HDMI guide: how to buy the cable you need

The term HDMI has been part of the technological vocabulary for many years. Strong industry support and common interest in creating a standard that would make life easier for manufacturers and users resulted in the standard we use today.

Over time, a multitude of versions, variants, and models have appeared, along with certain tricks devised in marketing departments that can confuse less experienced users. In this guide we will learn what HDMI is, what versions and types exist, what each one offers and how to choose the optimal HDMI cable for each usage scenario.

What is HDMI?

HDMI (yes, being strict is feminine) stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface, in Spanish High Definition Multimedia Interface . It is a video standard created and supported by major companies in consumer electronics, computing, telecommunications, film and TV.

The first version of HDMI was introduced in 2002 and was capable of supporting up to 5 Gbps, enough to carry 1080p video at 60 Hz and multi-channel audio at 192 KHz. Throughout the twenty years that have passed since then, the standard has been updated to current needs, while maintaining compatibility.

What types of HDMI are there?

HDMI are usually classified by three types of connector in three categories:

  • Normal HDMIconnector or type A: The standard connector, to which we are all accustomed and the one that most of the devices we use have.
  • Mini HDMIor type C connector : similar to the previous one but much narrower. It can be found in some cameras, monitors for professional use and devices related to the world of digital video.
  • Micro HDMIor type D connector : very small, inspired by micro USB, but also unusual. It can be seen on action cameras, for example.

The standard also covers the types of HDMI with extended pin or type B and type E, reserved for the automotive industry, which are not included in this article.

HDMI versions

As we mentioned, the HDMI standard has been adapted to the needs of the sector over the years. All cables are compatible with each other, but it is very important to have the right version for each type of product. In general, the better the more modern.

These are the most relevant changes and features that each one has been incorporating:

  • HDMI 1.0
    • Initial release of the HDMI standard
    • Audio-video interface for video and audio transfer over a single cable
    • Data transfer up to 4.95 Gbps
    • 1080p at 60 frames per second
    • 8 channels of 192kHz/24-bit uncompressed audio (PCM)
    • Standard Blu-ray video and audio playback
  • HDMI 1.1/1.2
    • Audio DVD
    • YCbCr color space support
    • Support for low voltage sources
    • Standard HDMI connector (Type A) for PC applications
    • Consumer Electronic Control (CEC)
  • HDMI 1.3/1. 3a
    • Bandwidth at 10.2 Gb/s
    • Color depth increased to 10-bit, 12-bit, or 16-bit per channel
    • HDMI Mini Connector (Type C)
    • Support for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio formats
  • HDMI 1.4/1. 4a
    • Support for HDMI Ethernet Channel [HEC]
    • Support for 3840 x 2160 @ 30Hz and 4096 x 2160 @ 24Hz
    • Audio Return Channel [ARC]
    • HDMI Micro Connector (Type D)
  • HDMI 2.0
    • Bandwidth at 18 Gb/s
    • 4K @ 60 Hz
    • 8b / 10b signal encoding
    • Support for 32 audio channels
    • Support for ultra wide 21:9 cinema aspect ratio
  • HDMI 2.1
    • Bandwidth at 48 Gb/s
    • Resolutions up to 10K at 120 frames per second
    • Dynamic HDR
    • Screen Stream Compression [DSC] 1. 2a
    • Enhanced Audio Return Channel [eARC]

It is important to note that the version number does not guarantee that the cable has the full set of features promised by the standard. Full implementation is always optional and varies by manufacturer, so read the technical specifications and certification, if any, carefully.

Are all HDMI cables the same?

It is enough to take a look at any electronics store to discover that the supply of cables is overwhelming. Apparently the same cables with very different prices and marketing maneuvers that use words like “premium” “super” “ultra” or any variant you can think of to charge a few euros more for the same thing.

A priori, the price differences between passive cables (those that do not carry a reinforced signal and do not need power) are justified by their length and the construction materials used . In practice, in a domestic environment we will very rarely need cables longer than three meters. At these distances, we are rarely going to notice the improvements of a better-built cable or with more insulation, so the recommendation is to buy the one with the best value for money and, yes, the version we need.

Opinions about what the maximum length of a passive cable should be or after how many meters it is important to spend more money to avoid problems vary. In general, from 7 meters for 4K and from 14 meters in 1080p, we should opt for high-end solutions . Furthermore, consider some solution based on active cables or wireless, although the technology of the latter still has delays and may not be suitable for uses where frequency and resolution are critical.

The organization that controls the HDMI standard has certification programs to help users and that manufacturers can sign up for. Although there are standard and high speed categories, the minimum we should look at is the “Premium HDMI Cable Certification Program”. This assures us that we are buying a cable that supports 4K resolution at 60 Hz, in addition to all the added features of the HDMI 2.0 standard.

With the HDMI 2.1 standard came the “Ultra High Speed ​​HDMI Cable Certification Program”. This certification allows us to quickly identify a cable that really is HDMI 2.1, that is, that it complies with the 48 Gbps bandwidth set by the standard. Thus, these cables are capable of reproducing 8K images at 60 Hz and 4K at 120 Hz on compatible devices.

