieces of electronic kit, mostly AV stuff, I think about 75 to 80% of it either didn’t work when it got here, or it packed up shortly afterwards. I guess it depends on the product and luck…! 🙂

        • Yeah, cables aren’t really active in the sense of a device such as a media player etc. They get theirs from China the same as anyone, I get ’em off eBay a lot cheaper than from Jaycar, and they are fine too. But their electronic devices are just the cheapest built thing that China can supply… 🙂

  • I have had a few el-cheap HDMI cables go on my me know (dropping signal and/or red screen artifacts) so I buy a bit more upmarket now – particularly if the cable is going through a wall (i.e. wall mounted TV) and replacing it is particularly fiddly.

    Monster etc are a complete rip-off though – no argument.

  • dicksmith had a 1.5m HDMI for $40 in north sydney, thought i looked at it wrong was like wtf, bought 1 for $6 online.

    • That’s nothing, Harvey Norman sell those Monster brand HDMI cables for over $200. $40 is still a ripoff mind you, but not near as bad as it is elsewhere.

      • When I bought my ps3 they tried to sell me a $100 HDMI cable I was only half hearted about the ps3 in the end got it for $1

  • 1.4 from memory allows 3D content to be shot through otherwise I would of thought 1.3 would be fine.

  • As a technician, there are reasons why certain HDMI cables work and does not work, heres a simple observation: Like the PS4 and other newer products they have develop deeper pin cavity, so if the pin cavity (copper terminals) are shallow in the cable it will not reach the pins on the console or media device, and this is the reason for the blue ray of death (BROD), no signal is found.
    Hope this helps.
    BTW “Shelby’s Cable” supply good quality for under $20
    You do not need to spend over $20 on a HDMI, it’s overrated and inappropriate pricing.

  • Hi all,
    recently had to buy another optical cable for the new house and was pleasantly suprised at how cheap K-mart was for cables- cheaper than jb, dse ,ebay so support them!!!. not linked in anyway just putting the word out. 🙂

  • To be clear there is NO Difference in terms of requirements support from a HDMI 1.3 and 1.4 cable. The HDMI difference relates to extra functionality in the chipset.

  • Years ago I bought a chunky, expensive $50 HDMI cable to hook up my PS3 to my TV. I’ve also accumulated a few other cheap $10-15 cables.

    I’ll give you one guess which of these I’ve discarded because the signal glitches repeatedly if I use it.

  • There is a lot of misconception about HDMI cables. I’ll be 100% up front that I work for a company that focuses on HDMI extension, but having said that I 100% agree that for 2m or less, any cable will work (and if you get a dud, chuck it and buy another one for $6). When you get to 10m plus, or like Attila said the cable is going through a wall, you want to make sure it’s a good quality cable. As HDMI evolves the biggest change is data rate (higher resolution means more data which means more data (GB) need to be sent through the cable per second (i.e., GBps). Higher data rates lose signal strength faster than lower data rates, so what works at 720p might not work at 1080p because the cable quality just isn’t there. Quality can include a bunch of things like wire thickness (gauge), twist ratio of the cables, shielding on the cable itself, connector quality, …the list goes on.

    Bottom line is at 720p (0.7GBps), I could give you barbed wire with a connector and it might work. At 1080p60 (1.5GBps) you’ll need something better. At 4K60 (6.0Gbps), this is the new HDMI 2.0 standard, the data rates are so high that a crappy cable at 2m may now start failing.

    So when old cables stop working, it’s usually bandwidth (the data rate of the signal) that kills it, not missing wires or connections. If you want to install a cable in the wall, just be aware that if you want to support HDMI 2.0 and beyond, it’s worth investing in a good cable to avoid having to tear it out when you put in a 4K60 projector in a few years.

    (SHAMELESS Plug) – phaseHD is my company and we’re building technology to improve the performance of all cables meaning we might be able to get an old cable working at higher datarates using fancy data recovery methods. Kordz in Australia is our first adopter with their Neo product, but other companies have similar solutions to us which also improve cable performance (Redmere aka Spectra7). We’re hoping to publish a bunch of articles on our site on the myths and realities of cables to help people pick the right cable for them.

    • Wouldn’t running cat6 or similar be the best option in walls? This means that they can always be re-purposed for something else as well if required.

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