While some HDMI cables are certified as “premium,” does that mean anything for 4K video?
The Premium HDMI Cable Certification Program — the brainchild of industry body HDMI Licensing — is a way to identify cables that have been tested to perform at a specific level, i.e. they can pass 4K content.
But wait, you ask, can’t any High Speed HDMI cable pass 4K content? Yes, as long as it’s a true High Speed HDMI cable.
Though superficially an altruistic way to help people get the right cable, this program could also be an easy way for cable manufacturers to fleece an unsuspecting consumer.
High Speed HDMI
The beauty of the last few iterations of HDMI is they didn’t require new cables. All High Speed HDMI cables have enough bandwidth to carry the new 4K content. In their announcement of HDMI 2.0, HDMI Licensing even said “Version 2.0 of the HDMI Specification does not define new cables or new connectors. Current High Speed cables (category 2 cables) are capable of carrying the increased bandwidth.”
The changes were inside the devices. As in, the send/receive chips in TVs, receivers, Blu-ray players, etc., were HDMI 2.0 (or the older HDMI 1.4), but the cables were merely a dumb pipe without a version number. There’s no such thing as an “HDMI 2.0 Cable.”
Premium HDMI Cable Certification Program
Here’s how HDMI Licensing describes their new program: “The program will help ensure that consumers, who will connect their devices with these cables, can enjoy the full potential of the 4K/UltraHD experience with the latest feature-rich content. This program encompasses additional and enhanced HDMI cable testing as well as a comprehensive anti-counterfeiting label program. This empowers participating HDMI Adopters to design and test their High Speed HDMI Cables for ultra-reliability and high performance typically needed for emerging 4K/UltraHD content.”
The last sentence is key, but we’ll come back to that.
In order for a HDMI cable to get a shiny certification sticker, it will have to go through testing to confirm it can “reliably support the full 18Gbps bandwidth of the HDMI 2.0 Specification.”
Not every cable will be tested, of course. One would hope that each length within a series gets tested, such as the 1-meter, the 3-meter and the 6-meter versions of the Ultra Gold Superduper HDMI Cables from CableCo, not just 1-meter version.
Did you catch the number on that bus?
If this feels a bit like HDMI Licensing throwing consumers under the bus, it’s because in a way they are. Up to this point, HDMI Licensing has been rigidly neutral. Now, they’re officially saying that all cables are equal, but some are more equal than others. Cables from companies that can afford to pay the licensing fee get endowed with an explicit recommendation.
Make no mistake, this program has come about because the cable manufacturers that charge lots of money for their cables wanted a way to differentiate their products from budget HDMI cables. Not able to boast “better picture quality” anymore, this test and logo are a way to justify their higher prices.
True, this certification does guarantee the cable will pass 4K, but that doesn’t mean a budget cable without this certification won’t. Most almost certainly will, though longer passive cables may be less likely to, depending on your other gear.
A crowded market
HDMI Licensing isn’t the only one getting into the certified cable racket. Underwriters Labs, also known as UL as well as that group that makes sure your gear doesn’t burn down your house, is launching their own certification program. This is odd for a company that up to this point certified safety, and instead switching to certifying performance.
In the end it appears like HDMI Licensing (and UL) are creating a solution without a problem. Why? Money. This is a new revenue stream for these companies, and inevitably these costs will be passed onto the consumer.
If you have an AmEx Black Card budget, have no fear. Your overpriced, certified cables will almost certainly pass 4K content, no problem. For us mortals that would rather not get burned on $100-a-foot HDMI cables (when $1-a-foot cables work equally well), buying cheap HDMI cables from reputable online outlets like Amazon or Monoprice, are still your best bet. As their outstanding user ratings can usually attest these cables should do everything you need them to now and into the future.
Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he’s written on topics such as why all HDMI cables are the same, LED LCD vs. OLED vs. Plasma, why 4K TVs aren’t worth it and more. Still have a question? Send him an email! He won’t tell you what TV to buy, but he might use your letter in a future article. You can also send him a message on Twitter @TechWriterGeoff or Google+ and check out his travel photography on Instagram.