The main drawback is that there are many manufacturers that do not pass these processes. This does not mean that your cables do not work correctly, but in those cases we must “trust” what they indicate and take into account that they have not been audited by a third party.

In short, the first thing we should do before choosing which cable to buy is to know what the thing we want to connect needs. From there, make sure that we buy the right version so that we can bring the signal to the highest possible quality. In normal scenarios, you will notice very little difference between cables of a certain quality (avoid suspiciously cheap ones).

In the case of an assembly where we want to take the signal beyond 6-7 meters or we are going to join many cables (for example, inside a wall conduit) it does make sense to spend a little more and make sure we buy a certified product, with good construction and well shielded.

Another situation where it is worth buying a good HDMI cable is one that we are going to connect and disconnect continuously , such as those of a projector or the laptop you use for work. By pure physics, the fact of constantly removing and putting a connector can deteriorate its connections and make it work worse or stop working sooner than we expect. Save on the HDMI cables that are going to be sitting still and spend a little more on the ones that aren’t behind the TV.

A more expensive cable will not improve picture or sound quality

At this point it is worth clarifying a concept. Throughout this text we have talked about the differences between cables depending on their length or how they are built, but in no case does this imply that one is better than another. These and no others are the reasons why it makes sense to pay much more for one cable than for another.

The video signal that is transmitted through an HDMI cable is digital. Ones and zeros. We consider a transmission error when a one should be sent and a zero arrives or vice versa. Technically, it is possible and it does happen that these types of errors occur during a transmission, which, in fact, will be smaller the better the cable.

The HDMI standard admits one error per billion bits (known as BER). Now imagine you are watching a 1080p movie (over 2 million pixels in each frame) and a single pixel in a frame is not drawn as it should. That is the margin of error allowed in the worst possible cable with the HDMI standard and, as you can imagine, it is impossible to see it with the naked eye.

In addition, almost any modern television includes automation capable of detecting errors and solving them without us noticing. If a pixel fails in an image of the blue sky, it is able to analyze the surrounding ones and paint it without us noticing. It is something that happens, for example, when we are playing streaming without adequate bandwidth. The famous “artifacts” in the image.

With regard to jitter (common term in audio and video forums) it can be a source of problems, but the cause is not the quality of the cable but rather the synchronization between the sender and receiver of the signal. In short , it is a problem that is not solved by using a more expensive cable. On the other hand, modern devices already have buffer systems to minimize these inconveniences associated with the reproduction of digital content.

Fiber Optic HDMI Cables

Although they have been on the market for some time, their high price restricts their market to professional users with very specific needs. An HDMI fiber optic cable combines the best of both technologies and instead of using copper as the conductor for the signal, it converts the signal into pulses of light that travel through the cable before being translated back into a digital signal.

Its main advantages are two: it solves the problem of long distances without the need for additional power (there are cables to carry up to 8K 60fps at about 15-18 meters), without signal loss or delay. The second advantage is that they are not affected by electromagnetic interference.

Also, fiber optic HDMI cables have interchangeable ends so they are more versatile.

Among the drawbacks, they are more delicate when it comes to bending and installing them in complicated places and they are significantly more expensive than a normal HDMI. In addition, and as we have been commenting throughout the article, a normal user at a distance of up to 7 meters will not notice any difference between a fiber cable and traditional ones.

How to choose the HDMI cable you need

In order to summarize everything seen throughout the text, we summarize the keys to keep in mind to get it right when buying an HDMI cable.

  • Check the type of connectorwe need
  • Evaluate the distanceat which we are going to connect the devices (the greater the distance, the more important it is to have a quality cable)
  • Take into account the resolutionsof the video source, the screen and the audio that we are going to transmit.
  • Always buy a cable with HDCP. Content providers use this copy protection and it may not work well if the cable does not support it.
  • If we are going to install the cable in a special scenario, such as through walls, outdoors, or in a humid environment, it is advisable to look for specialized solutions with specific certifications against fire, water, and others.
  • There are cables with gold- platedconnectors , interesting to avoid corrosion. They are an interesting option for fixed installations that are not easy to renew.
  • Another option is grip connectors, which prevent accidental disconnections. Again, they make sense for devices subject to movement (a projection table), vibrations, and so on.
  • Angled connectors are more expensive, but perfect for televisions that are attached to the wall or installations where we do not want the cables to be seen.
  • In the priority list check the version firstand buy the highest you can, within the length you need. The rest of the aspects are important, but at a second level.

In summary, for the same version, a more expensive HDMI cable does not always imply better performance (in fact, in most cases we will not notice a difference). It makes no sense to fall for the marketing promises and pay much more than they are worth, but it is also a mistake to buy a very low quality cable that spoils the experience for a few euros less.

The key is the balance between build quality, length, extra features and, as always, our personal needs.

 

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