Do Cables Go Bad Over Time?

In Cables, General by Jonah MatthesLeave a Comment

Maybe the cable is dead? Unless you’ve done something specific to damage the cable, the answer is not likely. Most damage to cables happens due to repeated plugging and unplugging or poor manufacturing. Using quality cables and disturbing them as little as possible can go a long way to getting as much life out of your cables as possible.

There are ways your cables could go bad over time, but they are preventable. The most common reason cables wear out over time is from being repeatedly disturbed. Certain metal components of your cables’ connections could rust, too. If you replace your cables as you upgrade your equipment, however, these problems should be rare.

There are a number of things you can do to get the most life out of your cables. The easiest is to simply make sure you are buying a quality cable to begin with. On top of that, ensuring that your cable is disturbed as little as possible goes a long way to extending cable life.

What Are the Main Reasons for a Cable to Go Bad?

Damaged of white wire cable

The most common way a cable goes bad is from being disturbed. If your set-up requires you to constantly unplug and plug-in devices, do not be surprised if your cables wear out quickly.

  • The most common place for a cable to wear out is the connection between the tubing and the plug. Often this tubing slips, leaving the shielding and wires inside exposed. Over time, these wires will fray, disrupting your connection.
  • Another similar way cables go bad is from being damaged through negligence. Cables left hanging or strewn across the floor are easy to trip over or snag. With enough force, you can not only damage the cable but also the device it is connected to. This is why it is important to keep cables neat and organized.
  • A third way cables go bad is due to bad manufacturing. Cheap, unlicensed, and knock-off cables are more likely to wear out on you if not break altogether. Ensure you get a good cable by only buying trusted brands from reputable retailers.
  • A fourth way cables go bad is from crimping. If you bend the cable, whether to bundle it up or to track it around a wall, it can cause the wires to pinch. Over time, this can cause the wires to deliver less or even no signal.
  • The last way cables go bad is through age. Over time, exposed metal parts may oxidize, causing connections to become weak. If this happens, you are probably long overdue to replace the cable. With digital cables this is even more relevant as standards and capabilities are upgraded regularly.

Do HDMI Cables Degrade Over Time?

Macro detail of a damaged cable.

Like all cables, HDMI cables may degrade over time. Like any cable, it is susceptible to wear where the cable tubing meets the plug. Further, because the connection is comprised of 19 pins inside a metal sheath, it is possible that it may tarnish or rust. However, you should not be holding on to HDMI cables for that long.

Unlike analog connections, HDMI is an evolving standard that has gone through several different versions. HDMI 2.1, was released in November of 2017. We typically expect to see a new version of HDMI every three years.

With new versions of HDMI have come improvements to signal transmission and additional features. This means video and sound quality will improve over time. It may also mean that newer features, such as consumer electronics control and eARC, will be improved upon.

Do RCA Cables Degrade Over Time?

RCA cables degrade for the same reasons that HDMI cables do. They have exposed metal connections, and the joint between the cable tubing and the plug is vulnerable to wear. Because the plug is a single electrical signal, it won’t be as susceptible to signal degradation due to rust.

Still, you should always replace rusty cables. Even if you do not notice a difference in your audio or video quality, the rust could be damaging your equipment.

Left unchecked, it could actually cause your device and your cable to fuse together. Even if they do not fuse together, the rust from the cable can pass to your device and cause parts to rust from the inside.

Do Digital Optical Cables Degrade Over Time?

Unlike most other kinds of cables, digital optical cables do not require any metal in their construction. Rather than sending electricity over a metal wire, digital optical cables send pulses of light through a fiber optic wire.

If your digital optical cable has no exposed metal on its connections, rusting is one less thing you have to worry about. Still, some manufacturers do make their digital optical cables with metal connections for the sake of durability. These connections can rust. However, if you are waiting for the connections to rust, you are waiting too long to replace your cable.

Like all other cables, the joint between the plug and the cable tubing can come undone. If this happens, the cable may stop working. Further, fiber optic cables are much more sensitive to crimping than standard wire cables. Even pinching the wire too much can cause the fiber optics to get damaged.

What Makes a Long-Lasting Cable?

The best way to ensure you get a quality cable is by buying only cables made by licensed manufacturers from reputable dealers. The various connection types have standards that are maintained by industry or engineering associations. Some require licenses, royalties, or membership fees in order to produce the cable to the standard.

Most manufacturers indicate their compliance with the prevailing standard on their packaging. However, if you get knock-off cables from an unreputable dealer, the cable may not fully conform to the standard. This may not only mean a cable that does not last as long, but one that may also possibly damage your equipment.

Manufacturers have also developed several features that may extend cable life. Some manufacturers add an additional sheath over their plug that covers the cable tubing. This reduces tugging on the tubing itself when the cable is disturbed. It also means that movements of the cable tubing won’t necessarily expose the wires underneath.

Additionally, reducing the metals that your cable is made out of can help prevent corrosion. For instance, some manufacturers make HDMI cables that use carbon fiber shielding rather than a metal alloy. This can help prevent oxidation if the cable tubing ever gets damaged.

How to Get the Most out of Your Cables

The surest way to get the most out of your cables is to leave them alone as much as possible. This means ensuring that your home theater can accommodate all of your devices without having to unplug cables. In cases where your central device does not have enough input channels, consider purchasing a switch.

Another thing you can do is keeping your cables organized and out of the way. This means using cable ties to bundle excess cable and using conduits or gaff tape for long runs. This is also a very good reason to have a TV console as it can store your excess cable inside.

One last thing to keep in mind is that cables are happiest in a standard indoor environment. That means consistent temperature, low humidity, and dry. If you have an outdoor home theater rig, you will want to replicate these conditions to the best of your ability. This means keeping your equipment sheltered from the rain.

Sealing your equipment, however, can be dicey. Temperature changes can cause condensation to build up on the inside of your seal. Further, if there is a leak, your seal may trap additional moisture, which may be more damaging than if your equipment were merely exposed.

That’s most of what there is to it: get quality cables, reduce metal components, leave them alone, and protect them from the elements. With these tips, you should be able to get the most out of your cables and your equipment.

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