Much like just about any other cable standard, HDMI boasts a mess of different possible features and specs, with plenty of companies doing anything they can to persuade to splash out on a more expensive cable.
The good news is, for the most part you don’t have to – you can get almost identical performance from a budget lead as you can from one that costs the same as a small car. Still, there are other concerns – from design and durability to future-proofing your setup. Here’s what you need to know.
HDMI cable buying advice
High-definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) is, and has been for a while, the undisputed standard in video and audio cables. It’s most likely what you’ll use to connect up TVs, games consoles, PCs, set-top boxes, and even some sound systems. It’s so widely used now that most of us don’t even have enough HDMI ports on our TVs to support everything we want to connect – though there is a way to add more HDMI ports if you need them.
With that in mind, we’ve got good news for you: as long as you stick to a reputable brand, you can basically buy any cheap HDMI cable and you’ll be good to go.
Don’t get lured in by promises of gold-plated this or nylon-braided that – the core cable will be basically the same no matter what, and any quality difference from a more expensive cable will be imperceptible (most of the time).
The one caveat is that you do need to make sure you’re buying a new cable. Video standards are continuing to change rapidly, with the recent rise of 4K and HDR already beginning to give way to 8K and beyond.
If you’re still using the cable that came with the TV you bought eight years ago, it might not work at all with a 4K video source like an Xbox One X or an Ultra-HD Bluray player, and if it does work, it might introduce errors or image distortions. The same is true (more so) for HDR. Luckily, this is easy to test – just connect everything up with your cable and check if your TV gets a signal, recognises it as 4K and/or HDR, and displays it without distortion. If it does, you’re good to go. If not, you’ll have to buy a new one.
One thing you might see when shopping for HDMI cables are the various version numbers floating around – these days mostly HDMI 2.0.
The first thing to note is that the version numbers actually apply to devices – TVs and video sources – and not the cables themselves. What really matters is the cable’s speed capacity – look out for anything rated for 18Gbps to keep up with 4K HDR, which should be just about any cable sold as ‘high speed’.
The next version to come is HDMI 2.1 – with 48Gbps ‘ultra high speed’ cables to match – but you really don’t need to worry about that. This is intended to support 8K video (and up to 10K), but it’ll be a couple of years at least before there are widespread compatible devices. Don’t waste money on an expensive 48Gbps cable now – you can always buy one once you have an 8K TV, by which time the cables will be way, way cheaper.
Design and durability
Beyond specs, design and durability are the main concerns. In terms of design, the main thing you probably want to consider is just making sure the cable head is slim – some TVs pack their HDMI sockets in pretty tightly, so avoid snazzy looking cables that might just block your other ports.
Durability will matter more or less depending on whether this is a cable designed for portable use, or just to sit behind your TV untouched. If you do need it to be durable though, look both for tough, braided designs and (just as importantly) flexible cable heads – this is the most vulnerable part of any cable, and a rigid design is much more likely to split.
Finally, think about length. Resist the temptation to buy ultra-long leads ‘just in case’ – speeds drop beyond a certain point, though should be fine in any domestic setup. 1m/3ft should suit most TV setups, but measure what you’ll think you need (and maybe go one size up just to be safe).
AmazonBasics HDMI Cable
Our top recommendation is also one of the cheapest options around – it’s nice when that works out, isn’t it?
The AmazonBasics range has become a firm favourite of ours across just about every product category it covers, and HDMI cables are no exception. Available in lengths from 1m up to 15m, and boasting all the necessary tech specs along with a solid (if plain) design, this is hard to beat.
Even better – if the cable isn’t cheap enough for you, you can save money by buying them in bundles of two or three – ideal for updating your whole setup, or just grabbing some spares.
Syncwire HDMI Cable
If you don’t quite trust your AV setup to a cable with ‘basics’ in the name, this offering from Syncwire is worth a look. The RRP is higher than Amazon’s, but they’re usually available for a more competitive price.
The tech specs are exactly the same, but Syncwire does boast that the cable can survive being bent over 3,000 times, so it should win when it comes to durability. It’s available in lengths up to 3m, but that should be plenty for most setups.
Belkin HDMI Cable
Another offering if you’re more inclined to trust your cabling to a big brand – Belkin makes a number of reliable tech accessories, so an HDMI cable isn’t much of a stretch for them.
The basic cable supports 4K, though Belkin also offers an ultra high speed version (£54.99). As we said above, we wouldn’t really recommend spending the extra money for that, but the option’s there if you’re committed to future-proofing.
The US model is slightly different, but it should get you the same results.
UGreen 90-Degree HDMI Cable
And now for something completely (well, a little) different. This HDMI cable from UGreen boasts one right-angled, perfect for connecting up appliances in odd spots or with limited clearance from your wall or TV cabinet.
Note that this particular cable is only rated up to 10.2Gbps – that means it will handle any HD content very comfortably, and 4K up to 30fps, but might struggle with higher frame rate 4K or any 4K HDR.
Laptone Flat HDMI Cable
Here’s another option if space is a concern – this cable from Laptone boasts the smallest cable head we’ve seen, together with a flat cable design that’s perfect for running through tight spaces, along walls, or under carpets and rugs.
As above, this specific model only supports speeds up to 10.2Gbps and HDMI v1.4, so might not be suitable if you’re wanting to play 4K HDR.
Caavo Spotlight HDMI Cable
The Spotlight cable from Caavo is designed for those of us stuck with a mess of multiple HDMI cables round the back of the TV and consequently struggle to tell them apart.
Each end of the cable includes a small LED, which illuminates when the cable is active, so at a glance you can tell which of your HDMI sources is running at any given time, and what’s plugged in where – ideal for troubleshooting problems or de-tangling messy setups.
Beyond that slight gimmick, this is otherwise a well built HDMI 2.0 cable, rated up to 18Gbps, with a nylon wrap and gold-plated connectors. It’s only available direct from Caavo, where you can buy it in 3ft ($25/around £20) or 6ft ($30/around £23.50), with a red-and-white coloured option too ($25), and discounts if you buy more than one.