Which store has the best deals on HDMI cables? Which Web site has the best selection? Which HDMI cable is right for your TV?
Answers to these questions, and more, in the definitive (if I do say so myself) HDMI cable buyers guide:
First off, cheap cables will produce the exact same picture and sound quality as expensive cables. Check out our HDMI cable trilogy: “Why all HDMI cables are the same,” “Why all HDMI cables are the same, Part 2,” “Still more reasons why all HDMI cables are the same” and “4K HDMI cables are nonsense.” These articles go into extensive detail about how HDMI cables work, and why by their very nature, you’re either getting a perfect image, or no image at all.
Type When it comes to TVs, there are four kinds of HDMI cables:
- High speed with Ethernet
- High speed without Ethernet
- Standard speed with Ethernet
- Standard speed without Ethernet
Standard speed cables can handle up to 1080i. High speed can handle definition far beyond 1080p. Here’s the thing: the price difference is negligible, so only buy high-speed cables. Most HDMI cables you’ll find in a store are high-speed cables.
Very few products have Ethernet-over-HDMI compatibility, so it’s not likely you need to pay extra for the feature in the cable. If you want to “future proof” your system slightly, then that’s your call. For most people, though, I don’t see the point. Again, the price difference is marginal, so it’s not a big deal either way. If you’re sure your equipment has Ethernet-over-HDMI compatibility, then of course check out those HDMI cables. That likelihood is small, though.
The short version: Buy high speed without Ethernet and don’t worry about the other types.
There is no loss in picture quality over long distances. However, there will be a point where you just don’t get a picture anymore. So if you’re not sure if 6 feet is long enough, go for 10 feet. It shouldn’t cost that much more money.
Although HDMI 2.0 is coming, there aren’t many products that support it yet. More importantly, current HDMI cables will work with HDMI 2.0. This ties in to the article mentioned above, but it’s worth repeating: 4K HDMI cables are nonsense.
One thing to consider, regardless of length, is an active cable. RedMere technology and other active cables allow for thinner cables, or really long cables. These can be more expensive, but depending on how or where you’re installing them, sometimes a tiny flexible cable works better even if it costs a little more.
For consistency, I just checked high speed without Ethernet 6-foot/2-meter cables (some are measured in metric, some are counted in ‘Merican). I figured this was the length and speed most people would be interested in.
On the Web Monoprice: Most of the cables I use — and most of the cables CNET uses — come from Monoprice. They’re exceptionally cheap, they ship quickly, and I’ve never had one fail despite a significant amount of plugging and unplugging. Just about any length is available, and all are about the cheapest you’ll find anywhere. How about a 6-foot high-speed HDMI cable for $3.50? To give you an idea about active cables, a 6-foot “ultra slim” high-speed cable with RedMere is $17. Price: $3.50 (six-foot high speed)
Amazon: With Amazon Prime you get free two-day shipping. Even if you’re not a Prime member, its selection is good, as are its prices. The Amazon Basics line of cables have a 5/5 customer rating, and you can get two 2-meter high-speed cables with Ethernet for $10. However, if you’re willing to risk some seriously no-name cables, you can get a 2-meter cables for less than $3. Price: $3, and up
NewEgg: I’ve never bought cables from here, but I have bought computer parts. No issues as I recall. Price: $3.50
Crutchfield: The king of list price strikes again. Price: $19.99
Ye olde brick-and-mortar I checked several national chain stores, and one popular regional chain, to see what kind of prices they had on cables. As you’d expect, their prices were, for the most part, rubbish. While I’ve listed the lowest price I could find, each store had many, many more offerings that were priced ridiculously.
Only buy HDMI cables at a store as a last resort; say, if you just bought a new TV and forgot to order a cable online. Here are a few stores and their respective prices, to help you in said predicament. (Note: this article was originally published last year, and all prices were correct then. I’ve updated it with some new article links and info, but didn’t check the in-store prices, as they haven’t changed much. Web prices are current).
Three ways to wrap your cables
- LED LCD vs. plasma vs. LCD
- Active 3D vs. passive 3D: What’s better?
- Why 4K TVs are stupid
- Contrast ratio (or how every TV manufacturer lies to you)
- HDMI vs. DisplayPort vs. DVI vs. VGA: Which connection to choose?
- How big a TV should I buy?
- 1080i and 1080p are the same resolution
- Audiophile Odyssey: Behind the Scenes at B&W, Meridian, and Abbey Road Studios
Walmart: The best price for a single cable was $13 for one, $20 for a pair. Online, they had a 6-foot cable for $4.88 that claimed to be capable of 1080p (though wasn’t called high speed). Amusingly, the Walmart I went to had an 80-inch Sharp showing a standard-definition 4×3 image. Bang-up job, Walmart; bang-up job. Price: $20 for two
Best Buy: The best, ahem, buy, was $20 for a single 6-foot cable. Shame. I didn’t see it in the store, but on its Web site it has a 6-foot cable for $5.49. Through the Best Buy Marketplace (i.e. approved third-party retailers), I found one for $4. In neither case was the speed specified. Price: $20 (6 feet, high speed)
Target: The best price was, like Walmart, two for $20. The prices went up from there. On its Web site there was a 6-foot cable for $15, though its speed was unspecified. Price: $20 for two
RadioShack: Wow. The in-store offerings were offensive. The Web site has a $9 online-only 2-meter high-speed cable. Price: $28 (6 feet, high speed)
Home Depot: Decent prices, actually. In the store, the best I found was $13 for two 6-footers. Online this isn’t listed, but instead there are two $9 2-meter cables (incidentally, one is the same “brand” as RadioShack’s $9 offering). There’s also a $9 12-foot cable. Price: $13 for two (6 feet, high speed)
Office Depot: We have a “winner”: $32 for a 6-foot HDMI cable with no speed specified. The cheapest they had online was a $12.95 6ft cable, speed not specified. Office Max, on the other hand, has a $5.95 High Speed 2m cable with Ethernet. Price: $32 (6 feet, unknown speed)
Fry’s: This southwest regional chain is known for its funky stores and every part and piece you need to build your own space laser or robo-dolphin. It also has no-name-brand HDMI cables. Win. Price: $4.99 (6 feet, high speed)
Bottom line Buy inexpensive high-speed HDMI cables. Online is cheaper by far and will be available in whatever length you need. Only buy from a physical store if you absolutely have to, and if you do, certain stores do better than others. At the very least, if you’re in a bind, check the Web sites of the various stores in your area. They’ll at least give you an idea which store offers the best in-store price.
Found deals from somewhere not on this list? Where?
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, LED LCD vs. plasma, active versus passive 3D, and more. Still have a question? Send him an e-mail! He won’t tell you what TV to buy, but he might use your letter in a future article. You can also send him a message on Twitter @TechWriterGeoff or Google+.