To connect anything to your TV, you're probably going to need HDMI cables. Gone are the days of multicolored cables to deliver audio and video. HDMI covers both.
Befitting its status of the AV cable of AV cables, standard HDMI cables and HDMI devices are everywhere. Even the checkout lines at grocery stores have HDMI cables. There are a lot of numbers and abbreviations, however, making for a confusing mess for anyone trying to figure out which cables to buy for their new television.
The good news is that cheap HDMI cables are perfectly fine for most TVs, including new ones with 4K resolution, high dynamic range (HDR) and Dolby Vision. Price has little to do with whether a standard HDMI cable will work with your new gear, and many inexpensive cables deliver the exact same audio/video quality as premium HDMI cables. Your old cables might work too, but again, not all will.
If you're considering getting a new TV, a 4K Blu-ray player, a 4K HDR media streamer, or a new game console, you may also be in the market for new HDMI cables. But they don't have to be expensive HDMI cables. Fortunately, you can get the maximum performance possible in the best HDMI cable out there for less than $10.
Before you buy a new cable, ask yourself whether you really need one. Chances are, your old one will work perfectly well for 4K and HDR video. See below for more details on that.
But let's say you definitely want a new cable. Maybe you don't want to risk a non-working new TV while you wait for ordered cables, or you're just pretty sure your current cables won't work. Here are your two options for the best HDMI cable.
I used 6-foot/1.8m as the example for pricing, but of course there are longer and shorter options. You can save some money getting shorter cables, but make sure they're long enough for you to place your gear where you want.
The simplest of the simple. "Supports Ethernet, 3D, 4K video and Audio Return Channel (ARC)...and meets the latest HDMI standards (4K Video at 60Hz, 2160p, 48 bit/px color depth)…". They also have multipacks, 3- and 15-foot versions, and so on. They're the ones we use the most in CNET's TV test lab.
Free delivery if you're a Prime member, and they have a lifetime warranty. 4.6/5 stars from around 17,000 reviews.
The most famous of the cheap HDMI brands, Monoprice has dozens of options to chose from, including the "Monoprice Select Series." The linked cable is "Premium Certified," which is actually a certification. It basically means the cable is more or less guaranteed to work with 4K and HDR. The Premium Certified logo isn't required for 4K HDR, but if you see a cable that's Premium Certified and has the matching hologram and QR code, it's a pretty safe bet it will work.
Monoprice's are among the least expensive Premium Certified cables out there. It has longer and thicker versions as well. And just like Amazon, there's a lifetime warranty.
We don't specifically review HDMI cables here at CNET, but in our TV test lab we've been using inexpensive cables from Amazon and Monoprice for years. All of them have carried hundreds of hours of 4K and HDR video flawlessly, with way more plugging and unplugging than typical cables are subject to. None have failed.
There are cheaper options, but beyond our own experience, these two have great user reviews and have sold HDMI cables for years. They're also rated to have the bandwidth to handle 4K and HDR content. This is often listed as "18 Gbps," referring to the amount of bandwidth possible with the HDMI 2.0 standard (see below for HDMI 2.1 details).
Maybe you don't want a Monoprice or Amazon HDMI cord for some reason. We checked a few other large retailers and found cables we liked from each one. Here they are.
Walmart's marketplace has dozens of HDMI cables. Of the ones the company seems to sell itself, evidenced by the "Free Pickup" tag, the Tripp Lite linked here claims in one place to be 18 Gbps. If you dig down through the details you can find that it does have a lifetime warranty. I can't see any reason to get this cable over Amazon or Monoprice, but it's an option.
Target's selection of HDMI cables is quite poor, with most unable to handle the full bandwidth of 4K HDR. One exception is a 4-foot Philips cable, which at more than $14 seems needlessly expensive. But maybe you have a Target gift card and nothing better to spend it on.
Most of Best Buy's cable offerings are outrageously expensive. It prominently features a 4-foot cable for $80, for instance. But some of its offerings that aren't bad. This Dynex ultra HD HDMI cable is 6 feet/1.8m and "supports speeds up to 18 Gbps."
As we mentioned above, just because you're getting a new TV doesn't necessarily mean you need new HDMI cables, even if you're upgrading to something with 4K and HDR. Over short distances, say under 6 feet (2m), just about any recent "High Speed" HDMI cable should work fine. "High Speed" is the rating used by HDMI companies to indicate cables that have the bandwidth to handle 1080p and greater resolutions.
You can think of bandwidth like a pipe. You need to be able to get a lot of "water" through the pipe with 4K and HDR content. A cable needs to be "big" enough to handle it all.
Unfortunately, there's no way to tell just by looking at a cable whether it can handle the deluge of data required for 4K and HDR content. Even if it says "High Speed" on the jacket, that's not 100 percent useful. A cable can be considered "high speed" if it passes 1080p, but not be well enough made to handle 4K. The only way to verify it works is to test it.
