HDMI Cables Explained
HDMI Cables Explained
Going by the title, I’m sure you’re already aware what this article will be about; HDMI cables explained!
Now interestingly enough, this was an article a lot of people were asking me to cover, so I figured I’d do a full-on, comprehensive guide that’ll cover everything you ever needed to know about them. Feel free to jump around to any section since it’ll be segmented.
Let’s get to it. 😉
What Is An HDMI Cable? The History Behind It Explained
High-Definition Multimedia Interface (or HDMI for short) is a relatively newer cable technology that’s capable of transferring significantly larger amounts of information, at a much faster rate. This additional digital information can be in the form of higher quality audio, video, or both. It was also the first cable capable of a fully uncompressed signal.
It was released in 2002 as the successor to DVI, the previous connection standard for video signals; with the intention of keeping up with the ever changing landscape of digital devices being released. The more complicated and advanced these devices became, the more apparent the need for a more capable transference method was.
Originally, technologies such as DVI, VGA, and coaxial were used with the earlier displays that were only capable of standard definition. The resolution (meaning the clarity) of standard definition comes up to about 704 x 480 pixels (which are basically the tiny little dots that make up the screen if you look really closely).
Along with this, the image was also interlaced meaning only half the original image was shown at one time but due to the way the human brain works, it shifted fast enough not to be noticeable (1/30’th of a second to be precise)
They were also analog as well meaning broadcasts were done with a continuous signal. The problem however was that over longer distances this signal would deteriorate resulting in a multitude of issues. 2002 was essentially the point where the digital age truly began. However these newer screens needed connections with much more bandwidth to actually be practical.
As a result, industry leaders came out with HDMI as a way of solving this dilemma. The first version was dubbed 1.0, signifying the start of many subsequent versions to come there after. With each additional version, came an array of advanced new features such as support for 3D, 4K, & HDR, higher streaming rates, and better connections.
These cables were also helpful because they not only allowed the transmittance of audio & video signals at the same time without the need for extra cables, but also used a different color space as well allowing it to be more accurate.
So in summation, the HDMI cable that we have today is the result of years of innovations that makes many of the technological luxuries that we currently have possible. So with that being said, let’s hypothetically say you’re not even remotely familiar with them in the slightest, and want to know some important things about them; such as what you use them for, why you might need one, and even what they look like.
Let’s cover all of that right now.
What Does An HDMI Cable Look Like?
So of course, each cable will be decorated differently depending on the brand you choose, but in terms of the general shape, here is what they look like. As you can see, the cord is flat on top with a sort of angular dimension toward the bottom.
Like I stated previously, this is the typical shape of them, but they’ll usually be adorned with all sorts of designs and colors to entice to you to buy them.
Some even have braided cables for enhanced durability (like in the first picture). You may even come across a few cables claiming that they have clearer connections than the rest of the competition. Unless there was something wrong with the cable, or it’s a different iteration of HDMI all together, don’t worry about this too much; they essentially all do the same exact thing.
What Does Connecting Via HDMI Mean & Do?
This is a pretty common question that a lot of people ask; what does it mean exactly to connect via HDMI, and how does it work? Well the first part of that is pretty self explanatory.
All it means is that when you have an electronic device that states that it uses this type of connection, you would just need to connect the wire into the appropriately named slot that corresponds with it.
When it comes to what it does, though this cable is what allows sound, along with video, to be transferred between two media devices. In fact, there actually used to be two separate cables for each, but once HDMI was introduced, it streamlined everything into one much more powerful cable.
What Is An HDMI Connector & What Does It Look Like?
An HDMI port (often also referred to as a connector) is essentially the port in which the cable goes into. This is what that looks like (the third one down). Some devices may have more than one, and some may have none at all depending on when it was made.
Now there are actually 2 different types as well. The standard one that’s shown above, and a minified version that is typically used in smaller devices like smart phones and tablets.
