Do you know why December 2002 remains such a noteworthy date in world history? It marks the birth of the High Definition Multimedia Interface specification, or HDMI 1.0.

HDMI cables turn 15 soon, and the recent 2.1 upgrade has added some not-to-be-missed next-gen features.

This is cause for celebration!

Gaming, bingeing, watching with mellow eyes a flickering hi-def fireplace -- whatever you're doing, we can't stand the idea of you doing it with a less than spectacular image. HDMI 2.1 means you don't need to and we don't have to be sad for you. Win-win.

Each upgrade to the standard adds new features, and HDMI 2.1 may be the most visually stunning yet.

What is HDMI anyway? Let's learn how the grown-up version of this technology takes your viewing experience from 'good enough' to 'OMG', shall we?

HDMI Cables: A Primer

The High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) specification was developed to transmit digital video along with analog or digital audio. HDMI was designed to offer superior AV performance.

Unlike its ancestors, HDMI is much more than a convenient initialism. HDMI® is a registered trademark of HDMI Licensing, LLC, a group founded by some of the most recognized tech giants in the world:

  • Hitachi
  • Panasonic
  • Philips
  • Silicon Image
  • Sony
  • Thomson
  • Toshiba

Still, there's no shortage of critics reporting, exhaustively, that $8 HDMI cables work every bit as well as the $300 versions. Let's get that out of the way right up front by using a simple analogy to test that theory:

Forty-dollar generic used tires will get you around just as well as the $1,000 versions. 

Will they get your car back and forth to work?

Yes.

Will they wear out faster, roll louder, and ride rougher?

Also yes.

Will they handle mud, rain, and snow as confidently and safely as new tires from an experienced, reputable manufacturer?

Certainly not.

The same principle applies to your HDMI cables. 

Why, Oh, Why HDMI?

HDMI®-certified cables undergo extensive R&D, rigorous testing, and carry the approval of top global technology and consumer electronics leaders.

You know you can trust a product that is ANSI- or IEEE-certified. You know your vehicle will get expert service from an ASE-certified technician. And you're confident a UL-inspected product will operate safely.

Likewise, you can be assured that certified HDMI cables will outperform and outlast the cheaper versions that can be bought almost anywhere.

Consider the following.

  1. Connectors crack and corrode. The gold-plated ones resist this better. Yes, this can be found on cheaper cables and it's often the only redeeming feature.
  2. Signals attenuate (get increasingly strangled) the farther they have to travel from the source. A high-quality cable contains more signal conductor groups, doubling or quadrupling the number of energy paths.
  3. Braided metal sheaths resist kinking.
  4. Individual shielding on twisted wire pairs and multiple layers of foil shielding block electromagnetic interference. 

When a manufacturer uses high-quality material to precision craft your product, you buy a better product. Period.

Choose Wisely

Now don't just duct tape your factory HDMI cable to the first stray dog you find and speed your Titanium VISA to the most expensive electronics shop in town. 

The HDMI Founders will be the first to tell you to buy the cable that best suits your needs.

What do you need from your TV? What is it you want your TV to do for you?

Questions you should ask yourself when selecting HDMI cables:

  • Do I watch a lot of sports?
  • Do I love movies with explosions and titanic fighting robots?
  • Do I play bleeding-edge video games that feature larger-than-life graphics?

Here's where HDMI 2.1 comes into its own.

  • Higher bandwidth for faster transmission of higher resolutions.
  • Dynamic HDR for ultra-smooth display and crisper color.
  • Game Mode VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) for instantaneous rendering and no input lag or screen tearing.

Given these sizzling new features, should you run out and upgrade your cables?

Just as it’s true that you get what you pay for, it’s equally true that you get what you pay for. 

If you watch only "All in the Family" reruns or Easter Island documentaries, fine, okay. The cable packaged with your TV will work for you. Eight- or twelve-dollar HDMI cables may suit your needs perfectly.

If your thing is a summer blockbuster or a first-person shooter that gives you nightmares with its realism, it's time for an upgrade.

HDMI? Definitely.

HDMI 2.1? Maybe not, or at least, not right this instant.

Why You Should Care

Obviously, there are more differences among HDMI cables than we are usually told. In fact, there are more differences among them that sellers want us to know. As is so often the case, the quest for upsell profit overshadows honest recommendations to consumers.

Now, What Do You Do?

Sometimes a Pinto is good enough to drive to a dinner date. Other times, it feels good to ride inside a car that's quiet and smooth.

You be the judge of what's right for you, but be sure to do your homework. Read what the experts have to say. Like writing a good academic paper, look for primary sources.

Those who developed HDMI® have provided solid information to help you. These are the founding experts who continue to research, improve, and certify the implementation of the technology.

As amazing as the HDMI 2.1 standard is, it doesn't represent the end. As display technology develops, connectivity technology must keep up.

The converse is also true! HDMI 2.1 is on deck, so manufacturers want to create products consumers can use to maximum advantage in cutting-edge features.

Ask questions. Study exactly what you have and figure out what you want to do. Comparison shop.

Only then decide what best suits your personal needs. After all that research, you'll probably be able to educate the folks who are trying to sell you something you don't need.