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Friday, March 23, 2007

The great HDMI cable scam - what you NEED to know

I learned a valuable lesson over the years - people are afraid of what they don't understand, and if they are concerned about something they don't understand (typically something newfangled), people throw money at what they don't understand, overcompensating to lay their fears to rest. All too often, however, this is a mistake. Case in point - HDMI cables. If you've been buying computer or A/V gear for very long in either the professional or consumer space, you've seen things like Monster Cables - which I won't bother linking to since they are the most horrible, ridiculous ripoff of all cabling time. It isn't that they are bad cables - they're actually quite nice. But they are RIDICULOUSLY OVERPRICED, to the point that my Alesis Monitor One manual (my nice, professional studio reference montiors (that's speakers to everybody else)) specifically went out of their way to point out you DO NOT NEED MONSTER BRAND CABLES. They are typically over-specced, which isn't a bad thing, but are waaaaaay overpriced as I mentioned.

Case in point - I goofed when ordering my HDMI switch (more on him later), and got the wrong mix of cables - I need another HDMI to HDMI, but I have an HDMI to DVI. Drat.

So I figured I'd run up to my local Radio Shack and get one, knowing it'd be overpriced but in my hands. Little did I realize...even the non Monster Cable 6 foot HDMI to HDMI cable was $50. Holy crap. The Monster brand cable was either $80 or $120, I was so appalled I don't recall the price.

Jumping on Amazon, how much are they? As little as $3 and change ($3.12, new). I've three coming with overnight shipping for less than Radio Shack would charge me for one.

Quality cables are worth having - when I was shopping for my big long 50 footer, I got a big thick fat one. But as a rule, Monster Brand cables are to be avoided like a tax audit - they will do you no good and hurt a LOT.

As a general rule of thumb for DVI, HDMI, FireWire, USB, etc. cables, look for thicker rather than thinner cables, look for stout reinforcements around the connector, look for sturdily built stuff that can take getting stepped on and yanked around. But walk right past Monster, they are worse than Microsoft in terms of FUD and price gouging. And the kicker? THEY DON'T WORK ANY BETTER. Your picture will NOT look better, your audio will NOT sound better. This is ESPECIALLY true with cables for digital gear like DVI, HDMI, toslink, etc. They typically work or they don't, and it is incredibly rare for image quality to be affected.

Now analog cables, such as for RCA plug audio, component/s-video/composite, or speaker wire? Get thick stout robust cables or wiring....at Fry's, Altex, or somesuch. Off brand speaker wire is JUST FINE if it is of sufficient gauge. Check your manual or your audio buddies for what is appropriate. I go to Altex Electronics in town, they carry stout but generic and inexpensive stuff and it all works fine for me.

So remember - that $120 Monster HDMI cable will work exactly as well, generate the EXACT SAME PICTURE as that $9 one online. Stores like Best Buy ONLY carry Monster Brand, and I wouldn't doubt it if they make more profit off the cables than they do some of the electronics they sell for the cables to go with. I know that was the case for printer cables back in the early 90s - printers were the loss leader, the cables for $50 cost $2 in bulk...

-mike

20 comments:

Chris said...

heh, your monitor ones are not professional, at all.. they are entry level, very harsh sounding speakers, with bass like an over-excited hippo!

Don't sunder good sound with such rubbish!

X

Patch said...

Talk about everyone GOUGING you. Check out www.bluejeancable.com. Not only are the prices a STEAL, they are shielded, certified, and they garonte the cable quality further then any one else. I just got 2x 50 HDMI to HDMI cables at $100 each. Going anywhere else is almost foolish!

Mike Curtis said...

Chris, (Mr. Profile Not Available) - wanna back up that statement with some hard data? My audio guru buddy recommended them highly to me many years ago when I bought them (1999 or so).

Why do you think they are such poo?

Mike Curtis said...

Patch - aside from that nigh-gratuitous plug for that particular vendor, I recall finding my 50 footer for about $55 online and it is a pfhatty (as in big/stout/good).

Anonymous said...

monoprice.com has the cheapest price for HDMI cables and they are very trustworthy and reliable

Mike Curtis said...

DISCLAIMER - while I'm DELIGHTED to get feedback from everybody, I caution everyone reading these comments to take them with a grain of salt - I have NO IDEA who these folks are posting - they are likely to be just folks sharing useful info, but anonymous posting from vendors is not unheard of, so I don't avow the legitimacy of anything posted in comments.

That said, thanks to folks posting for sharing the info - I'm not trying to scare you off at all, just that I don't know you...yet.

Always feel free to say howdy.

-mike

John said...

The same is true of optical audio cables as well... you can spend an arm and a leg on them but cheap ones will work as well... I picked up some at a great price off Amazon a while back... search for toslink. There are also some cool things you can find like couplers for them so that you can combine two into one longer cable.

Anonymous said...

I bought a cheap-ass HDMI cable off of Amazon (don't remember the brand but it was about $5+) and when I plugged it into my upconverting DVD player, I immediately noticed the picture looked dull, almost as if there was a gray cast to it. I plugged my composites back in, and switched between the input channels, and lo and behold the composite cables that came with the player looked better than the HDMI cable. I can't quite say for sure that all cheap HDMI cables are comparable, but unless you are running out of inputs on your TV, I would suggest just sticking with composite video.

spectrescape said...

Great post with great advice - so sad when people get gouged on cables. Don't get me started on Monster. And that Monitor One manual is hilarious.

And to the guy ragging on the Ones - you realize this is a post about cables, right? That said - the One is a TEC Award-winning speaker. Agreed with Mike - if you've got some data or a negative review, I'd love to see it.

Can't wait to read more on here - am already a fan of HD for Indies, and will be throwing you a donation once payday hits. Thanks, and keep up the awesome posts!

- Chris (a different one)

Anonymous said...

I am sans HDMI needed gear, but all my analogue audio and video is in fact Monster Brand. Although the connects are often too tight, I find them to be great quality. However, my cables were all bought at RadioShack during the massive store closings last year, so I go them for 70-90% off, which ended up being the same price as the no-name stuff at K-mart or Wal-mart. ;)

Mike Curtis said...

anonymous two posts above with cheap HDMI cable - there was probably something else going on not cable related (like calibration config or something) - HDMI is a digital signal - if the voltages are too low, it drops out or doesn't work - DOES NOT make image darker. If image was fuzzy, maybe the HDMI output was sucky on that player.

I seriously, seriously doubt it was because of cheap cables. When looking at computer LCD displays (which is pretty much what TVs are turning into), DVI is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS better looking than VGA (rough equivalent of analog component inputs).

-mike

Brian said...

I would have to second the recommendation for bluejeanscable.com. First off I don't work for them nor do I know anyone who works there. I've probably bought 12-13 hdmi, hdmi to dvi, dual-link dvi, etc cables of varying lengths and I've never had a problem. That's not to say there are cheaper options out there that would work - I just feel comfortable with this company.

Anonymous said...

Cheap cables here:
http://www.junglecrazy.com/search.php?query=hdmi

Anonymous said...

Myself, after several long hours of research, finally tried out a great company called monoprice.com.

Excellent cables, several different grades, best prices I have seen anywhere.

One tip, when shopping for long (20ft+) HDMI cables, pay attention to the gauge of the wire. . monoprice has long-length hdmi's with 22 gauge wiring, keeps out the sparklies at higher resolutions. As well, they have 100ft HDMIs with build in active equalizers for less than 100 bucks.

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