When Do You Need To Use An HDMI?
When it comes to when exactly you would need to use an HDMI cable, chances are if it’s a device made within at least the last 15 years and relies on audio, and or video to serve its purpose, then it most likely will use it.
But this may not always be the case. Some still have the capability for what are known as DVI connections.
Simply put, a DVI (Digital Visual Interface) connection is one that allows something like a computer monitor to display visual information, hence the name.
It’s a much older tech that was obviously replaced by HDMI as the predominant method, however surprisingly it hasn’t been phased out.
In fact, there may even be instances where you still have to use this method in conjunction with an HDMI. When would that be?
Well if you had an older device that only had DVI, and you wanted to use it with newer device that didn’t use that, then you’d have to use what’s known as a DVI to HDMI converter to do so; at least for the visual aspect because you’d also have to use what’s known as an optical cable for the sound too.
Luckily that’s not usually necessary, but in those rare instances you need an older and newer device to work together, this is how you would do it.
What Is ARC?
Another important development in HDMI’s extensive history comes in the form of ARC. ARC (which stands for Audio Return Channel) came with the iteration of HDMI 1.4 as a way of simplifying the entire setup process.
It basically allows compatible devices to connect using a single cable, since that port acts as both an input and output; providing a 2 way communication between devices via this cable. A majority of the devices today allow this thankfully, so it makes your life that much easier.
Some televisions may require you to manually enable ARC compatibility, so check to see if that’s the case with yours. Usually though you shouldn’t have to since it’s typically automatic in newer TVs.
There are also certain caveats with ARC that were also present in previous technologies as well. For example, it still doesn’t provide support for high resolution audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS X, so you’ll still need an extra cable or two when it comes to those.
However even that will be short lived because with the expected rollout of the successor to this technology, eARC with HDMI 2.1 in 2019, it’ll support those as well. Though keep in mind 2.1 compatible cables and devices will be necessary for that to work.
The following site talks about that more if you’re curious.
What Is The Best HDMI Cable?
So by now you might be wondering what the best HDMI Cable is? Well get ready for this because I’m about to tell you. It’s… *drumroll please*… any to be honest.
You see, there’s not really a “best cable” per se, since it really only has one job, and that’s to transfer information. It either does this or it doesn’t, that simple.
The only time it makes a difference in what you choose is when it’s an entirely new generation of HDMI all together with new specifications for new technologies, an entirely different material being used, or there was something faulty about the cable itself.
Other than that, there’s no reason to stress about what cable you choose. If you plan to use things like 4K, HDR, and all that fancy stuff, then make sure you get the latest version.
You can tell what the latest version is because it’ll usually say HDMI 2.0, high speed cable, or something along those lines. Actually to make it easy, this is the one I usually use for my devices, Cable Matters 3-Pack High Speed HDMI Cable 6 Feet.
Besides this though, the rest is up to personal preference. That means things like length, colors, and even wire texture are all up to what you want truthfully.
Are More Expensive HDMI Cables Better Than Less Expensive Ones?
Here’s another common misconception that a lot of people tend to have.
That the more expensive an HDMI cable is, the better the quality will be when that isn’t always necessarily true.
From my personal experience with this hobby over the years, I’ve bought the most expensive ones to the least expensive ones and truth be told, I could never tell a difference between them. I’ve said this before, but the job of cable is to simply transfer digital information from one point to another.
So unless there’s an entirely different iteration of it being used, a different wiring material, or it’s faulty, then chances are you won’t perceive a difference.
That means there’s no need to splurge on these, and that any high speed cable should work just fine, regardless of the brand or price.
Is A Gold Plated HDMI Cable Necessary?
This is another interesting variation that you may or may not have heard of; gold plated HDMIs. Why would they plate them in gold? Well the answer to that has something to do with what is known as oxidation. When certain metals are exposed to things like humidity, moisture, and the like, chemical reactions on the metal’s surface occur that causes it to change or corrode.
