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Should I upgrade my HDMI cables for Xbox or PS5 gaming, 8K or my new TV?

With HDMI 2.1 TVs, new consoles and Ultra High Speed cables, it might be time to upgrade. Here's what you need to know.

Geoffrey Morrison Contributor
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.
Geoffrey Morrison
5 min read
When should I upgrade my HDMI cables?
Getty Images/mkos83

If you're buying a new TV, the PlayStation 5 or an Xbox Series X/S, you might be wondering if you need new HDMI cables. There is, in fact, a new standard called HDMI 2.1, and included with that new standard are new higher-bandwidth cables, called "Ultra High Speed HDMI cables." In fact both of the new consoles include such a cable.

However, for most people, you probably don't need new cables. There are some key exceptions to that statement, and below is a list of potential reasons why you might need to upgrade your HDMI cables. We'll start with the basic questions.

Do you need new cables if you're...

...Buying a new TV? Probably not

If you're buying a new 4K TV, and your current sources work with your current TV, they'll probably work with the new TV, too. If you plan on also buying an Ultra HD source, like a RokuUltra HD Blu-ray player or one of the new gaming consoles, chances are your current cables will also work with those. 

...Buying a new 4K HDR streamer, UHD Blu-ray player, PS5 or Xbox X? Probably not

The best streaming devices, Blu-ray players and the latest versions of both gaming  consoles  can output 4K HDR. If your HDMI cables are just less than about 10 feet long, they'll probably work just fine. If they're, longer you might have issues. Even if they worked fine with regular 4K, HDR is additional data and that might be too much for longer runs. If you can't get your TV to display HDR, even though you're sure your source and content are HDR, the cable might be the problem. Check all your other settings first however.

...Want to run games at 4K120 and have a TV that supports that resolution or framerate? Probably

The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S have the ability to output 4K at 120 frames per second. Only a handful of TVs can actually accept that frame rate however. There are also only a few games that can run at 4K120. Most people won't have all those pieces, so their current cables will probably be fine. If you have one of those consoles, and have a TV that supports 4K120, and want to play one of the 4K120-capable games, and you need more than the single cable that comes with the console, then you should look into Ultra High Speed HDMI cables.

Brett Pearce/CNET

...Connecting a computer to a TV and running 4K resolutions? Maybe

Computers can send the maximum resolution and frame rate possible in the current HDMI spec. If you've got a beefy computer and want to connect to a UHD TV, it's probably worth it to get Ultra High Speed or at least Premium Certified cables. Noncertified cables might work, but it's less likely.

...Dealing with a TV image that blinks, flashes or otherwise cuts out? Probably

If the image on your TV is cutting out randomly (or isn't showing up at all), this might be a cable issue. If none of your gear has changed, it might be a different problem, but maybe the HDMI cable is getting worn out (likely if you plug and unplug all the time, or the cable is on the floor and gets trodden on). A new low-cost HDMI cable is at best a cheap fix, and at worst a cheap indicator that the problem is something else.

On the other hand, if you've bought a new TV and it won't show the 4K or HDR content you send it, the cable might not be able to handle it. A different, but still cheap, HDMI cable should do the trick. Or you can spend a little more and get a Premium Certified HDMI cable, which should definitely work. Ultra High Speed HDMI cables are likely overkill, but if the price is close they won't hurt, as they're completely backward-compatible with lower resolutions and frame rates.

Samsung QN90A QLED TV
David Katzmaier/CNET

Reminder: HDMI cables are 'all or nothing'

Your current HDMI cables are likely "High Speed." This is just what they're called, they don't break the laws of physics to allow electrons to move faster over them. High Speed HDMI cables are designed to handle 4K resolutions, but not necessarily higher data versions like 4K HDR or the higher frame rates of the new consoles. Short cables of a few feet or a meter will probably handle 4K60 without issue. Longer cables might not. Even if the cable works with 4K, it might not work with 4K HDR. 

Or it might -- that's the infuriating part. There are too many variables for me to say for sure. "Test it and see" is, unfortunately, the only way to know. The good news is, because of how HDMI works, if your source device is sending 4K HDR, and your TV is displaying 4K HDR, that means it's perfect.

There's no improvement to be had with more expensive cables. It's either all or nothing. The most likely scenario, if your cable can't handle the resolution you want, is the image either won't appear at all, it will flicker or cut out or, a pretty common case, your source will revert to a lower resolution.

Which is to say, if you set your Roku to send 4K and it flickers for a moment, then your TV shows 1080p, that might be because your cable can't handle enough of the signal for it to work.

Keep in mind, for most people cheap HDMI cables are fine. If you're having trouble, then maybe it's worth considering an upgrade. But just because you're buying new gear or because there's a new HDMI standard that doesn't necessarily mean you must upgrade.

HDMI input - gettyimages-15731226-mbbirdy
Getty Images/mbbirdy

Save your money

Let's say you've determined you do need new HDMI cables. Should you spend extra on Ultra High Speed HDMI cables cables so you're "futureproof"? Not as a rule, no, but for the most part Ultra High Speed HDMI cables aren't much more expensive than "regular" cables. There's no reason to spend more than $10 to $20 for a three-foot cable, regardless of its spec, and you can find Ultra High Speed HDMI cables for that price and less.

The bottom line is, if your current cables work, keep them. If you get new gear and the cables continue to work, keep them. If you get new gear and you can't get the resolutions that should be possible with your new gear, most likely all you'll need is some new, inexpensive, High Speed cables. Check out Best HDMI cables for more on specific cables to consider.

If you're a gamer and have or are planning to get a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X and have/planning to get a TV that supports a 4K120 input, consider Ultra High Speed HDMI cables. Just keep in mind that you don't need to spend a lot on those either. Typically they're only a few dollars more per foot than the better High Speed cables.

Note: This article was first published in 2017 but has been updated with new links and info.

As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarinesmassive aircraft carriersmedieval castlesairplane graveyards and more. 

You can follow his exploits on Instagram and YouTube about his 10,000 mile road trip. He also has written a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines, along with a sequel.