Microsoft's Surface event live coverage iPad 9th gen review iPad Mini (2021) review iPhone 13 and 13 Mini review iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max review Google Doodle welcomes fall
Tim Tabke, Phoenix Productions

When should I upgrade my HDMI cables?

With the announcement of HDMI 2.1 and new 48G cables, do you need to upgrade? We go over when and why.

There's a new cable and connection standard called HDMI 2.1 and it includes new high-bandwidth cables called "48G." If you're buying a new TV or other gear, do you need to upgrade your current HDMI cables too?

For the vast majority of you readers, the answer is no.

Below is a list of potential reasons why you might think you need to upgrade your HDMI cables. In mst cases you won't, and I'll tell you why in each case.

For the full details on HDMI 2.1, check out HDMI 2.1: What you need to know (I know, the title is a bit on the nose). There are a few extreme cases in which you might want one of these new 48G cables, but for most people you won't have to worry about it this year and probably not next year either.

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 Roku Premiere+ or an Ultra HD Blu-ray player , chances are your current cables will also work with those. Probably. Check out the next section.

...buying a new 4K streamer, UHD BD player or console (with HDR): Probably not

The top-of-the-line media streamers, UHD BD players, and the latest versions of both consoles (PS4 Pro and Xbox One S), can output 4K HDR. If your HDMI cables are just a few 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. 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.

...connecting a computer to a TV and running 4K resolutions: Maybe

This is really the main situation where you might want new cables. Computers can send the maximum resolution and frame rate possible in the current HDMI spec, and are the only source that can do any of the resolutions in the upcoming HDMI 2.1 spec (and then only barely). If you've got a beefy computer and want to connect to a UHD TV, it's probably worth it to get a Premium Certified cable. Non-certified cables might work, but it's less likely.

When the 48G cables come out, they're worth considering but only after there's a TV that can handle the higher 4K frame rates.

...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 cheap 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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

HDMI cables are "all or nothing"

"High Speed" HDMI cables are designed to handle 4K resolutions, but not necessarily higher data versions like 4K HDR, or in the case of computers, higher frame rates. Also, it's hard to send really high resolutions and frame rates over long distances. So if you have a 15ft/3m cable that worked fine with all your 1080p gear, 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 Ultra HD Blu-ray player 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.

Save your money

Let's say you've determined you do need new HDMI cables. Should you spend extra on 48G cables so you're "futureproof"? I don't see any reason why you should. By the time you need the extra bandwidth of the 48G cables (many, many years in the future), they'll be as cheap as cheap cables are now.

Or to put it another way, why spend $50 now when you can spend $5 now and $5 in 10 years? If you just want to buy one cable and not worry if it will work, get a Premium Certified cable from someplace like Monoprice or other budget cable company.

That is, unless you're a PC gamer, but we're used to being an anomaly.

Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he's written on topics such as why all HDMI cables are the same, LED LCD vs. OLED, why 4K TVs aren't worth it and more. Still have a question? Tweet at him @TechWriterGeoff then check out his travel photography on Instagram. He also thinks you should check out his sci-fi novel and its sequel.