Are all HDMI cables created equal? Without lab equipment it is difficult to tell the difference between HDMI [or any cables] at short lengths [under 6 feet]. But signals traveling greater distances do degrade and that is a fact. The longer the wire, the greater the resistance and weaker the signal or current on the receiving end. Here is a round-up comparison of a handful of HDMI cables, designed to provide a 1080p picture at the end of a 50 foot run. This is not a very complex and technical review, just a simple test to show what can be expected from longer HDMI cables at different price points.
All cables were tested with selected scenes from the new Avatar Extended Collector's Edition on Blu-ray available now, all over (special thanks to Fox Home Entertainment for providing the content for this review). We ran all scenes in full 1080p. We tested for video clarity and smoothness as well as audio clarity and quality. All tests were conducted using a brand name Blu-ray player connected in a typical home theater environment. We also tested 1080i signals with HDCP protection and nagging provided by Cablevision (NY) through a Scientific Atlanta Explorer 4250HD cable TV box. Further, we tested a Windows 7 Media Center PC running at 1920x1080 resolution with streaming HD from various online sources. Connections were made through a Pioneer Elite A/V receiver with full 1080p HDCP support and 5.1 high-definition surround sound. We tested using a Samsung 50” LCD with full 1080p video support, then tested the same content with a Mitsubishi full 1080p home theater projector shooting on a 106” screen. Especially close attention was paid to the 106” projected image. Why the larger screens? Large high-def displays have larger pixels that are quite visible to the naked eye, even from a distance of a few feet. This makes video imperfections more visible and more obvious.
Manufacturer:Xtreme Cables Product Name: HDMI Professional Cable 50’
Cable Length:50 feet Part#73150 Price:$99.95 Rating:5 out of 10
Bandwidth: 10.2 Gbps
Refresh Rates:120 Hz
Connector Plating:24k Gold
NOTES: This cable is not worth its price at all. The picture was relatively clear but colors were slightly washed out and blacks seemed more like dark grey. There was a noticeable peppering of red dots (sparkles) on the screen. No HDCP errors were produced by the cable TV box, but Windows Media Center had trouble detecting the projector. The picture was slightly better on the 50-inch LCD TV but still left a lot to be desired. The audio seemed a bit low and flat, speech was not as clear as with the better cables. Xtreme Cables provides a lifetime replacement warranty but that covers manufacturer’s defects. The problem is that this cable is not defective, just poorly made. Finish-wise it looks and feels a lot like the GE cable (read on). Considering it arrived wrapped in very basic retail packaging (a piece of cardboard with color print on it, designed to hang from a hook) there is no justification for the price (manufacturer suggests $149, it sells for $59-$99 online). The manufacturer claims it is rated for in-wall installation. Good, then let’s keep it out of sight.
Manufacturer:General Electric (Licensed by Jasco Products) Product Name: 50’ HDMI Cable
Cable Length:50 feet Part# 87654 Price: $89.00 Rating: 2 out of 10
HDMI specification: 1.3b “high speed rated”
Gauge: 23 AWG
Bandwidth: not specified
Refresh Rates: not specified
The General was by far the worst cable we tested, possibly the worst cable ever made by man. This cable does not seem very thick but it is 23 AWG, making it the second thickest in gauge. Despite the thick gauge it was suspiciously flexible, much like a wet noodle. The picture was very jittery, looked like a high-speed blur spell was cast on the screen. This blur was especially evident when there was no action on the screen (static objects should not seem to move). The colors produced were very washed out and there were many sparkles/red pixels all over the screen. While in the Media Center PC environment the picture came and went as if Windows had problems detecting humanity with this cable plugged-in. The cable box gave HDCP errors at times, especially during the first few seconds after changing channels. Audio was consistently dull, sounded a bit mono, kind of like listening through ear muffs. This cable is not rated for in-wall installation, which is fine considering it can easily wrap and contort around anything. You can find this cable at major retailers like Target, Home Depot, Lowes, etc. Our advice: stay away.
Manufacturer:Monoprice Product Name: 50FT 22AWG CL2 Silver Plated Standard Speed Cable
Cable Length:50 feet Part# 2678 Price: $56.58 Rating: 9 out of 10
HDMI specification: 1.3b
Gauge: 22 AWG
Bandwidth: 10.2 Gbps
Refresh Rates: 120+ Hz
HDCP Compliant: Yes
Flexibility: Somewhat Flexible / Very Thick
In-Wall Rated: Yes
Connector Plating: Gold (Conductor Plating: Silver)
This, the least expensive cable sports the thickest gauge and is the second best cable in this fray. The picture produced by this cord was clear and consistent. Colors were almost perfect. By that we mean that in certain high-speed action scenes the colors seemed very slightly washed out (but barely noticeable). During relatively calm or still scenes there was a slightly noticeable blur/motion of the pixels which can get a bit annoying, especially when viewing the PC desktop. Audio quality was great. The speech was clear and explosions sounded full and detailed. We give a slight edge to the Monster cable for producing perfect audio but this [Monoprice], again, is very impressive at that price. Monoprice’s was the only cable that arrived in a plain clear bag, that’s it, no fancy packaging, that is how they keep their prices so low. Considering its “non-brand” image and extremely economical price tag we are quite impressed with this cable. What’s more, they have very knowledgeable customer service reps. These guys make, sell and support their own products and they take their business seriously. They back their HDMI cables with a lifetime replacement warranty as well as a 30-day money back guarantee. At 22 AWG this was a thick cable. It is very visible if you run it on the surface or under a carpet, so best to keep it stuffed behind the sheetrock.