This corrosion can then cause connection issues. Of course that’s a vastly simplified version of it, but you can read more about that here if curious. https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-the-definition-of-oxidized-metal-2340018
But the idea here is that since gold does not oxidize, it’s better suited for cables since there would be no loss in quality, at least hypothetically. In actuality, it’s not going to make a real world difference since the amount of gold even used is negligible.
On top of that, the conditions for that to even occur aren’t likely to be present in your living room so it’s even less of a reason to worry. So the short answer is no, fancy gold plated cables aren’t necessary.
What Are The Different HDMI Versions As Of Right Now?
So here’s the interesting part. Since HDMI was introduced in the early 2000’s, there has been multiple versions from 1.0 all the way to 2.0. But as a consumer, the ones you would need to be most aware of are versions 1.4 and 2.0. Why?
Well besides the fact that these are the only 2 even available today, 1.4 is the standard most often used with high definition television (further split into 1.4a & 1.4b), and 2.0 is the newest version that is used for things like 4K and HDR.
If it were me, I’d just opt for the 2.0 since they’re backwards compatible with former version, but again that’s up to you. If you want to know about every version including every specific change then click here.
Then there’s the actual classification of each HDMI cable. As of right now, this classification is split into 4 types; types A, B, C, and D.
A type A cable was the first, original cable that preceded the others, or in other words version 1.0. It had 19 pins on the inside, which allowed them to be useful for high definition devices. The reason I say had is because this version isn’t typically used anymore, and at the bare minimum type b cables are used today.
Type B cables are much improved upon their original type A counterpart, with 29 pins on the inside allowing for support of much higher resolutions due to their much increased bandwidth. Although these are still technically used today in conjunction with HDMI 1.0, with the demand for more intensive screen technologies like HDR and the like, they are also on their way in favor of even faster rated cables.
Type C cables are an interesting one because they’re actually still pretty similar to type A cables. For one, they still have 19 pins just like the original, the only difference is its design. It’s designed to fit into a much smaller space due to the fact that they’re actually used for portable HD devices on the 1.3 standard.
Then you have your type D cables which can only be used with 1.4 rated devices. It still retains the 19 pin design of type b and the original, however it does so in a much smaller package since they are actually the smallest of all of them. This is due to an increased efficiency allowing it to shed excess bulk.
What is A Category 1 HDMI Cable?
A category 1 HDMI cable in layman’s terms, can simply be thought of as a standard HDMI cable used for high definition. Now to be more specific though, a category 1 cable has a speed of exactly 74.5 MHz. What does that mean?
Well it means that it’s able to transfer over 742 Mb of information per second, and offers support for resolutions at 720p 60fps & 1080i at 60fps. 1.4 would fall under this particular classification by the way.
What Is A Category 2 HDMI Cable?
A category 2 cable on the other hand has a speed of 340 MHz and falls under the classification of high speed cables. These are the ones capable of transferring 3.4 Gbs per second (theoretically up to 18), and resolutions of 1080p 60fps and 4K 30fps. 2.0 would be the type that falls under this one; although the still to be released HDMI 2.1 would count as well (we’ll talk about this one in a little bit)
Should You Get A 1.4 or 2.0 Cable?
So here’s the real question, out of all the cables available now, which one should you get? Honestly if you wanted my opinion, go with 2.0. Like I said before, not only is it backwards compatible with all your previous devices, it also retains support for current tech like 4k.
Plus, they’re pretty comparable in price now a days so that makes it even easier of a choice. I referenced the one I personally used earlier, but if you didn’t catch it, it’s the Cable Matters 3-Pack High Speed HDMI Cable 6 Feet.
Is Setting Up A Home Theater With HDMI Complicated?
So you may be wondering how exactly an HDMI cable applies to home theater, or why you may even want to use one?
