Time for some new HDMI cables

When did you buy your first HDMI cable? Was it about 2006? That’s when I got mine. I think I paid about $25 for it from Radio Shack. Because in 2006, Radio Shack was still a thing. Later on, I started buying them from Solid Signal, because I could get cables that were just as good, but a lot less expensive.

And honestly, that’s probably the last time I thought about it. Over the years I picked up a few more cheap HDMI cables but for the most part I used those same old ones. Because, honestly, they worked. I never really had a problem with them. That is, until recently.

Turns out there is a difference

HDMI was pretty undemanding in 2006. At least it was if you compare that to today. Today, there are technologies like 4K, HDMI-ARC, HDMI-CEC, and new forms of copy protection. HDMI cables do more than they ever did before. And, it turns out that there’s a difference, and sometimes that difference is important.

Here’s my story. I put in a complete home theater system in 2006 including a new TV, surround system, and DIRECTV’s first ever HD DVR. In the years since, a lot of the equipment has changed. But, the home theater receiver didn’t. It became a little more challenging to support it with today’s technology, but it worked. It wasn’t broke, so I didn’t fix it. Simple as that.

Fifteen years is a lot of time in the world of home theater. There came a point where I wanted more out of life than that old home theater receiver could give me. And so, after a long period of research, I decided on a suitable upgrade.

Welcome to HDMI switching

My old home theater receiver didn’t have HDMI inputs. It couldn’t switch between them. I had crosswired everything with optical and coaxial audio, so I could keep it working. (On the other hand, if you wanted to switch between S-Video inputs, let me tell you it had you covered.)

New home theater receivers accept multiple HDMI inputs and put out one HDMI output to the TV. This is what I wanted. That way I’d get better fidelity audio with fewer cables. Sounded like a win-win.

Except, it didn’t work.

It worked, at first. And then it stopped working. And I changed a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and it worked again. Then it stopped. It was annoying. Every time I thought I was done… I wasn’t.

The solution was obvious.

Those old HDMI cables I’d used weren’t designed to support 4K or high-speed connections. They were ancient, I admit it. They were also pretty inexpensive.

I replaced all the HDMI cables in my system with ones like this from Solid Signal. It took me a while but I got it done. It didn’t cost much, and it didn’t take a lot to swap them in place. I connected everything, and it “just worked.” And then I waited 15 minutes. And then it still “just worked.” The next day, it “just worked.” Turns out that those old cables weren’t doing me any favors.

But, all this data is digital. How can better cables make a difference?

Just because HDMI cables are digital doesn’t mean they’re immune to the sorts of problems that happen to all cables. Older cables might not support the amount of data that’s needed today. All HDMI cables have features to enable copy protection, but older cables don’t always support the newest copy protection. Some cables have internal amplifiers, and the early versions of those created problems with 4K. There are a lot of reasons an old HDMI cable just isn’t worth keeping.

Time to do some house cleaning.

Folks, learn from my mistake. I know that I should have changed out those cables earlier. So, that’s just what you should do. Even if they work now, it’s time to change them out. You don’t want to deal with problems later. There are hundreds of choices here, and you’ll find exactly what you need. Choose cables that say they are high-speed and compatible with 4K. You’ll need them.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.