HDMI Cables Explained
HDMI Cable Types, Ratings, etc. Explained
Going by the title, I’m sure you’re already aware what this article will be about; HDMI cable types 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.
Think of this as the ultimate guide so to speak.
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; since the more complicated and advanced electronic devices became in general, the more they needed in terms of speed.
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 basically 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
An HDMI port (often also referred to as a connector) is essentially the port in which the cable goes into. 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; for the visual and the sound aspect in that instance.
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 HDMI 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 version of HDMI 1.4 as a way of simplifying this process.
It basically allows compatible devices to connect using a single HDMI cable from a single port, since that port acts as both an input and output for both audio & video.
Pretty cool right?
A majority of the devices today allow for this as well thankfully, so it makes your life that much easier.
That means instead of having to use a separate optical cable for the sound, and a component, or even HDMI cable for the display, you’re able to use a single HDMI from the TV for both the sound and picture.
Some televisions may require you to manually enable ARC compatibility in a menu or something, 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 also use to be certain caveats with ARC that were also present in previous technologies. For example, it didn’t provide support for high resolution audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS X until very recently.
However that incompatibility was short lived because with the rollout of the successor to this technology, eARC via HDMI 2.1 in 2019, support for it was introduced, while also mitigating the need for extra wiring which many will find quite helpful.
Though keep in mind both the cable and the device need to be 2.1 compatible for it to actually work.
HDMI ARC has support for a bunch of formats too which I think is helpful.
The following site talks about that more if you’re curious.
What Is HDMI eARC?
I mentioned it briefly before, but what exactly is eARC and what’s the difference between HDMI eARC and HDMI ARC?
Well eARC (which stands for enhanced audio return channel) is basically the successor to ARC, and is basically HDMI 2.1. It includes the same benefits of the original ARC, but comes with a few new things.
The most notable difference between the 2 is the newfound support for high resolution audio formats like Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio, & Dolby TrueHD
Another benefit to eARC is that it’ll support the latest high-bitrate audio formats up to 192 kHz, 24 bit, uncompressed 5.1, 7.1, & even 32 channel audio which is super impressive in my opinion.
It’ll also provide support for the latest format from IMAX & DTS in the form of IMAX Enhanced.
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.
I know it’s a contentious subject since there are discussions out there that say the type of cable actually does make a difference, but I’ll personally tell you from all my years of experience, I’ve never noticed a substantial difference between them.
So in my opinion, there’s really no reason to stress about what cable you choose.
That being said though, if you plan to use things like 4K, HDR, and all that fancy stuff, then make sure you get the latest version for compatibility.
You can tell what the latest version is because it’ll usually say HDMI 2.1, Ultra high speed cable, or something along those lines. Actually to make it easy, this is the one I use for my devices..
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.
But everyone’s different so it could be subjective at the end of the day.
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 happen that can cause it to change.
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 probably not necessary since the conditions for that to even occur aren’t likely to be present in the same room your audio stuff is.
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 2.1.
But as a consumer, the ones you would need to be most aware of are versions 1.4, 2.0, and 2.1
Well besides the fact that these are the 3 most common today, 1.4 is the standard most often used with high definition television, and 2.0 is used for formats like 4K and HDR.
HDMI 2.1 is the newest standard that brings with it a whole host of exciting features including 4K 120 frames per second support, 8K 60 frames per second support, resolution support for up to 10K, and 48 gigabits per second bandwidth support which is a massive improvement over the 18 Gbps standard.
I personally just opt for the 2.1 since they’re backwards compatible with former versions, but again that’s up to you. If you want to know about every version including every specific change then you can check that here.
Then there’s the actual classification of each HDMI cable. As of right now, this classification is split into 5 types; types A, B, C, and D, and E.
The following are a synopsis of the 5 different types though you can read more about it in depth here
A type A cable was the first original cable that preceded the others, or in other words version 1.0. It has 19 pins on the inside making it a standard connector which basically allows them to be useful for high definition devices, and are compatible with DVI-D.
They also measure 13.9mm by 4.45mm.
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 the fact the bandwidth they have is higher.
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 slowly being surpassed by even faster cables.