The answer to those questions luckily is quite simple. The benefits of using one compared to something like a composite or optical cable is that you get a clearer quality of sound to put it bluntly; so those movies you’ve watched a thousand times before are going to sound just a little clearer comparatively.
But how exactly do you use one?
Well the answer to that is going to depend on how many devices you plan on using.
So let’s say for example you have a surround sound system, and you want to use it with your cable box and a gaming console.
In that case you’ll likely need 3 cables, one going from the ARC slot on your television to the ARC slot on the receiver. Another one going from the next slot in the TV to the back of the cable box. And finally another one going from the TV to the back of the gaming console.
So all in all it isn’t necessarily hard to use one, you just have to make sure that the receiver you have has an ARC slot to ensure that it can decipher the signal between your speakers and the devices to ensure that you get sound output.
That and making sure everything is plugged in right helps too (it’s a lot more common to miss than you think)
Even if the television and/or receiver doesn’t have this specialized port, you can still get surround sound compatibility by plugging them in like mentioned above, with the only difference being you using an optical cable to connect the device to the receiver instead.
Do You Need To Buy A New Cable For 4K UHD Or HDR TVs?
So if you have been using the same cable for years with a normal high definition TV, and then you recently decided that you’d be interested in the newer generation televisions, then yes you will need a newer cable. I say this because the older ones only support certain resolutions, and if you tried using them with a newer TV, it’d only support up to a certain resolution (likely only 1080p).
That would mean you’d be buying a new TV and only using a quarter of it’s potential (and what’s the sense in that?) So to reiterate, yes you will likely need a new one in this case. But if you can manage to get a brand new TV, an extra cable probably isn’t going to be a big deal anyway.
Will You Need To Buy A New Cable For HDMI 2.0 Enabled Devices?
Again, for new 2.0 enabled devices, you’ll also need a new cable so that they properly function. I haven’t personally tried it with an older HDMI since it’d probably depend on the device (for instance an Xbox One X does support older cables, but only up to 1080p resolution) but you might as well go with 2.0 so that they’re utilized to the fullest.
How Long Do HDMI Cables Go Up To?
Luckily, for those of you out there that need longer cables for bigger spaces, you’re covered here too. There’s actually cables out there that go up to 100 feet, along with extenders that allow it to stretch even longer. That should definitely be plenty.
Do Newer HDMI Cables Work With Older Devices?
In short, most definitely. Newer HDMI cables are backwards compatible, meaning your old devices won’t be left collecting dust when you decide to get a new one. Pretty convenient right?
Is There A Difference Between HDMI & DVI?
When it comes to HDMI and DVI, there is most certainly a difference. While an HDMI cable is capable of relaying both an audio and video signal, DVI can only display visual information. This is actually due to the fact that DVI was the wire that was used first.
On top of that, HDMI is able to support things like 11 channel audio, HDR, CEC (consumer electronics control which gives you remote control of your devices) and even different color spectrums such as YUV. Plus they look different too.
Is There A Difference Between HDMI & Component Video Cables?
While an HDMI is responsible for sending audio and video information between AV devices, a component cable can only send video signals.
Furthermore, being a much older technology, it can’t transfer nearly as much information and is relegated to much lower resolutions. Today, they aren’t used nearly as much, but it’s still good to know the difference.
Can You Convert A Component Video Output To HDMI?
Surprisingly, yes you can, and it’s a lot more simple than you’d think. In fact, many receivers today actually upconvert the signal to HDMI so you don’t have to worry about doing anything it at all. However in the event that it doesn’t support this, then there also exist devices called converters that will also do the job.
Can You Connect HDMI To VGA?
VGA is another type of input used on devices like projectors and computer monitors. Like DVI, it’s sole purpose is to transfer video information. Though it’s not necessarily used as much, there may still be instances where you’ll need to use it along with HDMI (for instance getting a projector, laptop, and receiver to all work in tandem)
In those rare instances where you need to do something like this, an HDMI to VGA converter would do the trick. But since most of those devices today utilize HDMI anyway, it’s not particularly necessary unless you have much older equipment.
