(August 12, 2010) Have you seen HDMI cables online or in stores labeled “120 Hz,“240Hz” and “480 Hz”? It’s easy enough to slap such labels on HDMI cables but it’s a sham. HDMI cables can no more be manufactured for specific refresh rate HDTVs than garden hose can be manufactured specifically to water seeded lawns and sod lawns. The same water flows through either one. The same HDTV signal flows through all HDMI cables, whether labeled “120Hz” or “480Hz”
In fact a TV’s refresh rate has nothing whatsoever to do with the signal flowing to that set. The refresh rate is determined by the set’s circuitry once the signal gets there (link), so how can different HDMI cables be manufactured for different refresh rate sets?
Clearly the intent of the refresh rate labeling is simply to confuse you into spending more money on HDMI cables than you need to. TV retailers, including Best Buy, use this new misleading labeling to push naive customers into buying unnecessary, overpriced cables that can cost 800%-5750% more than necessary (link). Adding such labels as 3D or 240 Hz helps sales clerks persuade customers to overspend. The extra dollars spent will have no effect on image quality but it will lighten your wallet.
To view Blu-ray, Full HD 3D content and any other source at the highest (1080p) resolution you need HDMI cables. It is a single wire solution that conducts a standard definition or high definition 2D or 3D video image and accompanying audio tracks from a source device to an HDTV. Only two types of HDMI cables are included in the HDMI licensing spec: “Standard” (aka category 1) or “High Speed” (aka category 2). The latter is required to assure the cable passes 1080p signals (including 3D), which is the highest bandwidth video signal (now and for the foreseeable future).
Monster, Audioquest and other HDMI cable makers mislead consumers by mis-labeling their step-up quality HDMI cables with the various refresh rates used by set makers to improve picture quality. The signal fed by an HDMI cable to a set never exceeds 60Hz.
The HDMI Standard
HDMI Licensing LLC licenses the design, specifications and requires labeling of cables as either “Standard” or “Hi Speed”. HDMI does not have any rules concerning additional labels, according to its spokesman. While the HDMI standard has been updated to include new (optional) functionality such as passing Ethernet signals, there remains only two speed categories. Any “Hi Speed” HDMI cable should handle any display and any video signal you can throw at it.
HD Guru visited a number of local TV dealers. Best Buy (BB) had the widest selection, offering “Hi Speed” HDMI cables from Monster, Audioquest and Rocketfish (BB house brand) and Dynex (BB house brand). They all display labels that tout their own capabilities. The least expensive is a Dynex 4ft. length “Hi Speed” cable and costs $29.99. The box says 1080p 60Hz. The first step-up is the Rocketfish at $49.99/4 ft and the package reads 120Hz. Next is a 4 ft. $69.99 Monster 700 model cable, with a label stating 60/120 Hz. followed by 120 Hz and 3D labeled model 900 for $79.99. The Monster 1000 model boasts a 240Hz-480 Hz and 3D for $129.99 for 8 ft. Audioquest has a line ofÃ‚Â “Hi Speed” HDMI cables, its packaging states “Delivers 100% of the data required for 120Hz, 240 Hz, 600 HzÃ‚Â displays” and costs up to a whopping $229.99 for its 6’6″ Carbon model (sold on line at Bestbuy.com) . The BB website states “High-speed 1080p/120Hz-4K”. (Note: there are no 4K consumer video signals).
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By comparison you can purchase a 6″6″ “Hi Speed” HDMI cable from Amazon for as little as $3.99 ($20 retail). It is a “High Speed” rated cable that will pass any HD signal (including 3D) to any HDTV. Keep in mind a signal carried over an HDMI cable is all digital, meaning any properly functioning cable will provide a perfect picture. There is absolutely no picture quality advantage of purchasing a cable that is rated higher than the HDMI “High Speed” standard of a 10.2 Gbps!
There are added features available on “High-Speed cables. They are audio return and Ethernet pass through. However no source devices sold today include the Ethernet feature and just a few HDTVs today include audio return channel.
There may be differences in the quality of materials, construction and wire gauge using premium priced HDMI cables. These differences could be beneficial if you are constantly disconnecting and reconnecting the same cable. HDMI cables provide a complete signal transfer as long as the cable conforms to the HDMI specifications (if it is defective or improperly designed i.e. a bad HDMI cable will produce a high error rate which can cause signal dropouts, such as the screen going black then the image reappearing ).
To summarize, buying a more expensive HDMI “Hi Speed” cable , regardless of labeling or what a salesman tells you will not give you any improvement in picture quality. Use the money you save from falling victim to misleading HDMI packaging towards the purchase of products or services that will increase your enjoyment of HDTV such as a Blu-ray player, professional set-up and calibration or a surround sound audio system.
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