You’ve probably heard that expensive HDMI cables aren’t worth the money, because all cables provide the same digital signal. And while part of that is trueâ€”expensive cables aren’t necessarily better than cheap onesâ€”it’s not quite as simple as “any cable will do,” particularly when it comes to modern game systems.
What Happens When You Use the Wrong Cable
“The whole scenario about ‘all cables are the same’ is not completely accurate,” explains Brad Bramy, vice president of marketing at HDM Licensing Administrator (HDMI LA)â€”the agent that licenses the HDMI specification to manufacturers. First, there are differences in build quality. One cable could withstand sharp bends better than another, for example, or hold up to more abuse over time. He does agree, though, that price isn’t always an indicator of that quality. “You can have an inexpensive cable that isn’t cheaply made, and sometimes the most expensive cable isn’t the best,” he explains. If a cable seems too cheap to be true, though, it might beâ€”so shop diligently, as you would for any other product.
But there’s more to the story, especially when it comes to gaming. Different cables have different speed ratings that determine what they’re capable of. While a lot depends on the HDMI spec present in your TV and receiver or soundbarâ€”with HDMI 2.1 offering the latest and greatest gaming featuresâ€”the cable also makes a difference. And if you’re just using a random cable you found in your closet, you might experience issues with your modern game consoles.
It isn’t quite as simple as “picture or no picture,” either. Bandwidth issues can manifest in discoloration, flickering, or “sparkles” in the pictureâ€”not to mention audio dropouts or other quirks. Sometimes it’s obvious. Sometimes you might not notice it right away, but when you do, your first instinct may be to dig through your TV’s settings, futz with your game console, or throw your controller at the wall in frustration. And while you should definitely double-check your settings, you should also double-check your cableâ€”something most people put too far down the list of concerns. You don’t need to buy a $100 cable filled with gold and wizard’s magic, but you do need the right cable for the job.
Modern Gaming Requires More Bandwidth
None of this was a huge concern through the 2010s because most HDMI cables sold were future-proof enough to handle what you threw at them. But in the past few years, as more people have moved toward 4K, HDR, and high-frame-rate gaming, things got a little more complicated. The more pixels you push, and the more often you push them, the more bandwidth you need along the entire signal chain.
So when you shop, look for a speed rating that matches what you’re using the cable for. Here are the current ratings approved by the HDMI LA: