Why you probably don’t need to upgrade your HDMI cables

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Feb 13, 2017
There’s a new cable and connection standard called HDMI 2.1 and it includes new high-bandwidth cables called “48G.” If you’re buying a new TV or other gear, do you need to upgrade your current HDMI cables too?

For the vast majority of you readers, the answer is no.

Below is a list of potential reasons why you might think you need to upgrade your HDMI cables. In mst cases you won’t, and I’ll tell you why in each case.

For the full details on HDMI 2.1, check out HDMI 2.1: What you need to know (I know, the title is a bit on the nose). There are a few extreme cases in which you might want one of these new 48G cables, but for most people you won’t have to worry about it this year and probably not next year either.

Do you need new cables if you’re…
buying a new TV: Probably not

If you’re buying a new 4K TV, and your current sources work with your current TV, they’ll probably work with the new TV too. If you plan on also buying an Ultra HD source, like a Roku Premiere+ or an Ultra HD Blu-ray player , chances are your current cables will also work with those. Probably. Check out the next section.
buying a new 4K streamer, UHD BD player or console (with HDR): Probably not.
The top-of-the-line media streamers, UHD BD players, and the latest versions of both consoles (PS4 Pro and Xbox One S), can output 4K HDR. If your HDMI cables are just a few feet long, they’ll probably work just fine. If they’re longer you might have issues. Even if they worked fine with regular 4K, HDR is additional data and that might be too much. If you can’t get your TV to display HDR, even though you’re sure your source and content are HDR, the cable might be the problem. Check all your other settings first.

HDMI cables are “all or nothing”
“High Speed” HDMI cables are designed to handle 4K resolutions, but not necessarily higher data versions like 4K HDR, or in the case of computers, higher frame rates. Also, it’s hard to send really high resolutions and frame rates over long distances. So if you have a 15ft/3m cable that worked fine with all your 1080p gear, it might not work with 4K HDR.

Or it might, that’s the infuriating part. There are too many variables for me to say for sure. “Test it and see” is, unfortunately, the only way to know. The good news is, because of how HDMI works, if your source device is sending 4K HDR, and your TV is displaying 4K HDR, that means it’s perfect.
There’s no improvement to be had with more expensive cables. It’s either all or nothing. The most likely scenario, if your cable can’t handle the resolution you want, is the image either won’t appear at all, it will flicker or cut out or, a pretty common case, your source will revert to a lower resolution.
Which is to say, if you set your Ultra HD Blu-ray player to send 4K, and it flickers for a moment, then your TV shows 1080p, that might be because your cable can’t handle enough of the signal for it to work.

Keep in mind, for most people cheap HDMI cables are fine. If you’re having trouble, then maybe it’s worth considering an upgrade. But just because you’re buying new gear or because there’s a new HDMI standard that doesn’t necessarily mean you must upgrade.