I have to admit, I've never really spent more than $10 on a HDMI cable. But to my horror, there are some high-quality options going for exorbitant amounts online. I'm talking hundreds of dollars for what is essentially just a data cable. Let me remind you why that's a complete waste of your precious money.
First, let's quickly revisit the days of analogue. Until the mid-2000s, the best way to hook up your surround sound, video or DVD player was with those ancient three-pronged yellow, white and red analogue cables — the RCA connector. Those cables transmitted physical signals through the cable so your data - whether it be a CD, DVD or a dusty old videotape - could be viewed or listened to. The better the build of the cable, the more reliable the transmission of that data.
Old or worn cables could drop out your video signal from time to time and give you audio or visual noise so cables that were built more sturdily would generally be worth paying a premium for. Most cables had copper but more expensive options were gold-plated or contained silver which provided better durability and transmission quality.
When HDMI cables were invented in 2002, however, that all changed. Now data could be transmitted digitally, through 1s and 0s and through a single prong, which also paved the way for high-definition content. The thing is, the actual build of the cable no longer really mattered. That meant gold-plating, for example, wouldn't actually affect the quality of the transmission at all. As long as the cable was built to the latest HDMI specifications and had the required 19 conductors, any cable, $5 or $500, would let you connect your gaming console or Blu-Ray in relative peace.
That's not to say HDMI cables never fail. If a cable does start to play up, you might notice white spots in images or your screen could start dropping out. That's because part or all of the digital signal is not transmitting properly. The 1s or the 0s aren't making it to the endpoint and so your picture is incomplete. This has personally never happened to me but if you're paying $5 per cable, rather than $100, it's really not much of an issue.
When should I pay for a more expensive cable?
The only time gold-plated cables actually do offer a major difference is when you live in an area that's susceptible to corrosion. If you live in a humid area or somewhere near water, you'll probably need to invest in gold-plated cables if you keep burning through the $10 ones. That's because gold doesn't corrode like copper does.
Outside that though, more expensive cables really just offer you the feeling of quality. They are usually built with nicer casings and that nice threaded material used for the cable line.
If you need a much longer cable (like 10 metres or so), you might have to pay a little extra to connect up your equipment. But even then, you certainly don't need to spend hundreds of dollars.
The only other thing that should drive up the price of your cable is the version it is. Since the original HDMI cable entered the market, a version 2.0 and 2.1 has been released allowing for more data to transfer through. HDMI 2.0 allows for 18Gbps compared to the HDMI 1.4, which had 10Gbps. HDMI 2.1 takes it even further with 48Gbps but the humble HDMI 1.4 cables can still work with 4K content, it just won't give you the best performance.
The problem is while the packaging should give you a good idea of what speed your HDMI cable is, it's pretty tough to check on the actual HDMI cable itself. If you do need the HDMI 2.0 specifically, make sure you check the specs before you buy and put a bit of tape on it as a visual reminder that this is your faster cable.
So if you can afford it, then throw your cash at those boujee cables you don't really need. But don't expect any actual difference in quality.