Monster’s ‘Ultra HD’ Cables: Essential AV Gear Or An Overpriced Crock?

Monster’s ‘Ultra HD’ Cables: Essential AV Gear Or An Overpriced Crock?

Monster’s new “Ultra HD Platinum” HDMI range is being billed as an essential purchase for anyone requiring the high-speed bandwidth demands of 4K video. On the downside, a single cable can set you back as much as $349. Is there any way this eye-watering markup could possibly be worth the money? Or will a $5 cable off eBay serve you just as well? Yesterday, Monster put its money where its mouth is in a live HDMI bit error face-off. Here are the results.

First things first: if you’re simply looking to hook up your 1080p HD TV to a Blu-ray player or video game console, a Monster cable obviously isn’t going to be worth the investment. As we have demonstrated time and time again, the quality of a HDMI cable makes little practical difference to the majority of users. Unlike the analogue TV signals of old, HDMI is digital which means you don’t get a snowy effect or “softer” resolution: it either works or it doesn’t.

The only significant downside to el cheapo HDMI cables is their limited lifespan: but even then, you’re looking at a replacement cost of around $6. This means you would need to churn through more than 50 cables before you reached the same spend-level as Monster’s flagship offering. It’s therefore little wonder that many people consider multi-hundred dollar HDMI cables to be the A/V equivalent of snake oil.

However — as 4K/8K resolutions and higher frame rates slowly begin to creep into households, the HDMI cable you use will start to make a bigger difference. Whether this difference is worth spending a few hundred dollars on is debatable, however.

HDMI 1.4 versus HDMI 2.0

Since its inception in 2002, HDMI has gone through several iterations to keep abreast of the ever-evolving high-definition landscape. Over the past few years, HDMI version 1.4 has been the industry standard. This allows a maximum resolution of 3,840×2,160 pixels at up to 30 frames per second, or 4,096×2,160 at 24 frames per second.

At the time, this seemed sufficient to handle Ultra HD playback. As the technology developed however, it soon became obvious that the connection required more bandwidth to handle these higher resolutions and frame rates. This is where HDMI version 2.0 comes in, which supports 4K playback at up to 60fps (2160p).

As mentioned above, this doesn’t really concern the average consumer, even if you happen to own an Ultra HD TV. But in years to come, the ability to access these higher frame rates will become more important: stuff like Avatar 2 in 3D or 4K video games running at 60fps won’t be feasible on older cables. HDMI 1.4 either won’t be able to handle this content or will suffer from digital artifacts and dropouts.

Monster’s new Ultra HD Platinum range all adhere to the HDMI 2.0 standard, which means they are future-proofed for years to come. Mind you, the same is true of countless HDMI cables released over the past year; many of which can be snapped up for as little as $20. So what else does Monster bring to the table?

A Monster or minuscule difference?

Monster’s Ultra HD Platinum range have a refresh rate of between 60hz and 120hz depending on whether you plump for the standard or “Black” version. They support 7.1 lossless digital surround sound and boast cable-data rate speeds of up to 27.0 Gigabits per second.

They also come with a dinky inbuilt circuit that analyses the transmission rate and displays the current resolution on an LED indicator embedded in the cable:

Monster’s ‘Ultra HD’ Cables: Essential AV Gear Or An Overpriced Crock?

We’re not sure what the advantage is here — wouldn’t you be able to tell if your TV was running in standard def instead of 4K by simply looking at the screen? According to Monster’s product area manager Adam J. Hoffman, this is primarily aimed at technical novices and the elderly who might not trust their own eyesight.

Another feature Monster is keen to promote is its “Cable For Life” warranty. As its name implies, this means you will never have to buy another cable again. The main advantage of this warranty is that it also covers future upgrades: Monster will automatically replace your cable whenever higher bandwidth HDMI connections enter the market.

The only downside to this guarantee is that it only covers HDMI — if the industry moves to a completely different format in decades to come, you’ll basically be stuck with your old cable. (Imagine if you’d signed up for a lifetime guarantee on composite cables in the ’90s — you’d feel quite the fool today.)

But really, the chief selling point here is the extra bandwidth.

HDMI face-off

So how does Monster’s top-of-the-range cable fare against cheaper options from the competition? In an attempt to demonstrate the Monster difference, Hoffman conducted a bit error rate test using signal generating hardware worth half a million dollars.

Facing the Monster Platinum Black was a 6.5 foot Belkin cable that retails for around $80 and a four metre offering from budget brand Ble. The results from the test can be viewed in the video below:

As you can see, the results were a bit of a mixed bag for Monster. While the Ble cable returned 27,744,200,000 errors, the Belkin model fared the same as the Monster Platinum Black, despite being a third of the price. With that said, the Belkin was a few feet shorter than the Monster, which gave it a slight advantage.

Based on this evidence, it would seem the only people who require a Monster cable are Ultra HD enthusiasts who need to feed an exceptionally long HDMI cable through their wall. Everyone else will be equally well served by a moderately priced HDMI 2.0 cable.

