HDMI cables are actually only available in a few variants. Yet we often find that there is a lot of confusion on this topic. What are the different types of HDMI cables and how are they different? We explain it in detail in this article.
The most important rule
We never talk about version numbers with HDMI cables. Things like an HDMI 2.0 cable or HDMI 2.1 cable don’t exist. The use of version numbers has even been explicitly prohibited by HDMI Licensing since November 2010. Unfortunately, it is often sinned against.
The main difference
Okay, that’s clear, so no version numbers. But are there really different standards for HDMI cables? Yes, but the only difference between these standards is the maximum bandwidth they can handle, or simply explaining how much data can be transferred per second without loss. There is one other difference, namely the mention ‘with Ethernet’, we will return to that later.
Types of HDMI cables
Below you will find an overview of all types (or types) of HDMI cables that you can buy today.
This cable can handle up to 1080i and 720p video, which is especially applicable to older digital TV decoders and DVD players with an HDMI connection. We therefore do not recommend these types of cables, as they are no longer sufficient for current applications, where you usually use at least 1080p signals.
Standard with Ethernet
An HDMI Standard cable, but with an extra data channel for networks, called HDMI Ethernet Channel (HEC). Just like the HDMI Standard cable, we do not recommend these, as they are no longer sufficient for current applications.
This cable has been tested to handle 1080p resolution and above including things like 3D, and Deep Color and even most 4K variants. They are tested up to a bandwidth of 10.2 Gbps, which is sufficient for 1080p60 (Full HD at 60fps) or 2160p30 (Ultra HD 4K at 30fps).
Since the introduction of HDMI 2.0, the maximum bandwidth of the High Speed cable has been increased from 10.2 to 18 Gbps. A significant increase, without having to adjust the cable. This is possible due to technical improvements of the devices on the transmitting and receiving side. Any High Speed cable you own should be sufficient to provide that higher bandwidth (it is needed for Ultra HD 4K at 60fps, for example). An important detail is that these cables are not tested for 18 Gbps, but only still for 10.2 Gbps. Support for 18 Gbps is guaranteed by the theoretical model.
High Speed with Ethernet
An HDMI High Speed cable, but with an extra data channel for networks, called HDMI Ethernet Channel (HEC).
Premium High Speed (with Ethernet)
The Premium HDMI High Speed cable is a High Speed cable that must comply with a more extensive test protocol. They theoretically support nothing more than a regular High Speed cable, but unlike regular High Speed cables, they are tested up to 18 Gbps. If you want absolutely no risk of problems with, for example, 4K @ 60fps HDR content, you can choose this type of cable. These cables are provided with a special label that guarantees authenticity. You can scan the label with the ‘HDMI Cable Certification’ app.
Ultra High Speed
This is the most recent cable, it supports a bandwidth of up to 48Gbps, which is sufficient for combinations of very high resolutions and frame rates that are only possible with HDMI 2.1 connections such as 8K @ 60fps and 4K @ 120fps. All ‘Ultra High Speed’ cables also have the extra data channel for network (HEC), so you don’t have to search for that entry.
These cables must be certified. You must find the name on the cable itself, the logo must be on the label and packaging and you can scan the QR code with the ‘HDMI Cable Certification’ app to verify its authenticity. HDMI Licensing will start certification in Q3 2020, and the first cables are expected to be available in Q4 2020
HDMI Standard or High Speed Automotive
This cable is used for internal video / audio connections in cars and must meet higher standards. It can also be equipped with a special connector. This cable is not important for the average consumer.
Types of HDMI cables – HDMI ‘with Ethernet’ do I need that?
HDMI 1.4 introduced the ‘HDMI Ethernet Channel’ (HEC) in 2009. The idea was that the HDMI cable you use to connect devices together for image and sound could also serve to share the network connection with each other. So you connect the TV to your home network via a network cable, but all peripherals such as your Blu ray player or game console get their network connection via the HDMI cable. This way you save another cable.
