Pixels & Bits:  Dispelling the retail cable myth.

Article

posted 5/15/2012 by Sean Cahill
other articles by Sean Cahill
Platforms: AV
One of the best and worst experiences that a consumer can go through nowadays is purchasing a brand new HDTV.  With the news coming out just a month ago that Samsung and Sony were going to go with Unilateral Pricing like other technology giants such as Apple and Bose, big box retailers breathed a little easier, considering that online retailers such as Amazon have been dominating the HDTV markets the past couple of years.  

Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn was an indirect victim of Amazon's domination just a few weeks ago as he stepped down as CEO (see: fired), though the news on that is still sketchy as the company said that there were no disagreements and rumors of an ethics probe surfaced briefly, though it has yet to be substantiated with any hard evidence.  While Best Buy eliminated Circuit City from the ranks of competition with their abilities to offer installation services in the customer's home, they are one of the guiltiest parties when it comes to the world of high priced media cables, which is our focus this week.

When HDTVs first hit the market over ten years ago, the technology seemed to explode before anyone could truly catch up with it.  In the mid-2000s, HDTVs were full of margin dollars and big box retailers thrived on the sales of televisions alone.  That has changed now, especially with the Samsung/Sony announcement.  The margin that a company can make on these televisions isn't anywhere close to what it was just five years ago.  Because of this, retailers have to make up the money elsewhere.  In this case, there is no bigger culprit than HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) cables.

The evolution of the cables that can carry digital signals has included component and DVI cables.  HDMI, however, has been the standard since it launched, able to carry both audio and video in one simple cable, eliminating the proverbial eagle's nest of cables that can fester behind an entertainment stand.  The problem, though, is that HDMI's technology expanded at a ridiculous rate, going far beyond what most televisions are even capable of doing.  In today's market, Monster Cable is the biggest developer of the "overpriced" cable, touting prices that get as high as 250 dollars for just one cable.  However, while Monster may be the most well-known company, no company can hold a candle to Audioquest.  A search of their cables on Best Buy's website shows that their prices start at a modest $44.99 for their Forest brand and skyrockets to a ludicrous $1,089 for a 65-foot Chocolate HDMI cable.  The real ridiculous part of this, though, is that Audioquest doesn't stop there.  A search for their Diamond series shows that the price for a 5 meter HDMI is a whopping $2,695.

While it's fun to sit here and wonder what it would be like to actually afford a cable that may cost three to four times more than your modest HDTV cost you, the question that looms is this?  Can a five dollar cable on Monoprice or Blue Jean Cables match up to a $100-250 cable made by Monster?

The short answer is yes.

The long answer is actually a lot easier to explain than you would expect, and it can be broken down into three parts where the big priced cables claim they are better.


Myth:  High priced cables will improve your picture quality.

Busting the myth:  HDMI’s signal is digital.  It’s just ones and zeroes that are carried over the cable, nothing more.  The truth of the matter is that a high priced cable might have more insulation and, thus, give your cable a longer lifespan.  The problem, though, is that you have to justify paying anywhere from 50-100 dollars more, on average, for the better insulation.  This one is a no-brainer.

 

Myth:  High priced cables can provide a higher resolution.

Busting the myth:  This myth is not entirely false, but still a major myth that consumers can fall victim to.  Monster is the biggest culprit of this, claiming that their cables can do 4K resolution and, thus, make your picture that much better.  The problem with this, though, is that up until this past CES, there wasn’t a television that was even capable of doing 4K.  Taking things a step further, of course, is that your cable box, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and so on, will only output 720p, 1080i, or 1080p, depending on the device.  They are not capable of upscaling a picture anywhere close to 4K.  If you want to buy a 4K television and try out the 4K cables for yourself, though, you can buy one for the low price of $12,000.



Myth:  High priced audio cables sound better than low priced.

Busting the myth:  This one is easy.  Some time ago, the good people over at The Consumerist had a post forwarded to them from a forum called Audioholics.  The author of the post did an experiment where he took Monster THX Certified audio cables and put them up against a common coat hanger.  The sound quality, surprisingly enough, was remarkably similar.  So, once again, you are left with the decision of paying out big bucks for a cable that may give you marginally better sound, or saving yourself plenty of money and still getting great sound out of that new surround system that you bought.


Wrapping things up, here is what you really need to know.  The only real benefit in buying the higher priced cables is when running a cable a long distance, usually over 50 feet.  The lower priced cables that you’ll find on Monoprice and Blue Jean Cables may suffer from digital leak when you get to those higher distances.  Of course, 99 percent of us are running our cables all of about three to six feet.  The bottom line is that you should be looking for cables that aren’t going to break the bank and will still give you that picture quality that you need.  If you are still iffy about buying cables from the sites I’ve mentioned, I can recommend that you look for Vizio’s HDMI cables.  They go for as low as ten bucks at some retailers, such as Walmart, and will give you everything that you need.  You might pay up to 20 dollars for them, but it beats spending 100 dollars on a cable that will give you the exact same picture quality.

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