HDMI cables are far from fancy and don’t require tons of setup, but anyone who has tried to deal with TVs, A/V receivers, or soundbars knows how useful these cords can be. Without them, even watching a video on your TV can quickly become impossible.
Although you probably won’t need to spend serious cash to get an HDMI cable, it’s still important to know which cables are high-quality and durable.
How to pick the best HDMI cable
Despite efforts on the part of some manufacturers to label their cables as “HDMI 2.0,” or “HDMI 2.1,” what differentiates one HDMI cable from another isn’t the HDMI version. That version number (1, 1.4, 2.0, etc.) describes the capabilities of your hardware — TVs, soundbars, A/V receivers, etc. — not your HDMI cables.
That said, there is a relationship between the version of HDMI your devices use and the kind of HDMI cable you should buy.
Speed (or bandwidth)
Speed is the single biggest consideration when choosing an HDMI cable because if your HDMI cable isn’t fast enough for your specific equipment, HDMI version, and media sources, it won’t be reliable.
HDMI cable speed is measured in gigabits per second (Gbps), but don’t worry, you don’t need to memorize a bunch of numbers. To keep things simple, HDMI.org — the group that maintains the specifications for both HDMI device and HDMI cables, sorts HDMI cable speed into four main categories:
If you don’t own a 4K TV and you don’t plan on buying one any time soon, a standard HDMI cable is probably all you need. It supports HD video in both 720p and 1080i resolutions. We’ve seen 1080p work with standard HDMI cables, but it’s not guaranteed. You can use these cables with DVD players, Blu-ray players, game consoles, streaming media players, and even A/V receivers and soundbars. Just keep in mind, if you ever decide to venture beyond the realm of HD, you may need something faster.
High Speed HDMI
This is A/V world’s workhorse. High Speed HDMI cables can manage any device or content all the way up to 4K video at 30Hz. 3D video, deep color, and of course, 1080p HD are all supported. Static HDR (like HDR10) will work too, however, we don’t recommend this kind of cable if you want to experience Dolby Vision HDR. As a dynamic version of HDR, it uses a lot more data and thus benefits from a faster cable.
Premium High Speed HDMI
As long as you’re sticking to the world of 4K, and you don’t anticipate wanting to use bleeding-edge features like 8K or eARC, a Premium High Speed HDMI cable is going to last you for a very long time. It’s guaranteed to offer 18 Gbps, which is what HDMI 2.0b devices need to perform at their best. This cable can support 4K up to 60Hz, all flavors of HDR including Dolby Vision and HDR10+, and it also supports ARC so that you can simplify your cabling to your TV with just a single connection.
If you bought your TV or any other piece of A/V equipment in the last two or three years, Premium High Speed is the way to go.
Ultra High Speed HDMI
Now we’re getting into nose-bleed territory. In fact, this HDMI cable certification is so new, we have yet to find a single cable for sale that is certified to meet it. It’s for people who want the ultimate in future-proofing. Ultra High Speed HDMI is guaranteed to provide the full 48 Gbps that enables all of the advanced features in the HDMI 2.1 specification, including 8K video, eARC, and the many varieties of variable refresh rate (VRR) technologies.
Do you need this kind of cable? We’d say no — for now. The only way to really take advantage of its extra bandwidth is with a native 8K video with HDR, something that is very hard to come by at the moment.
In an ideal world, you’d pick the HDMI cable that had the shortest possible length for your desired setup. However, setups have a habit of changing as you add, remove, and relocate your A/V components. Make sure you select an HDMI cable that is long enough for your current and potential future needs, especially if you’re installing it in a wall or ceiling. But be wary of any HDMI cable that runs longer than 25 feet.
These can suffer from signal degradation, and you might find that long cables do not maintain a reliable connection between your devices. Always check to make sure an HDMI cable works with all of your devices and content types before installing it permanently. Active HDMI cables use small chips to borrow a tiny bit of power from the devices they’re connected to, which helps maintain signal strength over longer distances.
When considering longer cable runs, cable quality becomes much more important. Read customer and pro reviews carefully before you buy a long cable and make sure the manufacturer has a good warranty.
If you’re planning on running an HDMI cable through a wall or ceiling, it must be rated for that type of use. Do not run a standard HDMI cable behind drywall — its protective covering has not been designed to withstand accidental contact with construction materials like nails, screws, and metal drywall hangers. Look for cables with a CL2 or CL3 rating, and always check your local building codes for compliance before installing. Installing an HDMI cable in a wall isn’t always a great idea, even if the cable is rated for in-wall use. Check out our HDMI alternatives section below for other ways to run an A/V signal through walls or over long distances.
