Because HDMI 2.1 devices, like the Xbox Series X, Playstation 5, and graphics cards from NVIDIA and AMD, are pushing more pixels than ever before, the last thing you need is an unreliable cable causing problems. Here’s how to avoid being scammed.
Look for “Ultra High Speed HDMI” cables
The HDMI standard is overseen by the HDMI Forum, while the HDMI Licensing Administrator oversees the licensing of the technology. Manufacturers of devices and accessories must meet the standards of the HDMI Forum if they wish to produce a product licensed or certified by the HDMI Licensing Administrator.
Although the latest HDMI standard is known as HDMI 2.1, HDMI controllers have a different naming convention for wiring. If you want to purchase an HDMI 2.1 compatible cable, you need to search for the words “HDMI Ultra High Speed” on the box.
The cables are not explicitly sold as “HDMI 2.1 cables”. In the past, HDMI 2.0b cables were sold under the usual name of “High Speed”.
To ensure you are getting a quality product, look for the “Ultra Certified Cable” hologram and QR code on the box. This means that it has been tested to a minimum standard and certified by the HDMI Licensing Administrator.
These cables cost a bit more than alternatives on websites like Amazon and AliExpress, but you’ll probably find it’s worth making sure you get the full range of features offered by HDMI 2.1.
Check your cable purchases with the official app
Simply install the app, point your smartphone camera at the packaging, and wait. You should see a “Congratulations” message informing you that the cable has been certified. The HDMI licensing administrator states that the name of the cable should also be printed on its outer jacket.
If a cable fails the test or there is no hologram or sticker on the box, it has not been tested. That doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work, but there’s also no guarantee that it can carry the full 48 Gbits per second defined by the HDMI 2.1 standard.
If you felt that a cable was “certified” but fails the test, you should return the cable and get a refund. Most brand name cables, such as those from Belkin ($ 39.99) and Zeskit ($ 19.99), are independently tested and certified, but you still need to confirm that.
The problem with cheap HDMI cables
Troubleshooting issues with 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 are (hopefully) removing at least one variable from the list of potential issues.
You might start to see some specific problems if the cable you’re using isn’t up to the job. These often appear when trying to use an older HDMI 2.0b cable with an application that exceeds its specification of 18 Gbits per second.
You might not have any issues until you play one or two games that run at 4K / 120Hz on the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5. These issues include everything from a black screen that absolutely does nothing, to strange artifacts and “sparks” appear at random.
You may experience sudden blackouts or flickers, or receive error messages stating that your TV has experienced a “handshake” problem. This means that the TV and the source device cannot communicate properly because the cable is not up to the task.
It can be tempting to spend less on cable, especially when it comes to long distances. This is where HDMI cables can get very expensive. The longer the cable, the more the signal can degrade before reaching its destination. This is why the best cable is the shortest you can use and the one that meets your bandwidth needs.
There is no such thing as an “ideal” cable length, but for 4K resolution and high frame rates (120Hz) it is recommended to use an HDMI cable no longer than 3 meters. For lower resolutions, the upper limit is between 20 (6 meters) and 50 feet (10 meters). If you are using a long cable and having problems, test a shorter one.
HDMI cables incorporating optical fibers may be able to provide better performance over longer runs. Unfortunately, at present, there are no super-fast HDMI cables on the market that use optical fibers. For now, we recommend that you move your source device closer to your TV if possible.
Don’t fall for HDMI cable gadgets
Many retailers will attempt to sell you an HDMI cable every time you purchase a television or other home entertainment device. Often, however, one will be included in the box with your device. It’s best to test your setup before spending more money unnecessarily.
While certified cables cost more, they shouldn’t break the bank. Beware of cables at exorbitant prices. They make it look like you’re getting a higher quality product, but that’s a premium that you don’t have to pay.
Gold connectors are often used to give the illusion of a better signal, but they do very little beyond the flashy appearance. Gold is a highly conductive metal, just like the metal that makes up most of the cable (and it is certainly not solid gold).
Braided cords may last longer, but HDMI cables usually don’t get much wear. Unless you buy a cable that you know will be plugged in and unplugged 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 was designed to carry a digital signal from a source device, such as a game console, to a display or receiver. There have been many revisions to the HDMI standard, the most recent being HDMI 2.1.
The biggest difference between the previous HDMI 2.0b standard and the newer version 2.1 is the amount of data that can be transferred at a time. HDMI 2.0b caps at 18 Gbits per second, while HDMI 2.1 supports a full bandwidth of 48 Gbits per second. This means that version 2.1 can transfer 8K video at 60 frames per second or 4K video at 120 frames per second.
The HDMI 2.1 specification also contains a bunch of other new features, including:
HDMI VRR for games with variable refresh rate.
Auto Low Latency (ALLM) mode to automatically launch “game mode” on compatible TVs.
Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) support for driving soundbars and receivers.
You only need an HDMI 2.1 cable if you have an HDMI 2.1 source device that produces 4K / 120Hz or 8K / 60Hz output. Each device in your video channel must also be HDMI 2.1 compatible to benefit from it.
Even if you have an HDMI 2.1 source device, like 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 increased bandwidth if you plan to use it.
Older devices and cards, such as the Xbox One X, PlayStation 4 Pro, and NVIDIA 20 Series, are limited to HDMI 2.0b, so you won’t get any benefit from a faster cable. That 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 won’t get better performance by replacing this cable with an aftermarket product.
You only want to replace this cable if you need a longer length, if it is damaged, or if you plug your source device into a receiver and therefore need another cable to connect the receiver to the TV. .
HDMI 2.1 is just getting started
Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, and NVIDIA Series 30 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-enabled televisions and devices, most of which are still far from mainstream adoption. You’ll see many more HDMI 2.1 devices and accessories (including cables) coming to market in the years to come.
Eventually, even low-budget brands, like Amazon Basics, will start selling ultra-high-speed cables that support 48Gbps bandwidths at low prices without certification.
Until then, remember that any certified ultra high speed cable you purchase today will be good for years to come. Right now, most people don’t even need HDMI 2.1. If you do, you are probably buying a TV to play.