HDMI cables. They’re everywhere. On racks in the TV department of any electronics store, in the checkout lines of major retailers, and of course, countless places sell them on the web. This ubiquitous AV cable has become a commodity, but that doesn’t mean you can just grab any one you see and expect to work the way you want.
For example, while most new cables will handle Ultra HD “4K” resolutions, they might not be able to handle 4K high dynamic range (media streamer, you may also be in the market for new HDMI cables. Fortunately, you can get the maximum performance possible in an HDMI cable for less than $10. That is, if you even need new cables…). So if you’re considering getting a new TV, a 4K Blu-ray player, or a 4K HDR
Do you really need new cables?
I get into recommendations on new cables below, but first a bit of advice.
Just because you’re getting a new TV doesn’t necessarily mean you need new HDMI cables, even if you’re upgrading to something with 4K and HDR. Over short distances, say under 6 feet (2m), just about any recent “High Speed” HDMI cable should work fine. “High Speed” is the rating used by HDMI companies to indicate cables that have the bandwidth to handle 1080p and greater resolutions.
You can think of bandwidth like a pipe. You need to be able to get a lot of “water” through the pipe with 4K and HDR content. A cable needs to be “big” enough to handle it all.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell just by looking at a cable whether it can handle the deluge of data required for 4K and HDR content. Even if it says “High Speed” on the jacket, that’s not 100 percent useful. A cable can be considered “high speed” if it passes 1080p, but not be well enough made to handle 4K. The only way to verify it works is to test it.
The good thing is, if it works, it works. For example, if you’re sending a 4K HDR signal from your 4K Blu-ray player to your 4K HDR TV, and the TV shows a 4K HDR signal, you’re set. It’s not possible to get a better image using a different HDMI cable. That’s not how the technology works.
There are only two “fails” with an HDMI cable. The most likely is you won’t get any signal at all: A blank or flashing screen. First, check that everything’s connected correctly, and all your settings are correct.
Also remember, if one step in your chain isn’t 4K HDR, nothing is. As in, if you connect a 4K Blu-ray player to an old sound bar and then to a 4K TV, you won’t be able to get a 4K signal to the TV. Also, many TVs only have one HDMI input that’s 4K. Check that, too. If all your hardware and settings are correct, it might be the cable, so you can skip to the next section.
The only other “fail” mode of HDMI cables is sparkles. This looks like snow on the screen. It can be heavy enough to look like static, like an old TV tuned to a dead channel, or it can be random-but-regular flashes of white pixels. This means you’ll need new cables.
If the TV is receiving the same resolution you’re sending it (e.g. the TV says it’s 4K HDR when you’re sending 4K HDR), you’re all set. A different cable won’t make that image sharper, brighter or anything else.
New cable recommendations
So lets say you don’t want to worry about it, you don’t want to risk a non-working new TV while you wait for ordered cables, or you’re just pretty sure your current cables won’t work. Here are some options.
There are cheaper options than what’s listed below, but the ones here are from reputable companies that have great user reviews and have sold HDMI cables for years. They’re also rated to have the bandwidth to handle 4K and HDR content. Which is to say, if you just want the short answer and don’t want to have to think about it, these are the best options, depending where you want to buy them. I used 6-foot/1.8m as the example for pricing, but each brand or outlet also offers longer and shorter options.
The simplest of the simple. “Meets the latest HDMI standards (4K Video at 60Hz, 2160p, 48 bit/px color depth)…”. They also have multi-packs, 3- and 15-foot versions, and so on.
Free delivery if you’re a Prime member, and they have a lifetime warranty. 4.7/5 stars from 13,697 reviews.
The most famous of the cheap HDMI brands, Monoprice has dozens of options to chose from. The linked cable is “Premium Certified,” which . It basically means the cable is more-or-less guaranteed to work with 4K and HDR. It’s not required for 4K HDR, but if you see a cable that’s Premium Certified and has the matching hologram and QR code, it’s a pretty safe bet.
Walmart – Tripp Lite P568-003-FL: $8
Walmart’s marketplace has dozens of HDMI cables. Of the ones they seem to sell themselves, evidenced by the “Free Pickup” tag, the Tripp Lite linked here claims in one place to be 18Gbps, though in two others, it says 10.2. This wouldn’t be as big a deal if they listed what frame-rates of 4K they could handle, or if it did HDR, but neither are specified. If you dig down through the details you can find that it does have a lifetime warranty. Though it’s flat, it’s only 3 feet/0.9m long. I can’t see any reason to get this cable over one of the others, but it’s an option.
While Target sells some fairly inexpensive HDMI cables (though still expensive compared to others here), none claimed to be capable of the 18Gbps bandwidth that many other cheap cables are, and therefore probably can’t handle 4K HDR. They might be able to, but since we’re not interested in “might,” best to skip Target.
Miss! Best to MISS Target. #nevermissapun
Best Buy – Dynex DX-SF116: $6
Most of Best Buy’s cable offerings are outrageously expensive. They still sell a 2-foot/0.6m $435 cable, for instance. But they have some offerings that aren’t bad. This Dynex cable is 6 feet/1.8m and “supports speeds up to 18Gbps.”
It only has a 90-day warranty though, so the above options are probably better.
There are, of course, many other options.
If you want to keep hunting for the best deal, make sure the cable you’re considering is either Premium Certified, says it can do 4K/60, or can handle 18Gbps bandwidth. And it’s an added bonus if it has a warranty like the Amazon or Monoprice cables.
There’s no such thing as HDMI cable “versions.” As in, there’s no such thing as an “HDMI 2.0” cable. The version numbers refer to the connections in your TV, receiver, sound bar, etc. So your TV and 4K Blu-ray player need to both have HDMI 2.0 to watch HDR content, but the cable connecting them couldn’t care less. It’s just a dumb pipe.
As long as that pipe is “big” enough, that is, has enough bandwidth, you should be good to go. The 18Gbps you’ve seen mentioned here came about with the HDMI 2.0 spec, so if a cable claims it, it’s likely built to handle the additional data that HDMI 2.0 connections can provide.
Don’t worry about cables that claim “with Ethernet.” Most cables have this, but it’s not necessary as no equipment uses it, and none probably ever will.
If you need longer runs, consider active cables. These draw a bit of power from the HDMI connection to boost the signal. Monoprice, for example, has some that use Spectra7 tech, formerly RedMere. I recently bought one of these to connect my projector and so far it’s working great. There’s no specific distance over which you should get active cables. It’s going to depend on your specific gear. A 25-foot/7.6m passive cable might work between one receiver and TV, but not a different receiver or different TV. Long active cables should work for everyone.
Lastly, if you want to run the cables through a wall, make sure you get HDMI cables specifically made for that. Check your local building codes for what you need.
Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he’s written on topics like why all HDMI cables are the same, TV resolutions explained, LED LCD vs. OLED and more. Still have a question? Tweet at him @TechWriterGeoff then check out his travel photography on Instagram. He also thinks you should check out his best-selling sci-fi novel and its sequel.