The best certified HDMI cable: Monoprice Certified Premium High Speed HDMI Cable
What’s the difference between a certified and a non-certified HDMI cable? Not much. If an HDMI cable is truly a high-speed cable, it will perform all of the needed duties like transmitting 4K/60Hz, high dynamic range (HDR), and 4:4:4 deep-color video, plus uncompressed audio.
The difference is that a certified cable has been independently tested to meet HDMI.org’s “ultra reliability” criteria. We’re of the opinion that an HDMI cable either works, or it does not work, but for some people, the added peace of mind of knowing that a cable comes with a certification of reliability is worth a few extra dollars. Available in sizes from three to 30 feet, and starting at less than $10, thisis the least expensive certified cable we could find, and like all Monoprice cables, it carries a lifetime warranty.
The best non-certified HDMI cable: AmazonBasics High-Speed 4K HDMI Cable
All high-speed HDMI cables can easily support 4K video, and as the name suggests, thisis one of the cheapest yet reliable ways to connect your HDMI devices. Available in sizes from 3 to 100 feet, and starting at less than $10, these cables are backed by Amazon’s lifetime warranty.
Curiously, they’re often the same price as the Monoprice Certified Premium High Speed HDMI Cable, so which one you choose may simply come down to considerations like shipping fees — Amazon Prime members get free shipping on this cable, while Monoprice.com charges a small fee for shipping.
The best HDMI cable for 8K early adopters: Monoprice DynamicView Ultra 8K High Speed HDMI cable
Remember when we said that there are no Ultra High Speed Certified HDMI cables? That’s true, but there are still non-certified cables out there that claim to meet the same specifications. Cables, like the Monoprice DynamicView, which boast a data rate of 48Gbps, enough for 8K at 60Hz or 4K at 120Hz.
Despite these prodigious features, these cables still cost less than a movie ticket and are guaranteed for life.
Wondering why we didn’t just put this cable at the top of the list? Well, it has one major downside: It’s short. Currently, Monoprice only offers it in lengths up to 8 feet. That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for your future 8K home theater setup.
Will high-speed HDMI cables always work?
In the past, most experts would have said that either an HDMI cable works, or it doesn’t. Unlike analog cables, where the signal quality can degrade from excellent to poor and have a corresponding effect on video or audio, HDMI is a digital cable and ones and zeroes don’t have quality. They either make it from the source device (like a Blu-ray player) to the destination device (a TV), or they do not. Occasionally, if there is a problem with the signal path (usually caused by a cable run that’s too long), you’ll see “sparkles” on the TV screen. This means that some of the ones and zeroes aren’t making it across the gap. The solution is almost always to replace your HDMI cable with a shorter one.
However, new technologies like Dolby Vision and HDR10+ use far more bandwidth than even HDR10. Known generically as dynamic HDR, these formats can be very picky about HDMI cable transmission speed. For instance, when you enable Dolby Vision for the first time on an Apple TV 4K, it will test the speed of the HDMI connection to your Dolby Vision-compatible 4K HDR TV. If the speed isn’t sufficient, you won’t be able to use Dolby Vision, and the Apple TV will revert to HDR10 for HDR content. What we’ve found, is that even when using a high-speed cable that passes this speed test, there can still be times when the Dolby Vision connection drops out, resulting in a black screen.
Because of this, we strongly recommend that if you have Dolby Vision or HDR10+ A/V gear, you only buy high-speed HDMI cables that are guaranteed to deliver the full 18Gbps, and that you test them thoroughly with Dolby Vision or HDR10+ content before installing them more permanently.
HDMI cable alternatives
Running an HDMI cable through a wall over a short distance of 10 feet or less should be just fine as long as the HDMI cable is CL-rated. But for longer runs, it may be less than ideal, even if the HDMI cable is intended for in-wall use. HDMI cables are difficult or impossible to repair if damaged, Jeff Napoleone of Cloud 9 AV in Toronto tells Digital Trends, making them a problematic choice for in-wall use. Napoleone recommends installing a cable conduit behind the wall if you’re sticking with HDMI. This not only makes it easier to run the cable, but it also offers additional protection.
The preferred solution, especially over longer distances, is an HDMI-over-Ethernet extender. Using standard Cat5 or Cat6 networking cable, this system is far easier to wire through walls, and much easier to repair if the cable becomes damaged.
Networking cable costs pennies per foot, so if you have a really long distance to span, it can be much more cost-effective than using HDMI, even though the transmitter and receiver required may cost more upfront. Another benefit? As the technology improves, you can swap out the transmitter and receiver for newer devices, without rewiring.
- The best streaming devices for 2020
- How to know if you’re actually getting Dolby Atmos sound
- The best TVs for 2020
- These are the best cheap 4K TV deals for August 2020
- How to know if you’re actually getting HDR on your TV