The good thing is, if it works, it works. For example, if you're sending a 4K HDR signal from your 4K Blu-ray player to your 4K HDR TV, and the TV shows a 4K HDR signal, you're set. It's not possible to get a better image using a different HDMI cable. That's not how the technology works.
There are only two "fails" with an HDMI cable. The most likely is you won't get any signal at all: A blank or flashing screen. First, check that everything's connected correctly, and all your settings are correct.
Also remember, if one step in your chain isn't 4K HDR, nothing is. As in, if you connect a 4K Blu-ray disc player to an old sound bar and then to a 4K TV, you won't be able to get a 4K signal to the TV. Also, some TVs only have one or two HDMI inputs that are 4K -compatible. Check your owner's manual for that, too.
The only other "fail" mode of HDMI cables is sparkles. This looks like snow on the screen. It can be heavy enough to look like static, like an old TV tuned to a dead channel, or it can be random-but-regular flashes of white pixels. This means you'll need new cables.
If the TV is receiving the same resolution you're sending it (e.g., the TV says it's 4K HDR when you're sending 4K HDR), you're all set. A different cable won't make that image sharper, brighter or anything else.
You're going to start seeing products touting the next-generation HDMI connections, called 2.1. This is a huge leap forward in terms of bandwidth, capable of up to 8K resolutions and beyond. There will be new cables needed to handle these higher resolutions, called Ultra High Speed, but unless you're buying an 8K TV, you don't need them. Actually, even if you are buying an 8K TV, you probably don't need them.
The vast majority of you will just need an HDMI cable of a few feet/meters to connect your TV to your nearby cable/satellite box, video streamer, Blu-ray player or game console. Some of you, though, are looking for something a bit longer. There are a lot of variables to consider, which we'll discuss, so we don't have a simple pick.
In broad strokes, the build and material quality is much more important in a long HDMI cable than short. Over 15ft/3m there is a much higher chance that a mediocre cable won't work, or won't work at the resolution you want. This still doesn't mean you need to spend a fortune on a long cable, there are plenty of options for roughly the same price per-foot as the ones mentioned above. It does mean that no-name cables might be less likely to work.
To put it another way, a poorly made 3ft/1m cable will probably work fine for most people, but a poorly-made 15ft/3m cable probably won't. With any long-run solution you're considering, make sure it can handle 4K/60, HDR, etc. Many options can't. There are three technologies to consider:
Active: Active HDMI cables have a small chip built into the cable that takes a little power from the device's connector, and uses it to boost the HDMI signal. These cables cost a little extra, but are far more likely to work. A long passive cable might work for you, but it might not. It depends on your gear. Since they're not significantly more expensive, they're worth considering for any long run.
Optical: Though a similar technology to the old-school audio interface, HDMI-over-optical is capable of far greater bandwidth. It's also capable of far greater distances. It's easy to find options that are over 330ft/100m. Prices have dropped radically in the last few years, with options available for similar prices per-foot as traditional copper cables. Most don't even need external power. They work, and look, just like a thin HDMI cable.
Wireless: You could also skip cables completely and just go wireless. This isn't quite as simple as it sounds, though. There are far too many considerations to get into here, but a few things to keep in mind: 1) They're going to cost more than cables; 2) 4K options often only work in-room, and can be blocked by anything, including cabinet doors and even people. Though wireless seems like it should be easy for multiple devices in this era of near-ubiquitous Wi-Fi, it's not. If you're considering this, definitely do your research before you buy.
If you want to keep hunting for the best deal, make sure the cable you're considering is either Premium Certified, says it can do 4K/60, or can handle 18 Gbps bandwidth. And it's an added bonus if it has a warranty like the Amazon or Monoprice cables.
There's no such thing as HDMI cable "versions." As in, there's no such thing as an "HDMI 2.0" cable. The version numbers refer to the connections in your TV, receiver, sound bar, etc. So your TV and 4K Blu-ray player need to both have HDMI 2.0 to watch HDR content, but the cable connecting them couldn't care less. It's just a dumb pipe.
As long as that pipe is "big" enough, as in it has enough bandwidth, you should be good to go. The 18 Gbps you've seen mentioned here came about with the HDMI 2.0 spec, so if a cable claims it, it's likely built to handle the additional data that HDMI 2.0 connections can provide.
Lastly, if you want to run the cables through a wall, make sure you get HDMI cables specifically made for that. Check your local building codes for what you need.
Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he's written on topics like why all HDMI cables are the same, TV resolutions explained, LED LCD vs. OLED and more.
Still have a question? Tweet at him @TechWriterGeoff, then check out his travel photography on Instagram. He also thinks you should check out his best-selling sci-fi novel and its sequel.
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