They utilize a Dual-Link Connector, are compatible with dual-link DVI, and measure 21.2 mm x 4.45 mm.
Type C cables are an interesting one because they’re actually still pretty similar to type A cables. For one, they utilize a mini connector, and 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.
They also measure 10.42 mm x 2.42 mm.
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.
They utilize a Micro Connector, and measure 5.83 mm x 2.2 mm.
Finally with type E, this is a connection for automotive that uses the HDMI 1.4 specification, uses a locking tab to keep it in place, and has the capability of using an adapter to connect it to the other types.
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 it can 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 so would basically be a high speed cable. This equates to 3.4 Gb per second or 10.2 Gb total (really up up 18 per second) and can do resolutions of 1080p 60fps and 4K 30fps.
Things like 3D and improved color over the previous iteration.
2.0 would be the type that falls under this one; although HDMI 2.1 would technically count as well being that it’s backwards compatible.
What Is A Category 3 HDMI Cable?
A category 3 HDMI cable Is one that has been tested for being able to transfer data at up to 48 gigabits per second and touts the Ultra High Speed moniker.
But what is an ultra high speed HDMI cable exactly?
Well they’re a type of cable developed to accommodate for the new HDMI 2.1 standard, since there’s substantial increase in speed with this iteration. This includes support for 120 frames per second in content and uncompressed 4K and even 8K resolutions.
More specifically, the following is what’s officially supported by HDMI 2.1 and their specific cables.
4K resolutions at 50/60/100/120fps, 5K resolutions at 50/60/100/120fps, 8K resolutions at 50/60/100/120fps, 10K resolutions at 50/60/100/120fps.
Furthermore, the specification offers support for both compressed and uncompressed information, and utilizes VESA DSC 1.2a link for compression which is stated to be visually lossless. That basically means the metadata can be effectively shrunk down when using this, with no perceptible difference to the end user.
There’s also support for wide ranging colorimetry as the latest color spaces like BT.2020 are supported, as well as 10 bit, 12 bit, and 16 bit color bit depth as well.
This ultimately results in the ability to display billions more colors than what was possible previously which is pretty incredible honestly.
It’s also backwards compatible with older HDMI connection types, and supports the higher resolution audio codecs Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD via the new format eARC.
Should You Get A 1.4, 2.0, or 2.1 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, I’d stick with 2.1. Like I said before, not only is it backwards compatible with all your previous devices, it also retains support for current tech like 4K and 8K.
I referenced the one I personally used earlier, but if you didn’t catch it, this is one I use.
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 if that higher resolution is particularly your focus.
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, you would likely need a new one in this case to fully utilize it.
Will You Need To Buy A New Cable For HDMI 2.0 Enabled Devices?
Again, for 2.0 enabled devices, it may not be necessary for an entirely new cable. I haven’t personally tried using an older cable with an HDMI 2.0 device, (for instance an Xbox Series X does support older cables, but only up to 1080p resolution) however using an older cable likely won’t allow you to utilize the standards that come with 2.0 like 4K and HDR.
However if you weren’t concerned with those in particular, given that 2.0 is backwards compatible, it’s possible that a 2.0 device will still work with an older cable. But it really just depends on the device as well as the actual cable.
Will You Need To Buy A New Cable For HDMI 2.1 Enabled Devices?
For HDMI 2.1 enabled devices, will you need a new cable to go with them?
Well it’ll again depend on the device and its usage with other devices.
Like lets say for example you were planning on getting one of the next gen consoles from Sony or XBOX (which support HDMI 2.1) but your TV was still HDMI 2.0 and you were using an older 2.0 cable.
Given that 2.1 supports things like 4K/120fps and 8K/60fps with support for the latest high resolution audio formats, you likely wouldn’t be able to take advantage of any of those new features and would be relegated to 4K/60 and standard surround sound instead.
Now if you weren’t planning on using any of those new features to begin with, then you’d still able to use your old category 2 HDMI since the standard is able to retrograde and work with previous iterations.
But if you did want to make use of all the various bells and whistles that 2.1 offers, then you would need to use an Ultra High Definition Cable with that particular 2.1 enabled device.