What Is CL-2 And CL-3?
CL-2 and CL-3 are just shorthand ways of saying class 2 and class 3 cables, and is basically a universal wiring code that’s standard in the united states. A class 2 cable means that it’s low voltage and therefore safe to be installed outside as well as inside a wall.
This is due to its special outer covering. A class 3 rating on the other hand applies to cables rated at over 300 volts. HDMI cables are rated at about 5 Volts so they meet the Class 2 classification.
What Is AWG?
AWG stands for American Wire Gauge and is basically a universal standard for the thickness of a wire. However each step up means nearly a double in size. So a 14 gauge wire is nearly twice as thick as a 16 gauge wire.
The lower the number, the thicker the wire.
Thicker wires tend to be used when running wiring over a larger distance since they’re able to transfer power more efficiently than a thinner wire could over a large distance. When it comes to HDMI cables, it’s pretty much the same story.
They’re usually made from thick copper wire as well, but you may even come across cables that claim they have silver tinned coating which helps to improve conductivity even further.
What Is A Direct HDMI Connection & A Multi-Segment HDMI, And Is There A Difference?
A direct HDMI connection works exactly how the name implies; one end goes into the source component (a Blu-ray player, game console, etc.) while the other end goes straight into the TV. It’s basically a connection that uses one cable. A multi-segment connection on the other hand uses multiple.
This happens when say for example you plan to use an AV receiver with your TV, cable box, and Blu-ray player; requiring a cable for each one. It’s basically another term for an intermediary device being introduced between the television and whatever else you’re trying to connect it to.
This does also increase electrical resistance, meaning it’ll likely use more electricity to function as a result of this. How much more is dependent upon the type, as well as the amount of additional devices introduced.
What Is An HDMI Right Angle Adapter & What Are They Used For?
A right angle adapter is one of those little devices that just makes life easier (don’t we need that?) Let’s say you’re unable to access the back of your device for whatever reason (perhaps a newly installed flat screen on a wall) but you still want too be able to use it. Well in this scenario, a right angle adapter would be right up your alley.
Like the name suggests, it’s fixed at a 90 degree and connects onto your existing cable. From there, it can connect into any HDMI slot in even the most awkward of angles, saving you the headache of figuring out what to do. It’s a really cool invention, and I can imagine that a lot of people would likely find it incredibly useful. Right Angle Adapter
Is There Anything Else I Need To Know?
That just about covers everything you need to know, at least for now. Mind you there is another standard likely coming out next year called HDMI 2.1 that touts an entire host of new features.
These include things like markedly faster streaming speeds, and support for things like Dynamic High Dynamic Range (no joke that’s actually a thing) Micro LED, 8K Variable Refresh Rates, and eventually, the next consoles from Sony And Microsoft.
When it is released, rest assured I’ll do an entire article on it along with my thoughts, but for now, we’ll be forced to stick with 2.0 for the time being.
Newer TV’s will also support this as well; so if you were thinking of getting a new TV soon and absolutely needed the most bleeding edge technology possible, waiting just a little longer to upgrade would allow you to get one of those instead.
Here’s a really good article on HDMI 2.1 pretty much detailing everything you need to know about it. https://www.techradar.com/news/new-faster-hdmi-21-cables-are-on-the-way-heres-what-you-need-to-know
Other than that, that’s about it in terms of anything you’d really need to know about them. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this article on HDMI cables explained and with it, you have a much better understanding on their importance in a home theater setup. Like always, if you have any additional questions at all, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Just remember, make it easy, and keep it simple 😉
Hey everyone it’s nice to meet you. I’m Jasmere, the founder of Easy Home Theater. I’ve been with this hobby for many years now, and decided to create this site to share everything that I’ve learned from personal experience with you. I hope you find it helpful, and if you ever have any questions, be sure to reach out!