Three years ago, I wrote a little buying guide for people setting up basic or somewhat complex home theaters in their homes. I figured, “Job done.” “People should understand that they can get a HDMI cable for $2 instead of $50-60, and it’s all the same.”
Then I went to Home Depot, and I saw something that really angered me. There was a display for HDMI cables from CE Tech, which, as far as I can tell, is Home Depot’s own house brand.
That display would have you believe that not only are more expensive HDMI cables BETTER, but you can’t have certain features UNLESS you buy a more expensive cable.
“Oh, you can have an $8 cable, sure thing. It will do 720p or 1080p high definition and a little ethernet too. But we have this $30 cable too, and this one is better. It supports 4K and ethernet and 3D pictures. But what you REALLY want is this $40 cable, because it also does all those things, only better.”
It’s a Lie.
All HDMI cables are the same. They have the same wires, use the same connectors, and do the same things. Every, single HDMI cable in the world supports 720p, 1080p, 4K, audio (Home Depot never mentions audio), ethernet, and 3D.
If you spend $30, $50, or…sweet Mother of God…$200 on an HDMI cable after reading this article and the articles I will link to for further evidence, then you have no one to blame but yourself for wasting your money.
Cable Buying Guide
The gallery above shows things you do not need to buy.
You do not need to buy optical audio cables. As we just discussed, your HDMI cable handles digital audio — full surround sound — without the need for a second cable. The HDMI is actually better, because optical audio cables are notorious for falling out, leaving you scrambling to figure out why there’s no sound in the movie during date night.
You do not need “banana plugs” for your speaker wire. Sure, they look pretty and they are easier to plug into your receiver than messing with the bare wire, but banana plugs are simply another potential point of failure in the wiring loom of your home theater setup. The fewer “connections” the better. Same concept as optical audio cables. Take the bare wire, twist it around, and stick it in the receiver. Money saved.
You most likely do not need to buy Red, White, Yellow RCA plugs. A holdover from the pre-HD days of yesteryear, RCA plugs are still useful if you have an older video game system or if you want to plug a DVD player into an older television. You should have plenty of them lying around, and the technology hasn’t exactly improved on these cables. Just use the old ones.
You need HDMI cables if nothing else. If you just have a television and a HD cable/sat box, the HDMI cable is your audio and video. If you are using a home theater receiver, which is vital if you want surround sound or want to use a lot of devices, then you need an HDMI cable going from the receiver to the television (monitor output) and one HDMI cable going from each other device to the receiver. It’s that easy.
You need speaker wire if you are using external speakers or surround sound. Speaker wire sends audio from your home theater receiver to the speakers. The smaller the gauge, the better the wire. I recommend 14 or 12 gauge wire. (By the way, you can also use lamp wire or any copper wire…)
You need Ethernet wire for any device that does not have a WIFI adapter built in. You want Cat 5e or Cat 6, NOT Cat 5. Cat 5 is the RCA Red/White/Yellow of the bunch.
I like Cat 6 because it does not cost much more than Cat 5e, and it will support faster networking standards that haven’t been circulated to home use yet, like 10GB ethernet. But Cat 5e is just fine, as long as you don’t buy standard Cat 5. Ethernet wire connects your devices, computers, smart TV, receiver, Apple TV, and video game consoles to your home network and thus to the Internet.
As a point of emphasis, I recommend using wired Ethernet for game consoles if you plan on playing games online. I know that WIFI is great and fast and all, but wired Ethernet isn’t going to fail if your neighbors start using it, the way WIFI can.
You may need a subwoofer cable if you use a subwoofer in your home theater/surround sound setup. Most subwoofers do not come with the cable. Many subwoofers also have L/R dual plugs, meaning you will have to buy something called a “Subwoofer Y Adapter” to make it work.
Here’s the kicker about subwoofer cables: They’re the same thing as RCA R/W/Y cables. You can just use one of those. Or, if you have an old “coaxial audio” cable lying around from your DVD days, you can use that too.
Here’s the rundown:
HDMI Standard 6-foot HDMI cable:
Ethernet Standard 10-foot Cat 6 cable:
Speaker Wire Standard 100-foot spool of 14 Gauge wire:
Subwoofer cable Standard 15-foot cable:
Not sold on cheap yet?
Tested.com ran an article citing a hobbyist forum that used scientific gadgets to compare a $12, $20, and $200 HDMI cable. The results indicated virtually no difference between the $12 and $200 cables.
Here’s the thing: They’re right.
Do not spend $200 on an HDMI cable. Don’t even spend $20. You have been warned.
Blast Magazine reached out to Home Depot’s Public Relations Department offering to publish any response to this article. We have not heard back.