HDMI cables are a critical connection that needs to work without issues because it’s carrying the high-quality video and audio signals you’ll need to make the whole setup work. But, you may start to wonder if the length of HDMI cables is going to have an effect on the quality.
Does the length of HDMI cables matter? The length of an HDMI cable does have a negative effect on signal quality, with manufacturers generally not recommending cables over 20 feet. Most people won’t need more than 6 feet of cable at a time, but, if need to run HDMI further than that, there are options for extending the length while preserving the signal quality.
You should know there are a lot of answers out there to this question, and all of them are a bit fuzzy. Without going into too much detail than would be useful, just know that the term itself, HDMI, actually refers to a cable specification, and that specification has a certain set of tests you can use to see if a cable passes or fails the certification for the cable spec. So, you could take any cable, run those tests, and see if it passes the spec.
In general, what would make a cable fail the specification tests? The longer a cable is, the more the signal is changing as it travels. This degradation of the signal while it travels down the cable is normal, and the shorter a cable is, the less noticeable the degradation is. So, we know short cables are good, and an arbitrarily long cable is bad, but what about in between?
The short story here is that many manufacturers will sell HDMI cables clear up to 50 feet in length, however, it's important to replace them when you start to notice they're deteriorating (our guide). Regarding the length, that may seem to imply that 50 feet is the “maximum” length, but that’s simply not the case. As a signal degrades, it’s not like the cable stops working, it’s just that the signal on the other end gets worse and worse. Most manufacturers recommend not going over 20 feet without some powered solution (more on that below). So, while there isn’t a maximum length per se, you should think of 20 feet as the max optimal length.
So what if you need a longer cable? Well, if the quality isn’t an issue--if you’re not trying to use the cable to push 4k video to a high-end projector or TV, for instance--then you can probably get away with using a longer cable without any ill effects. In the same way that Apple’s earphones aren’t the highest quality, but get the job done, a 50 ft HDMI cable will likely get the job done for you without any extra effort.
However, if the quality of the signal is of significant importance, you can consider a powered HDMI kit that extends the signal properly by boosting it or converting it to another format entirely. The most common methods are converting the signal and boosting it with a balun kit, or going fully wireless and cutting the cable out altogether.
One category of an HDMI cable extender is known as an HDMI Balun kit, which converts the HDMI signal to something that can flow along a CAT 5 cable, which doesn’t have the same length limitations. At the other end of the CAT 5 cable, it’s converted back to HDMI. Check out our article that completely covers HDMI balun kits!
CAT 5 cable has a "maximum" length of 100 meters or 328 feet. So using an HDMI balun kit can exponentially extend the length of an HDMI connection and get it to wherever you may need it.
However, please keep in mind that not all HDMI balun kits are amazing. If you cheap out on the balun kit, you could certainly run into similar issues as using an extremely long HDMI cable.
You can also consider using a wireless HDMI kit, which not only extends the range but removes some of the lengthy cabling entirely. This approach has its own caveats - it’s very expensive if you need to send 4k video, but very approachable if you’re only running a 1080p setup. There are also some limitations here having to do with refresh rate and lag, which complicate using it for gaming.
If you just want to run a long cable though, and not go to the trouble of other converter units or trying out wireless, there are cables out there that specialize in getting the clear signal across. The prices aren’t as low as you’d hope, but they are approachable, with most falling under $100.
For instance, the BJC Series-FE Bonded-Pair HDMI Cable (on Amazon) sports a 25-foot length for around $75. There are a lot of sellers selling snake oil in this category, so if you shop around, look for details about the cables shielding, and look for sellers that specifically call out that their cable is “Certified (Category 1)”, which means they pass all the tests required in the HDMI standard called out earlier in the article.
At the other end of the spectrum, products like this BlueRigger High Speed HDMI Cable (on Amazon) will get you 50 feet of length for only $28. So, if you’re not really sure if you need the higher quality of the BJC series, you could get one of these for much cheaper and just test it out. It might even be a good call to order both of them and test them side by side, and if you don’t see a difference send the expensive one back.
As you dive into the world of HDMI cables with a quick Amazon search, you’ll notice very quickly that the descriptions seem to have more acronyms than words, and the marketing in this niche is a runaway train “features” that it’s not clear you need.
Watch out for seller charging a premium for “gold connectors” or “braided cords”; neither of these really matter to the signal, and they’re used to pump the price up. Sellers will routinely throw the word “advanced” in the title of their cables, or “high speed”, which are not technical descriptions, but rather buzzwords to try and make their product stand out.
The “HD” label that manufacturers throw-in is also redundant: all HDMI cables are HD...it’s in their name. What is important is to look for “4k” tags, if that’s what you need, and any reference to shielded cables. These will do better than unshielded, in general, but that’s a little confusing as well because all cables, technically, are shielded, it’s just that some manufacturers add extra shielding.
This is all good information if you’re trying to get your home theater setup perfect. However, before you buy anything there’s one more question about this you might have:
If you just want a long, simple HDMI cable hookup, there’s at least a chance that you don’t need to worry about any of this. It all comes down to quality. Sure, the signal is degraded, but if you’re running a 720p or 1080p video and streaming from Netflix, it may just not be a big deal.
However, if you bought a top of the line 4k projector, you owe it to yourself to make sure the video quality is going to actually get to it. And so, as always, the answer here comes down to how you’re going to use your system. There are always more expensive options that’ll get you higher quality, but, be sure to pause and consider whether or not you really need them.