Do HDMI Couplers Degrade the Signal?

In Cables by Jonah MatthesLeave a Comment

If you’re extending an HDMI cable, chances are you have come across HDMI couplers. Sometimes called “HDMI barrels,” HDMI couplers seem like they are a straightforward solution to extending HDMI cable. Simply get another HDMI cable, connect them with the coupler, and you’re done. Simple, but is it the best solution?

An HDMI coupler will degrade your signal. And through use, the HDMI connector will loosen and may break when cables are tugged. The best solution is an HDMI Balun kit, which uses Ethernet to transmit the signal between your devices instead of an HDMI cable.

There are a number of solutions for extending your HDMI cable, and all have various advantages and disadvantages compared to an HDMI coupler. But for the most part, HDMI couplers should be your last resort in extending your HDMI cable.

What is an HDMI Coupler or Barrel?

An HDMI coupler is a small part that connects two HDMI signals through two opposite-facing female jacks. As you have likely noticed, HDMI cables predominantly come male-to-male. This is because having a female jack on devices protects them in the event that they are dropped or hit, and because most HDMI cables are male-to-male.

HDMI cables use 19 wire pairs that terminate in as many pins at the plug. An HDMI coupler simply connects the pins between two female jacks. This facilitates the connection between the male plugs of two HDMI cables.

In an ideal world, this would be as good as having a single, continuous cable. In theory, the contact between the pins of the male and female connections would be functionally the same as a single wire.

Why an HDMI Coupler is Not the Best Option

Unfortunately, we live in a world of radio interference and mechanical malfunction. To prevent radio interference, HDMI cables are shielded with woven alloys and rubber. This effect is reduced when there is a break in the shielding.

When you look at an HDMI coupler like this Amazon Basics model, you can see how the body is a plastic piece that doesn’t have shielding like the cable does. This makes HDMI signals more prone to radio interference. Unlike with analog signals, which may blend with interfering radio waves, digital signals like HDMI are prone to unpredictable glitches, so this coupler is a problem.

Further, having a long cable with a disconnectable part in the middle is a recipe for disaster–especially on the floor. The more a jack is plugged and unplugged, the looser the connections holding plugs in place becomes. If your cable is running somewhere people can trip over it, the coupler may be damaged or get loose over time, misaligning the 19 pins.

How to Properly Extend HDMI Cables

Ideally, we would want a solution that allows us to avoid having to run cables at all. This solution does exist: Wireless HDMI kits like the Diamond Multimedia HDMI Extender Kit (on Amazon) use WiFi signals to send your content between your devices using their HDMI jacks and wireless transmitters.

Unfortunately, advances in sound and picture quality have outpaced WiFi’s ability to transmit them efficiently. Because WiFi is limited by bandwidth, you may not be able to take advantage of UHD, 4K, 8K, or surround sound, with a wireless kit, or it may be very expensive. If it’s something you’re interested in, we have a more in-depth guide for you to review, but you should also consider an HDMI Balun kit.

An HDMI Balun kit has two components. The first translates the HDMI signal into one that can be sent via an Ethernet or “Cat” cables. The second translates it back to an HDMI signal. And units like the J-Tech Digital HDMI Extender (on Amazon) aren’t near as expensive as equivalent wireless HDMI options.

Why Cat Cables are Better for Long Runs

Ethernet cable

Cat cables have several distinct advantages over HDMI for longer cable runs. First, they are lightweight and more flexible than HDMI cables. This is because Cat cables only have four wire pairs and are unshielded. As a result, they are much easier to run along walls than your standard HDMI cable.

In addition to being easier to keep clear of foot traffic, Cat cables are also easier to mount. When it comes to mounting, there are several options to choose from. The cheapest option is to install cable clips. The clips are attached to the wall with either a nail or adhesive and the cable underneath them.

Cable clips, however, leave your cable exposed. If you find that to be an eyesore, you can get cable raceways. These are tracks that mount to the wall to route your cable within and can be painted to match your decor. You can also get special pieces of trim for a more elegant look. Or you could route them through your walls to get them out of sight altogether.

Another reason why Cat cables are a better alternative to HDMI for longer runs is that you can actually find the cable at a reasonable price. Most brands don’t make HDMI cables longer than 25 feet. And cables longer than 12 feet can begin to cost quite a bit if you don’t want to sacrifice quality.

Tips for Extending HDMI Cables

We have a more in-depth discussion on how to extend the length of HDMI cables using a Balun kit for you to reference, but here’s some general guidance extending your HDMI cables, no matter what method you choose.

First, keep cables out of the way of feet and furniture. Cables in the path of travel through your home theater room may result in trips and snags that damage to the cable, your wall, or your mounts. Run cables along walls without nearby furniture–particularly furniture people sit in. If you must run cables on the floor, run them under rugs, or affix them to the floor with gaff tape.

Second, use the shortest HDMI cable as your setup will permit. For wireless HDMI kits, this usually means getting the smallest HDMI cable or cables you can find. For the HDMI Balun kit, you will need to decide whether you want to mount the receiver or receivers to the wall, so take that into account when planning your setup and cable needs.

Third, minimize the corners your cables need to go around. When you crimp a cable at a 90-degree angle, you create a point of tension that damages the wire. It might take some rearranging, but avoid routing your cables around corners where possible.

Conclusion

HDMI cables are great when it comes to compact home theater systems. However, when your system involves a projector or multiple screens throughout the room, HDMI is not your best option, even if couplers can chain as many cables together as you want. Running the signal via Ethernet using a Balun kit, or wirelessly, are far superior options.

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