There's an oft-repeated piece of advice among AV enthusiasts. If an HDMI cable is built to spec, and it functions properly, there's no reason to spend extra money on something fancy, because a digital transmission isn't nearly as susceptible to interference as an old school analog connection. In other words, it basically works or it doesn't.
But that doesn't mean it's always a great idea to buy the cheapest, most bare bones cable either. So to find out what actually matters when buying an HDMI cable, we spoke to UGREEN, a manufacturer of HDMI cables, and we'd like to thank them as well as Philips AOC, and David Hsieh for his translation services.
So it turns out that using the correct material inside an HDMI cable, can make a big difference. But that doesn't mean that you should go and find cables with Platinum unobtainium alloy or whatever other nonsense. Cheaply made HDMI cable, sometimes use steel, which isn't particularly good conductor. Meaning it's something that you should generally avoid.
You might see cables that are made of copper-coated steel, but these aren't really any better. Instead, go for cables with pure copper wiring inside. The good news, however, is that copper cables aren't super-expensive, and you don't need to get anything higher grade such as silver-plated copper. What then becomes important is how thick the wiring is inside, which is measured by something called a gauge number. And counter intuitively, a lower number means a thicker wire. As a general rule of thumb, your cable length shouldn't exceed 1.5 meters with a thin 32 gauge wire. But as you go thicker and thicker, you can safely have a longer and longer cable run, without having to worry about signal attenuation or interference, because your cables are too thin, as indicated by this helpful chart. However, you won't find much thicker than 24 gauge since at that point, the cables simply become too thick and difficult to bend.
Another thing to consider is the connectors on the end the cable. Gold plating is better if you can find it, but take note that I'm not talking about the large part on the outside that manufacturers often color gold, to give the cable a more premium look. I'm talking about the actual contacts on the inside of the connector. Gold plating won't really affect your performance, but it will give you better longevity, as the gold is an effective barrier against wear and corrosion, especially if you're unplugging and re-plugging the cable quite often, which I don't do because my TV is too close to the wall.
Once you found a cable made with good materials, try and find out if it's been tested to work with a wide variety of equipment. Some cheaper cables are only tested with a couple of monitors, so they might not, play very nicely with your gadgets, if you're running them in any kind of setup that isn't super-straightforward, such as with an HDMI splitter.
If the manufacturer doesn't list testing methods on their website, read reviews and find out if any other customers have had problems with compatibility. And on the subject of compatibility, make sure you're buying a Premium High Speed cable, if you want 4k at 60 hertz or HDR. These have a speed of around 18 gigabits per second as opposed to the 10 gigabits of the more standard high speed cable, not Premium High Speed. And you'll need the extra bandwidth to enable higher frame rates and deeper colors.
Interestingly, manufacturers actually made these faster cables not with exotic materials or radical design changes, but simply by improving the manufacturing process to minimize small defects in the copper that can hurt the signal, increase latency, and introduce interference. However, faster speeds still mean a smaller margin for error. So if you're trying to use Ultra High Speed 48 Gigabit cables to get the most out of HDMI 2.1 for example, you probably don't want to get a cable longer than three meters.
Just remember, generally speaking, shorter and thicker is better. Just ask Kim K, or Colton.