Then keep in mind that it’s always possible that a newer device may not work with an older one at all since manufacturers do have to enable this functionality manually and they could technically decide to not support it at all — so that’s something to keep in mind as well.
So to answer the question, if you wanted to fully utilize the new feature set then it’d be necessary, otherwise due to backwards compatibility with the previous generation, you’d be able to use an older cable.
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 have a maximum length up to 100 feet, along with extenders that allow it to stretch even longer.
That should definitely be plenty.
However technically speaking, there really isn’t a definitive distance on how long one of these cables can be. What there is though, is a given performance at a given distance since the signaly quality of the cable at different lengths can vary depending on the cable.
At 3 meters or about 9.8 feet, it should carry the signal just fine — while at about 10 meters or 32 feet, it still should perform optimally. However extending greater than this distance may require a repeater or amplifier as a result in order to boost the signal so things don’t start sounding different.
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.
Is There A Difference Between HDMI & DVI?
When it comes to HDMI and DVI, there is most certainly a difference since an HDMI cable is capable of relaying both an audio and video signal, where DVI can only display the visual information it receives. 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 for more vibrancy in content. Plus they look different too.
Is There A Difference Between HDMI & Component Video Cables?
While an HDMI is responsible for both the audio and video information between AV devices, a component cable can only send video signals being that it’s a much older technology and can’t transfer nearly as much information — making it 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, you actually can, and it’s a lot more simple than you’d think. There’s devices that do this, however a lot of modern receivers also have this capability which is pretty helpful.
Can You Connect HDMI To VGA?
VGA is used on devices like projectors and computer monitors. Like DVI, it’s sole purpose is to transfer video information.
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 really necessary unless you have equipment that’s a lot older.
What Is AWG With Wires?
AWG stands for American Wire Gauge and is basically away to show 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.
Basically for larger distances, thicker wire is typically used to keep the signal strong throughout that 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 different elements that helps to improve conductivity even further.
What is HDMI CEC?
Another term you may have come across is HDMI CEC.
What is that?
Well CEC stands for consumer electronics control and was introduced when HDMI version 1.2 came along; basically allowing for one device to control another via HDMI.
Pretty cool right?
So for example if you were to turn on your TV, with CEC, your sound bar would automatically turn on too (that’s actually a favorite feature of mine on the Samsung HW-T650)
Or for example with Blu-ray players and even some video game consoles, when you turn them on they have the capability to automatically turn the TV to the correct input.
It’s a really helpful feature, but sometimes with some devices it isn’t turned on by default; so check within the menus to see if it actually is enabled.
Keep in mind that CEC is actually referred to differently by various manufacturers plus certain devices may or may not work with devices from other brands, so that’s something else to keep in mind as well.
But when you are able to use multiple CEC enabled devices in synchronicity, it makes things a lot easier since it can reduce the need for multiple remotes.
Though be aware it is always possible that certain types of these devices can turn themselves on and off when you don’t necessarily want them to, but I digress.
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 original component (game console, your cable box, etc.) while the other end goes straight into the TV. It’s basically a connection that uses that one cable to connect things. 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 a gaming console; and each one needs a different wire.
This does also increase electrical resistance, meaning it’ll likely use more electricity to function as a result of those new connections. How much more depends on what you’re using though.
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 the entire home theater experience a lot easier. Let’s say you’re unable to access the back of your device for whatever reason but you still want too be able to plug in your HDMI cable. Well in this scenario, a right angle adapter would potentially help with this.
Like the name suggests, this type of connecter is made at a 90 degree angle and connects onto your existing cable (there’s also 270 degree variants)
From there, it’s able to connect into an HDMI slot in a variety of ways, making things a lot easier to connect in my opinion.
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 for the time being. The most recent iteration dubbed HDMI 2.1 released in August of 2018 and touts an exciting 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 in the form of the Xbox Series X and PS5.
Newer TV’s 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, there’s a good chance a bunch of them would include some of these features.
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 the cables in general.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this article on HDMI cables explained and with it, you have a 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 Jay & I’ve been with this hobby for many years now. I decided to create this site to share everything that I’ve learned from personal experience with you. I also happen to be a huge gamer, lover of all things tech related, and a major fitness buff (love weightlifting)