HDMI cables have become a staple in electronics setups across the world. Their versatility and usability have made them the standard when it comes to transferring video and audio from source to screen. While HDMI standards change, so do the types of cables on the market. One recent change is the addition of fiber optic technology into HDMI.
A fiber optic HDMI cable is an HDMI cable that uses strands of fine glass filament to transfer data as light pulses, and they’re better in some situations, like if you’re trying to reach a far-away screen. Fiber optics can reliably transfer data over long distances whereas copper HDMI cables cannot.
When it comes to fiber optic HDMI cables, there are some things to know before you buy. While they may be great for certain applications, for others, they might be overkill. If you are looking to future-proof your media setup, it might be a good idea to switch over now. But don’t think that a fiber optic cable will suddenly make your image quality better. If you want to learn more about fiber optic HDMI cables, read on.
What Is a Fiber Optic HDMI Cable?
Fiber optic has become sort of a buzzword in tech circles. One mention of the term and automatically your brain goes to more advanced and higher performing electronics. With fiber optic revolutionizing the way we get the internet, why not apply the tech to other mediums like HDMI cables?
While it might surprise you, fiber optic HDMI cables have actually been around for quite a while. You know those big LED billboards, well, they utilize fiber optic HDMI. Those giant screens in time square? Well, those use fiber optic HDMI as well. But what does it mean when we say fiber optic?
Fiber optic technology uses strands of fine glass filament to transfer data as light pulses. HDMI cables using fiber optic need to be able to convert the data from the source into light and back into a readable signal. This means that at each end of a fiber optic HDMI cable are two converters.
The cables are small, easy to use, and can support data speeds of up to 18Gbps. This makes them the perfect choice for high-resolution videos like 4K and 5K. As far as commercially available cables using fiber optics, the market has been growing over the years. Here are a few cables that you can find online:
- AmazonBasics High-Speed Fiber Optic HDMI (on Amazon)
- DTECH Fiber Optic HDMI (also on Amazon)
- FURUI High-Speed Fiber Optic HDMI (again on Amazon)
The first thing you might notice when browsing these options is the price. While you can get a high-quality copper-based HDMI cable for under $20, fiber optic cable is much more costly. This might make you ask the question: what makes them better anyway?
Why Would You Choose a Fiber Optic HDMI Cable?
Let’s talk about what makes a fiber optic HDMI cable different from a copper HDMI cable. While they may look similar, as we have learned, there are some differences when it comes to construction. While you might think there is a huge difference between the two, fiber optic HDMI cables really only aim to serve one purpose, and that is cable run length.
Unlike optical cables, copper-based HDMI cables have issues with interference and length. The main issue here is going to be the length. If you want to transfer 4K video over a copper HDMI, you can only reach around 30 ft. before you start having issues (more on that in our HDMI troubleshooting guide).
With fiber optic, that distance maximum is absolutely smashed. As we explained in our other tutorial on HDMI length, a fiber optic cable can transfer data at a staggering 1000 ft. For most home applications, this is overkill, and this is why for commercial use, fiber optic HDMI is often used. For those huge LED billboards and stadium screens, the source is usually too far away to reliably use copper HDMI.
If you want to use a copper-based cable at a distance of over 30 ft. you’ll need a repeater. A repeater, like this one (from Amazon), is fairly affordable and can work if you need to. But if you are running a cable over 30 ft., it might be a better option to go for a fiber optic cable.
Why You Wouldn’t Want a Fiber Optic HDMI Cable
Before you go and replace all the HDMI cables in your house, there are some downsides to using a fiber optic version. The first thing you want to know is the image quality of both cables. Without going into too much detail, both copper and fiber optic cables will deliver similar video quality.
This means if you are transferring a 4K video, both cables can handle the job. If you were to compare two screens, one using fiber one copper, you wouldn’t be able to distinguish between the two. The only variable that would change these results is distance. If the source is over 30 ft. away, you will see that the copper HDMI image has some noise.
Another factor to keep in mind is durability. While most fiber optic cables are fairly durable, there is no denying how fragile fiber optic filaments are. Manufacturers will indeed do their best to ensure everything is protected, but if you bend the cable too much, you risk damaging the fibers.
When this happens, it means you are going to experience blackouts. Because these cables require a clear path from one end to the other, even a small break can cause outages. Lastly, fiber optic HDMI cables only work one way. This means one end is for the source and one for the screen. You can’t flip the cable around. This configuration means things like HDMI ARC are right out.
Fiber optic HDMI cables can be great if you need to reach a source that is more than 30 ft. away. They can offer reliable data transfers at long distances and are the latest in HDMI technology. While they don’t offer a better image quality than high-quality copper HDMI cables, they have their purpose.