Since HDMI 2.1
Look for “HDMI Ultra High Speed” cables
The HDMI standard is overseen by the HDMI Forum, while the HDMI Licensing Administrator oversees the licensing of the technology. Device and accessory manufacturers must comply with the standards set by the HDMI Forum to produce a product that is licensed or certified by the HDMI Licensing Administrator.
Although the latest HDMI standard is known as HDMI 2.1, HDMI regulators use a different naming convention for cabling. If you want to buy an HDMI 2.1 compliant cable, look for the words “HDMI Ultra High Speed” on the box.
Cables are not explicitly sold as “HDMI 2.1 cables”. In the past, HDMI 2.0b cables were sold under the common name “High Speed”.
Look for the hologram and QR code on the box to make sure you’re getting a quality product. This means that it has been tested to a minimum standard and is certified by the HDMI Licensing Administrator.
These cables cost a little more than the alternatives on websites like Amazon and AliExpress, but you’ll likely find that it’s worth making sure you’re getting all the features of HDMI 2.1.
RELATED: HDMI 2.1: What’s New and Should You Upgrade?
Check your cable purchases with the official app
When shopping for a cable in a store or after your online order has been shipped, you can verify the authenticity of your cable with the official HDMI Certification app for iPhone and Android.
Simply install the app, point your smartphone’s camera at the packaging and wait. You should see a “Congratulations” message to inform you that the cable is indeed certified. The HDMI Licensing Administrator states that the name of the cable must also be on the outer jacket.
If a cable fails the test or if there is no hologram or sticker on the box, it has not been tested. This doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work, but there’s also no guarantee it can carry the full 48Gbits per second as defined by the HDMI 2.1 standard.
If you had the impression that a cable was “certified” but failed the test, you should return the cable and get your money back. Most branded cables, like Belkin’s ($ 39.99) and Sixkit ($ 19.99), have been independently tested and certified, but you should always confirm this.
The problem with cheap HDMI cables
Troubleshooting your home entertainment setup can be time consuming and frustrating, especially if you have a receiver or soundbar in the mix. When you buy a certified cable, you (hopefully) remove at least one variable from the list of potential issues.
There are some specific issues you could see if the cable you are using is not snuff compliant. These often appear when you try to use an older HDMI 2.0b cable with an application that exceeds the 18 Gbit per second specification.
You may not have any problems until you play one or two games running at 4K / 120Hz on the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5. appear randomly.
You may suddenly experience blackouts or flickering or get error messages stating that your TV has encountered a “handshake” problem. This means that the TV and source device cannot communicate properly because the cable cannot handle the task.
It can be tempting to get cheap on a cable, especially when it comes to long runs. This is where HDMI cables can get very expensive. The longer the cable, the more the signal can deteriorate before it reaches its destination. Therefore, the best cable is the shortest you can get away with that matches the bandwidth requirements.
There is no “ideal” cable length, but for 4K resolution and high frame rates (120Hz) it is recommended to use an HDMI cable that is no longer than 3 meters. For lower resolutions, the upper limit is somewhere between 20 (6 meters) and 50 feet (10 meters). If you are using a long cable and are having problems, test a shorter cable.
Fiber optic HDMI cables may be able to provide better performance over longer runs. Unfortunately, there are currently no ultra-fast HDMI cables on the market that use fiber. For now, we recommend moving your source device closer to your TV if possible.
Don’t fall for HDMI cable gimmicks
Many retailers will try to sell you through an HDMI cable when you buy a TV or other home entertainment device. Often times, however, one is included in the box with your device. It is better to test your installation before spending unnecessarily more money.
While certified cables cost more, they shouldn’t break the bank. Beware of exorbitantly priced cables. They make it look like you’re getting a higher quality product, but it’s a premium you don’t have to pay.
Gold connectors are often used to give the illusion of a better quality signal, but they don’t just look flashy. Gold is a highly conductive metal, but so is the metal that makes up the cable (and it is certainly not solid gold).
Braided cords may last longer, but HDMI cables usually don’t wear out much. Unless you buy a cable that you know will turn on and off all the time, you don’t need an ultra-durable cable.
Do you even need an HDMI 2.1 cable?
HDMI stands for High Definition Multimedia Interface. It is designed to transport a digital signal from a source device, such as a game console, to a display or receiver. There have been numerous revisions to the HDMI standard, the latest being HDMI 2.1.
The main difference between the previous HDMI 2.0b standard and the new 2.1 is how much data can be transferred simultaneously. HDMI 2.0b stops at 18 Gbit per second, while HDMI 2.1 supports a full bandwidth of 48 Gbit per second. This means that 2.1 can transmit 8K video at 60 frames per second or 4K video at 120 frames per second.
There are also a ton of other new features in the HDMI 2.1 specification, including:
- HDMI VRR for gaming with variable refresh rate.
- Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) to automatically start “game mode” on compatible TVs.
- Support for improved Audio Return Channel (eARC) to drive sound bars and receivers.
You only need an HDMI 2.1 cable if you have an HDMI 2.1 source device that outputs 4K / 120Hz or 8K / 60Hz. Every device in your video chain must also be HDMI 2.1 compliant to take advantage.
Even if you have an HDMI 2.1 source device such as the PlayStation 5, you can still use your old TV or receiver to play games in 4K at 60 frames per second. You only need the higher bandwidth if you are going to use it.
Older devices and cards, such as the Xbox One X, PlayStation 4 Pro and NVIDIA’s 20 series, are limited to HDMI 2.0b, so you won’t benefit from a faster cable. This is why you shouldn’t buy expensive HDMI cables unless you have a clear reason to do so.
Most devices with HDMI 2.1 capabilities come with a compatible high-speed cable in the box. This includes both the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5, both of which can output 4K at 120Hz. You will not get better performance by replacing this cable with an aftermarket product.
You would only want to replace this cable if you need a longer life, if it is damaged, or if you connect your source device to a receiver and therefore need a different cable to connect the receiver to the TV.
HDMI 2.1 has just started
The Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, and NVIDIA 30 Series graphics cards were the first HDMI 2.1 devices to hit the market. Only a handful of TVs released in 2019-2020 have ports that support it.
However, the new specification was designed in response to the first wave of 8K compatible TVs and devices, most of which are still years away from mainstream adoption. You’ll see many more HDMI 2.1 devices and accessories (including cables) hit the market in the years to come.
Eventually, even budget brands, such as Amazon Basics, will start selling Ultra High-Speed cables that support bandwidths of 48 Gbits per second at low prices without certification.
Until then, remember that any certified Ultra High-Speed cable you buy today will last for years to come. For now, most people don’t even need HDMI 2.1. If you do, you probably buy a TV for gaming.