HDMI cables have pretty much become the standard for transferring audio and video digitally. While there is no denying their ubiquitous nature, a lot of confusion surrounds how they work and how they are categorized. For consumers, it’s important to understand the differences in cables to get the best HDMI cable without paying an arm and a leg.
The “4k HDMI” label is mostly marketing, so it doesn’t mean a specific feature that will improve image quality. But if you have any cables past the HDMI 1.4 version, then they will be moving the same 4k image across the cable regardless of any marketing.
Things like “gold-plated” and “4K ready” look good on a package but don’t do much other than that. The reality is, unless you are getting your HDMI cable from an electronics museum, it will definitely support 4K video without an issue. If you want to learn more about HDMI and 4K, read on!
So you’ve got a choice between a “normal” HDMI cable and a “4K” one (more on cables in our guide). Which one should you choose? Sure the 4K cable has some fancy packaging and a fancy price tag, but will it perform any better than the normal cable? The reality is, both cables will probably be the exact same. Manufacturers constantly add marketing jargon to boost sales.
Unless you are using a really old cable, there probably won’t be an issue getting HD quality signals from a “normal” cable. In fact, a cable like this Amazon Basics High-Speed HDMI Cable (on Amazon) should do fine for most video applications. Most cables you will find at your local electronics store will support 4K video.
This is more due to changing cable standards than anything else. You see, once HDMI 2.0 was released in 2013, it made it so the standard for cable transfer capacity was higher. You need a higher capacity for transferring data-intensive streams like 4K.
Even cables using HDMI standard 1.4 can handle 4K video, but not all. But HDMI 2.0 isn’t even the highest standard. 2.0b came out in 2016. There is even HDMI 2.1, which was released in 2018. HDMI 2.1 is the newest standard. Manufacturers design these new cables to facilitate even higher data loads from the upcoming 8K TVs and so on.
So by this point, you might be wondering why manufacturers label cables as 4K or 8K. Well, to be frank, it’s all just marketing tactics. There really is no difference between a cable marketed as 4K and one that is not. But there is a label that does matter, and that is the speed rating. Speed will dictate the maximum bandwidth allowed by the cable. Manufacturers often group cables in one of four categories:
Standard would mean a basic cable that can handle around 4.9 Gps. That would be enough to handle a 1080p connection without issues. Next is high speed. High-speed cables can support double the bandwidth at 10.9 Gbps. Then comes premium and ultra-high speed. As you can probably imagine, these cables support an even higher transfer speed of 18 Gbps and 48 Gbps, respectively.
It’s worth noting that you would be hard-pressed to find a standard cable at a store or online. Since these cables can’t support 4K, they are the only ones you want to avoid. But, in this case, there isn’t much risk in mistakenly buying a standard cable.
Lastly, there is a difference between 4K and 8K from a bandwidth perspective. Essentially, it requires more bandwidth to transfer the extra data in an 8K video. Additionally, the frame rate can play a factor. For example, a premium cable supports 4K video 60 frames per second. It won’t, however, support 8K. In contrast, a high-speed cable can support a 4K video signal, but only at 30 fps. This is why knowing the speed of your cable is important.
When buying an HDMI cable, one of the most important things to consider is cable speed. While standard might play into your decision, you’ll rarely find a cable on sale that is lower than the 2.0 standard. There are a few considerations, though. If you are setting up a modern home theatre, you might opt for the more advanced cable.
8K is just around the corner, and if you don’t want to replace all your cables, it might be a good idea to upgrade to a higher speed, furthermore, we also have a guide on extending cables in case you find yourself needing more length from your setup.
Additionally, HDMI 2.1 cables are currently available. While not all TVs and projectors will support the new standard, many are adopting it as technology advances. You might not need the newer cables now, but you might in the future. Being proactive about what technology you are using is called “future-proofing.”
Another feature of HDMI is ARC or Audio Relay Channel. Basically, this feature allows for audio signals to be bounced back to a device that you have connected to your TV. Most modern HDMI cables will support this function. It’s great if you are using a soundbar or other audio device.
It makes it so there is a hard-wired connection to your soundbar or another audio player. Keep in mind that you’ll need a TV that supports HDMI ARC. Fortunately, most modern TVs like this Samsung Smart TV (on Amazon) will support this feature.
While there is no real meaning to a cable manufacturer using “4K” on the label, there are some things about HDMI you should be aware of. Standards change, but for the most part, cables in use today will support 4K video. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, any cable you find at the store will support 4K video. Now, it may not support 4K video at a higher framerate. For this, you might need to source an ultra-high-speed of premium HDMI cable.