Manufacturer:Monster Cable Product Name: 1000HD Ultimate High-Speed HDMI Cable
Cable Length:50 feet (15.24 meters) Part# 127944-00 Price: $299.00 Rating: 10 out of 10
HDMI specification: 1.3b (1.4 with upgrade program)
Gauge: 26 AWG
Bandwidth: 15.8+ Gbps (Monster Ultimate High-Speed rated)
Refresh Rates: 120/240+ Hz
HDCP Compliant: Yes
Flexibility: Very Flexible
In-Wall Rated: Yes
Connector Plating: 24k Gold-plated
Warranty: Full Lifetime
A Monster it is, both in terms of price and performance. The 1000HD produced a perfect picture at 50 feet. There were absolutely no sparkles, no artifacts or errors of any kind. No HDCP errors reported in any situation. The audio quality was superior to all, rationally perfect. Every explosion, every word and all sounds [high and low] came across clearly at all audible volume levels. This is by far the most expensive cable in this round-up but you get what you pay for. They don't just sell you a cable, they sell you a standard. Monster wants you to keep using their cables forever and this is reflected in their warranty and upgrade programs. “Monsters Live Forever” full lifetime warranty will give you a replacement of the product should it prove to be defective. “Cable for Life” upgrade program states “If the equipment you purchase in the future ever surpasses the bandwidth of this Monster Cable, Monster will upgrade your cable at no charge.” This cable is also among the thinnest and most flexible of the bunch (26 AWG), making it easy to run through walls, around corners and make cute, animal-shaped characters along the way.
Manufacturer:Tripp Lite Product Name: 50 ft. HDMI Gold Digital Video Cable
Cable Length:50 feet Part# P568-050 Price: $100 Rating: 5 out of 10
HDMI specification: 1.3
Gauge: 28 AWG
Bandwidth: 10.2 Gbps
Refresh Rates: Unknown
HDCP Compliant: Yes
In-Wall Rated: Yes
Connector Plating: Gold
Not much to say here, except this cable was almost as bad as the GE. This cable provided poor video in every mode. Colors where washed out and slightly greenish. A few red sparkles were visible on the projector but not on the LCD TV. There was an intermittent blank screen while in Windows desktop, plus it seemed like the projector was constantly auto-adjusting colors. Audio was very flat. Tripp Lite recommends using their B122-000 signal booster (for $50), yah right, we’d say it is a must.
A bit about length, bandwidth and HDMI specification
We asked Charlene Wan, Director of Marketing & Operations at HDMI.org for some clarification on HDMI speed specs. Here's what she had to say:
The HDMI Standard specifies two speeds for cables. Standard, which is tested to handle up to the bandwidth to transport a 1080i/60 signal, and High Speed which is tested to handle up to the maximum data throughput specified by the HDMI specification (10.2 Gigabits per second – translated to more than twice the bandwidth required for 1080p/60.) These two categories were created with the launch of the 1.3 version of the specification. That doesn’t mean that manufacturers MUST now have cables that support the High Speed requirements – they have the choices of Standard or High Speed. So, the statement above that says the cables were built to 1.3b standards might be correct, but could also mean that it was built to the requirements of the Standard cable in the 1.3b specification. To be clear, one can still build a Standard cable using the 1.4 version of the specification – the requirements for the Standard cable haven’t changed, even though the specification may have added additional options. Similarly, a TV manufacturer can still design a TV, compliant with the 1.4 version of the specification that displays only 480p.
Next we asked her if any 50-foot cables were actually 'HDMI Certified' and she responded:
It may be that there are no cables at 50 ft. that have passed the High Speed compliance test. High Speed is the only cable that is tested to support the bandwidth required to display 1080p. It is not that the testing centers have a limit on length; they don’t. It is just that at 50 ft., it is very difficult for passive copper cables to hold the signal integrity that far. So, testing centers do not care about length. Nor is length something that is specified in the specification. The specification simply notes that a signal must maintain certain strength. The length is dependent upon the cable design and manufacturing quality. Practically speaking, however, I do not know of a cable more than 8-9 meters long that has passed the High Speed cable compliance test.
What about bandwidth? Charlene says:
There are companies who claim that their cables can do more than 10.2 Gbps, which is a silly claim since no devices can be designed to transmit or receive more than 10.2 Gbps at this time – which means no cable would ever be needed in the market. These cables may actually be capable of performing at those speeds, but similar to above, we have no official way of testing this as part of the HDMI compliance testing and so, they are allowed to claim this for marketing reasons as long as they don’t associate their speed rating with HDMI compliance testing.
All cables are not created equal. According to the official HDMI testing labs HDMI cables can be submitted at any length for a pass or fail rating but most cables are HDMI certified at 10 to 12 meters at standard speed (or category 1) and 7.5 to 8 meters high-speed (category 2). Much of this depends on the quality of the materials, the gauge (or thickness) and the manufacturing process (soldering, crimping, etc.). As demonstrated by Monoprice you don’t need to spend a ton to get a useable cable for a 50-foot run. You just need to pick a product with a price set based on materials and workmanship, no hype and colorful packaging. On the other hand if you truly want the best product you often need to ante up. As demonstrated by Monster Cable the most expensive product does give you that extra bit of detail and perfection. You pay a lot more but you are still paying for great workmanship and superior quality materials. With a perfect 10, the winner of this round-up is Monster Cable but we must reiterate that Monoprice is the clear winner for best value.