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Which HDMI cable should I use for 4K HDR?

If you're already using 18Gbps High Speed HDMI cables you won't need to upgrade

by Steve Withers Jan 1, 2018 at 12:07 AM

  • There are a number of different HDMI cables available, making it difficult to decide which one is best for you. In this article we'll help you choose the right HDMI cable for your needs.

    Should I buy an expensive HDMI cable?

    We have long said that you don’t need to buy expensive HDMI cables because it’s a digital signal, so the cable will either work or it won’t. You certainly won’t get subtle improvements in picture quality just because you’ve dropped £100 on an HDMI cable. So any decent HDMI cable will be identical to any other over runs of less than 5 metres. There is a caveat to this statement, which relates to cable runs of longer than 5 metres and in this case a well-made cable could make a difference, although if your cable isn’t up to the task you’ll soon know because there will be ‘sparklies’ in the image or no image at all.

    MORE: Do expensive HDMI cables make a difference?

    What types of HDMI cables are there?

    There are actually five different types of HDMI cable available, each of which is designed to meet a particular performance standard. These different cable types were established by the HDMI Forum in order to help consumers identify and choose the cable that is best suited to their needs.

    Standard HDMI Cable – This type of HDMI cable is designed to handle most basic home applications, and is tested to reliably transmit 1080i or 720p video – the HD resolutions that are commonly associated with cable and satellite television, digital broadcast HD, and upscaling DVD players.

    Standard HDMI Cable with Ethernet – This cable type offers the same baseline performance as the Standard HDMI Cable (720p or 1080i video resolution), plus an additional, dedicated data channel, known as the HDMI Ethernet Channel, for device networking. HDMI Ethernet Channel functionality is only available if both linked devices are HDMI Ethernet Channel-enabled.

    Standard Automotive HDMI Cable – This type of cable also supports up to 720p/1080i but it does not support the HDMI Ethernet Channel. However since an automotive system may be wired with one or more internal relays that can affect signal strength, the Standard Automotive HDMI Cable needs to send a stronger signal than other cables types, so it is tested to higher performance standards.

    High Speed HDMI Cable – These days this is the most commonly used HDMI cable which has been designed and tested to handle video resolutions of 1080p and beyond, including advanced display technologies such as 4K, 3D, High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Deep Colour. If you are using any of these technologies then this is the recommended cable.

    High Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet – This cable type offers the same baseline performance as the High Speed HDMI Cable shown above (1080p video resolution and beyond), plus an additional, dedicated data channel, known as the HDMI Ethernet Channel, for device networking. HDMI Ethernet Channel functionality is only available if both linked devices are HDMI Ethernet Channel-enabled.

    What is the Premium HDMI Certification Program?

    Although a High Speed HDMI Cable should be able to handle a 4K signal it has become apparent that not all such cables are capable of delivering a reliable performance with the latest high-performance video formats and the increased bandwidth this requires. As a result the HDMI Forum has developed a special certification program to identify High Speed HDMI Cables that have been designed and certified for ultra-reliable performance for 4K and advanced features such as Higher Frame Rates (HFR), HDR with Dynamic Metadata, Wider Colour Gamuts (WCG) including Rec. 2020 and 4:4:4 chroma sampling. They are tested and certified to support the full 18Gbps bandwidth and have also been tested to ensure minimisation of Electro-Magnetic Interference (EMI). These cables are identified by the anti-counterfeiting Premium HDMI Cable Certification Label and there are two versions the Premium High Speed HDMI Cable and the Premium High Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet.

    MORE: What is High Dynamic Range (HDR)?

    MORE: What is Wide Colour Gamut (WCG)?

    MORE: What is High Frame Rate (HFR)?

    Which cable should I use?

    In reality, although there are five different types of HDMI cable, there is only one that really matters these days. Unless your wiring up a car you can immediately forget about the automotive standard and if you're not using Ethernet then that rules out two others as well. That leaves you with either the Standard or High Speed HDMI Cable and to ensure that your new HDMI cable can handle all the latest audio and video features you should always buy decent quality High Speed cables. These cables will be able to handle High Definition and Ultra High Definition video, along with features like 3D, HDR and Deep Colour.

    You don't necessarily need to buy Premium High Speed HDMI Cables but you should make sure that your High Speed HDMI cable is rated for 18Gbps or you may find that it can't handle the increased bandwidth required for 4K Ultra HD content with 60p, 4:4:4, HDR and WCG. If a cable can't properly deliver a full 18Gbps bandwidth signal then you may find that the image drops out intermittently or there's no image at all. This can be an issue even with short HDMI cable runs but becomes more of an issue over longer distances, so as a general rule if you're buying a new HDMI cable make sure that it's High Speed and rated up to 18Gbps.

    Do I need a new cable for HDMI 2.1?

    HDMI 2.1 is the latest version of HDMI, which has been designed to encompass all the possible video and audio developments that we can expect to see over the next decade or more. HDMI 2.1 supports higher resolutions and faster refresh rates including 8K 60Hz and 4K 120Hz and it also supports Rec. 2020 and 16-bit colour. In addition version 2.1 also supports HDR with dynamic as well as static metadata, an Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) and Game Mode VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) gaming.

    To ensure that HDMI 2.1 can deliver all the features it supports, the bandwidth has also been increased from 18Gbps to 48Gbps and there will be new cables to meet this requirement. These new 48G cables enable 48Gbps bandwidth for uncompressed HDMI 2.1 feature support including 8K video with HDR. They are a robust high quality cable for higher bandwidth performance and exceptionally low EMI and they utilise the existing Type A, C and D connectors and include an HDMI Ethernet Channel.

    This new cable is backwards compatible with earlier versions of the HDMI Specification and can be used with existing HDMI devices. However this doesn't mean that you need to buy new HDMI cables yet because the majority of the new features like dynamic metadata, eARC and Game Mode VRR can be delivered using existing 18Gbps High Speed HDMI cables, so as long as you're already using 18Gbps High Speed HDMI cables then you won't need to replace anything.

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