A handy idea, but unfortunately it never got a foothold. We have yet to come across the first device to support HEC. In short, we don’t think HEC has a future yet.
Are cables marked ‘with Ethernet’ completely unnecessary? Until recently yes. Since the function in question is not used on any device, a ‘High Speed’ cable will suffice as well as a ‘High Speed with Ethernet’ cable. But…
Since the introduction of HDMI 2.1, there is now also eARC. And eARC uses the wire pair in the cable that was intended for HEC. If you want to use eARC now or in the future, you must use ‘High Speed with Ethernet’ cables (or the newer Ultra High Speed cables).
Which HDMI cables for which resolution and frame rate?
The data rate that a video signal needs depends on four things: the resolution, the number of frames per second, the bit depth of the signal and the type of chroma subsampling . The latter terms are quite technical, those who want to can find more background in the linked articles. The following table provides an overview of when you need which cable.
Which types of HDMI cables do I buy?
All features of HDMI (such as Deep Color, 3D, ALLM, VRR, ARC…) work with all HDMI cables, with the exception of eARC for which you need a cable ‘with Ethernet’ or an ‘Ultra High Speed’ cable. The determining factor for the cable you buy is the required data rate. Based on the combination of resolution / framerate / chroma subsampling / bit depth in the table above in this article, you immediately see which cable you need.
As a rule of thumb, we give you the following.
- For the majority of cases a ‘High Speed’ HDMI cable is sufficient, take a version ‘with Ethernet’ so that you can be sure that your cable also supports eARC. This is good for up to 4K @ 30fps.
- If you want to transmit 4K @ 60fps without any problems, opt for a ‘Premium High Speed’ HDMI cable (again, choose a version ‘with Ethernet’ if you want eARC). Remember, although a ‘High Speed’ cable is theoretically sufficient in this case, it has not been tested for it. A ‘Premium High Speed’ cable has been tested and certified.
- Do you have a source that transmits 4K @ 120fps (which is probably gaming), or do you want to transmit 8K, then you should choose an ‘Ultra High Speed’ cable.
And of course, HDMI cables also work for lower specifications than their maximum! You can also use an ‘Ultra High Speed’ instead of a ‘High Speed’ cable. Or a ‘High Speed’ cable can perfectly take the place of a ‘Standard’ cable.
The HDMI specifications do not state a maximum length. But in practice there are limitations. To begin with, a lot depends on which data rate you need. A ten-meter cable that transmits 1080p perfectly could have problems if you try to transmit 4K to it. You can find HDMI cables up to 10m without too many problems. Cables longer than 10m often require ‘active’ cables, which have a built-in booster for the signal. Please note, unlike passive cables, these HDMI cables must be connected in the correct direction. This is almost always stated on the cable or connector. Another alternative is HDMI cables that use fiber. Or HDMI over CAT (network cable).
Possible problems with HDMI cables
How do you know if your cable is doing its job properly? Fortunately, that is very easy to determine. HDMI cables fail when all data does not pass through the cable intact. In other words, the loss on the signal gives rise to image errors. But those image flaws are very, very clear. The only options are:
- Asterisks: These are individual pixels that appear to randomly flash white (or some other color). If there are many, it may look like snow in the image.
- Line dropout: Horizontal lines appear in the picture
- Partial or total video loss. The image is sometimes lost, one of the primary colors is lost, or you have no image at all.
In all these cases you can easily test whether your HDMI cable is the problem. Switch the output resolution one step lower in the source device (your Blu-ray player or game console, for example). For example, if you see asterisks when you forward 4K, switch the player to 1080p or even 720p. If you no longer see any problems, your cable is clearly not sufficient for 4K.
Also keep in mind that the result may depend on your player. A cable that works narrowly with one player can fail with another player. It is therefore perfectly possible that the cable that has been doing its job well for years, suddenly turns out to fail when you get a new player.