No matter how much you spend on your new 4K HDR TV, you don’t need expensive HDMI cables for it to work.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
If you just bought a new TV, chances are you might feel the need to get expensive new HDMI cables. Resist the temptation.
Even with Ultra HD 4K resolution, high dynamic range, and wide color gamut, you don't need expensive HDMI cables. It's probably that your current HDMI cables could work fine, but if they don't, no matter what a salesperson tells you, you don't need to spend more than a few dollars/pounds/euros a foot (0.3m). Even over long runs of 15ft/3m or more, you shouldn't have to spend a lot.
Some stores are still hyping "high-end" HDMI cables with all sorts of fancy buzzwords, but you don't need them. They won't improve performance or allow additional features compared to the right cheap HDMI cables.
The only cable features you need are "18 Gbps," which is how much they need to transmit 4K HDR, and maybe "Certified Premium." This label is found on cables that are guaranteed to work with 4K HDR. A cable might work if it doesn't have this logo, but should almost certainly work if it does. Fortunately, there are plenty of cheap cables with these features.
Watch this: Four great 4K TVs for every budget
HDMI just works, or it doesn't
There is no difference between an HDMI cable that just barely works and one that expensively overbuilt. If the cable is able to transmit 4K HDR from your source to your TV, it works. That's all it needs to do. If it cuts in and out, then it doesn't work (or at best, doesn't work for that application).
This has to do with how HDMI cables transmit data. They are, in essence, a pipe, just like the pipes in your house. If you're getting the right water pressure and temperature in the bathroom, the pipes work. If you replace them with gold-plated pipes, you're not suddenly going to get showers of vodka. This is essentially what expensive HDMI cables are promising.
The idea when buying HDMI cables should be: get the least expensive cable that works. When it comes to modern 4K HDR TVs, this requires a slightly better cable than an old 1080p, TV, but thankfully the prices are all so low this effectively doesn't matter.
That caveat, though…
You've probably noticed that throughout this article I've hedged a bit. That's because not all cheap HDMI cables will work. Older, or poorly made, cheap HDMI cables might not be capable of the bandwidth required to transmit 4K HDR. It's important to realize that just because one $5 cable didn't work that doesn't mean a different $5 cable won't work. It also doesn't mean that if the $5 cable didn't work, you have to get a $50 cable.
You likely have HDMI cables already. It's entirely possible these will work with your new TV. But then again, they might not. The only way to know for sure is to test them out. If your source (a media streamer, 4K Blu-ray player, etc), is sending a 4K HDR signal, and your TV says it's getting a 4K HDR signal, you're all set. The cable works. No other cable will make the image look, or make the sound, better. If your setup doesn't work, check all your gear's settings before you consider new cables.
If you still need new cables, your best bet is to stick with the big names in cheap cables, like Monoprice and Amazon. Both sell HDMI cables that cost just a few dollars a foot, and are capable of transmitting 4K HDR. We have a buying guide for those, plus a few other options, at "Which HDMI cable do you need?"
If you need longer cables, those will cost a bit more, and over 15 feet/3 meters, you should consider active cables. These use a bit of power in the HDMI connection to boost the signal over longer distances. Even with this added tech, they should only cost you around $2 a foot.
Save your money
It's amazing to me that the HDMI up-sell still goes on. Just last week I received a tweet asking about silver HDMI cables. I told him that no, despite what he was told, he didn't need a $140 HDMI cable to connect his new TV. When we, as humans, seem programmed to believe that if something is more expensive it must be better, it's easy for companies to take advantage. Don't fall for it.