Do Premium HDMI Cables Really Matter?

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Do Premium HDMI Cables Really Matter?

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Wireworld_logo_Grey_N.jpgDavid Salz
President 
Wireworld Cable Technology
"There is a simple reason why upgrade HDMI cables can improve audio and video quality. Standard cables can cause noticeable losses. The best way to test for those losses is to compare an extremely short HDMI cable (a one-inch jumper is preferred, but a one-foot cable will still work) to standard cables of normal length. Under those conditions, many people hear cleaner and more lifelike sound from the short reference. Likewise, the finer points of image quality, including more vivid colors and improved depth perception, are often better with the reference than with standard cables. This is especially true with the best components and professional calibration. In these cases, an upgraded cable with higher speed and lower noise can provide audible and visual improvements approaching the scientific reference standard for cables, which is a direct connection between components."

Transparent_Audio_brand_page_logo.gifJosh Clark
Lead Designer
Transparent Audio
"HDMI cables make a difference beyond simply passing a signal. Many people assume that with a digital format like HDMI, if they see a picture and hear a sound, they have 'perfect' quality. Unfortunately this is not the case. Digital signals are still based in an analog world, and the high-frequency analog pulses that make up a digital signal are still subject to noise interference and timing distortions. Most short HDMI cables will pass a signal; but, if they allow excessive amounts of noise into that signal, the sound and picture will have noticeably less dynamic range, richness, and clarity. Quality HDMI cables use low-loss materials, high-quality shielding, and precision construction techniques - all of which reduce noise and maintain the quality of the signal. The result is a more dynamic and immersive theater experience, which you can see and hear. Colors are richer, and there is more definition in the shadows. The sound is fuller, more life-like, and more dynamic."

312_logo_logo2_200_px.jpgEthan Siegel
President
OrbAudio.com
"At Orb Audio we don't make anything with HDMI, but we do sell products like receivers, Blu-ray players, and other components that connect via HDMI. We also support our clients, at no charge, when they run into technical issues. One of the most common video problems consumers call us with is sparkles or video blackouts. Our first question is, what type of HDMI cable are you using? Nine out of 10 times, it is a cheapie $2 cable. We ask them to swap that cable out for a different cable, and nearly every time it solves the problem. To be clear, we aren't suggesting that you need a $1,000-per-meter HDMI cable to have an effective connection between two AV components, but the quality of the connection, the quality control of the manufacturer, and the shielding of, say, a $75 HDMI cable is superior to those at $2 or even $10 that you might find in a bin at a big-box retailer."

krell_brand_page_logo.gifBill McKiegan
President
Krell
"At Krell, we have designed and manufactured components featuring HDMI connections for many years. The experience at our production facility, at trade shows, and in our customers' systems is that a well-made, high-quality HDMI cable is essential to reliable, high-quality performance. Not all HDMI issues are cable-related; but, in a great number of situations, the root cause of audio and/or video problems we experience are rectified when a generic HDMI cable is replaced with something of a higher quality. This is especially true when longer lengths cables are used."

As you can see, there are a lot of opinions on HDMI cables - some for and some against spending the extra money on premium cables. For long runs, it is clearly worth looking into better cables, as your display device might not respond well to a less-than-perfect signal even if the packet is "making it" to the display. It could be riddled with noise and other problems that can cause reliability issues. For shorter runs, your budget has a lot to do with what you should do. If you are really running on a tight budget, spending $100 more on speakers might impact performance more than upgrading a key HDMI cable. On the other hand, if you have a higher-end system, a better-shielded cable with better connectors can be worth the roughly $75 to $100 that start the premium HDMI cable discussion.

Most dealers offer liberal in-home trial programs. The best solution for your system is to do the Pepsi Challenge at home. If you can hear/see the difference, then the upgrade is worth it. If not, then save yourself the money. For many, Two-buck Chuck from Trader Joe's is a suitable wine. For those looking for something more, it takes a bit more investment. It's important not to get so snobby that you make fun of those who think the Charles Shaw Chardonnay is good enough when you prefer to drink an Aubert or a Peter Michael. There's a solution that works for everyone out there. The key (and the fun) is finding where the performance boost is for your system.

What type/brand/price of HDMI cables do you use for the main connections of your audiophile or home theater system? What do you think is the right price for an HDMI cable? Have you ever done a shootout with HDMI cables to determine sound/image differences? Let us know your thoughts below.

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