4K HDMI cables – what you need to know

You’ve just purchased a spectacular Ultra-High-Definition ‘4K’ television – but what cable do you need to connect your game console, your cable TV set-top box or HD-capable satellite, or your Blu-ray player without sacrificing any of that glorious picture quality you’re looking forward to enjoying?


Here’s our guide to what you need to know about the kind of HDMI cable you’ll need to get the best out of your exciting new equipment.


Is a 4K HDMI cable really ‘a thing’?


The short answer is ‘no’. While 4K displays are a thing and HDMI cables are a thing, strictly speaking ‘4K HDMI cables’ aren’t. It might seem a pedantic point, but a ‘4K-ready HDMI cable’ is a more accurate and less misleading term.


Just to clarify this a little, ‘4K’ goes by a raft of other different terms that all mean the same thing. Depending on the device (e.g., computer video display or TV), you’ll see it referred to as Ultra High Definition (as in our first sentence above) or UHD, Ultra HD, 4K2K, Quad Full HD, QFD and 2160p. All refer to ‘next-generation HD-TV’, but we’ll stick with 4K in this little guide as it has perhaps become the most widely used term.


A 4K TV supports the Ultra High Resolution that ‘4K’ designates. However, if you’re to really get the benefits of the technology, the serial interface (cable) that you use to connect your 4K signal source to your top-tier TV must be 4K-ready. If not, the picture quality will suffer (no one wants a ‘meh’ viewing experience after splashing out on such high-end equipment).


Just because it’s an HDMI cable doesn’t mean it’s 4K-ready


HDMI cables are today classified as either ‘Standard’ (capable of transferring digital signals at a rate of 1,782 gigabits per second, or Gbps) or ‘High Speed’ (capable of transferring digital signals at a rate of 8,160 Gbps).


You can see from this that High-Speed HDMI cables deliver a far higher performance than Standard HDMI cables. These are the ones you need for optimal picture quality on a 4K TV or video display rather than Standard.


Most of the cables on sale today are, by default, High-Speed HDMIs, but look out for the term ‘High Speed’ on the cable itself or on the packaging (the cable will usually simply bear the statement ‘HDMI High Speed’, but the packaging should bear the standard’s logo, which reads ‘HDMI® HIGH SPEED with ETHERNET’).


High-Speed cables were developed and introduced in anticipation of 4K technology. If a cable has the ‘HDMI High Speed’ logo on it, you can be confident that it will be compatible with your 4K equipment and deliver optimal quality. HDMI.org clearly states:


“All High Speed HDMI cables will support 4K functionality when connected to 4K devices.”


In a nutshell, any HDMI cable that isn’t explicitly called ‘High Speed’ may not adequately support 4K resolution.


Beware of cables promoted as ‘4K HDMI’


Many of these cables are expensive new HDMI 2.0 cables that are designed for forthcoming high-resolution technology and are over and above the requirements for a 4K device. It’s better to simply choose a reasonable HDMI High Speed cable and save unnecessary expense at this point (wait until you own an 8K TV set before you buy a cable above the current HDMI High Speed standard).

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