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  • Word on the street is, these cables have a fairly high markup on them. Sauce: Someone I know who worked at Harvey Norman for a long while.

    Their feelings were much the same: For higher bandwidth stuff, a better cable is going to work better, but by the time 4K stuff becomes mainstream, HDMI 2.0 cables will be out on eBay. Where there’s money involved, China doesn’t rest on it’s laurels.

    But they did praise the cable replacement guarantee, especially at the 50 or so dollars they paid (store cost)

  • 27 billion is certainly a higher number than zero, but the comparison is still a bit meaningless without knowing how many bits were sent for the entire test. If that result ends up being an error rate of 0.00001% (i.e. unnoticeable to the human eye), you’d still have to question if either a $350 or $60 cable is worth the extra expense.

    • In the video they say the test runs for 10 seconds. The HDMI spec says the 2.0 standard allows for 18 Gb/s, but that is with 8b/10b coding (which can automatically correct one bit error in every 8), so the real data rate has a maximum of 14.4 Gb/s. So if they got that many errors in 10 seconds, you’re looking at an error rate of almost 20%: higher if they weren’t testing at the maximum bandwidth.

      So that would definitely fall on the detectable side.

  • An overpriced crock. Period. I sold the stuff for 4 years about 8 years ago when I was working for Harvey Norman. The markup is about 200%. I used to make more commission off the sales of the cables than I did with an entertainment system (TV, Amplifier, speakers, digital set top box). My average turnover was about 200k a month at about 30-40% GP. It was ridiculous how much commission I was making, just off the cables. They even supplied all the gimmicks to use on TV displays to “compare” a TV using monster to one without. Don’t even bother. It’s a digital signal, it either works or it doesn’t.

  • Whenever I visit someone, and they show off their new TV, I always look at the back at the HDMI cables, then often ask them how much they paid for the cable. At this stage, I usually let out a big sigh, shake my head, and say nothing else.

    I’ve learned that it’s probably best to say nothing in this situation. The old me would talk under wet cement about how they got ripped off with the cable, but it’s really not going to change the situation. It’s not like they’ll take it back to Harvey Norman and demand a cheaper alternative, especially since they probably believed the marketing bullshit the salespeople fed them.

    • This. And I tell you what, the store I worked in, Peppermint Grove in WA, was populated by people with more money than common sense. Every now and then I’d have someone come in who actually did their research and knew what was what, I had respect for those people and looked after them.

      • So if they came into the store looking for advice from the sales people you’d just rip them off?

        • I think he earns commission from selling expensive stuff, not on giving great advice. Being morally upright is great til it’s the difference between a nice dinner and maccas by candlelight because you couldn’t pay your electricity bill.

          • Pretty much. Electricity is still just as expensive and a base wage does not pay the bills.
            Monster cables, extended warranty and spvs.

            That said though, I wish I did have an unlimited replacement composite cable from the 90s. Do you know how hard it is to get something that won’t fall apart the first time you tug on it?

        • Not entirely no. I’d look after people for sure and wouldn’t intentionally go out of my way to rip people off. I would always provide correct and up to date advice on the products I was selling however if someone was merely trolling me for information to go elsewhere I wouldn’t discount a thing. If you could glean that someone was genuinely not that well off and were looking for a good bargain, I’d discount heavily. Anyways, I haven’t been in retail for a good 7 years now.

  • Unlike the analogue TV signals of old, HDMI is digital which means you don’t get a snowy effect or “softer” resolution: it either works or it doesn’t.I don’t know a lot about HDMI, but I do know that’s the exact same motto they had when digital TV came out. Sure, you don’t get snow anymore, instead you get glitches every minute or two and sound dropouts… (I’m renting, so I can’t upgrade the wiring, and I’m on the outskirts of the metro area, so reception isn’t great)

    Or, remember that time they replaced tapes and records with CDs? CDs could never degrade, or skip, because they’re digital! My Ace of Base collection would beg to differ! (hmm, probably should’ve kept that one to myself).

    Or that time they introduced plastic notes? Plastic notes can’t be folded!

    I think I lost my point in there somewhere. Anyway, mid range price point wins.

    • The difference between this and digital tv, digital tv still has to deal with weather and such, an HDMI cable in your home isn’t going to have different conditions one day to the next, so unless you are doing some seriously crazy shit at home, the $5 ebay cable will give you a perfect signal for all formats it supports.
      If you need especially long cables or have to run them over a microwave transmitter or something then maybe mid range cable makes sense, but with the price disparity it’s still probably worth trying el-cheapo first as if it works it works and you can spend the money you saved on pizza or something.

    • I’m renting, so I can’t upgrade the wiringThere should be no reason you can’t use ‘yer own cables..! 🙂

  • It seems to that the ultimate argument here is quality over interference and length. If it is such an issue just run HDMI over CAT5/6. Have home theatre VM’s setup on an ESXi server with GPU pass through. Send it all over the house using HDMI converters…works wonders.

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