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HDMI Cable Battlemodo
July 27, 2007 3:04 AM   Subscribe

So you finally broke down bought that fancy 60" HDTV. Now, you need a fancy HDMI cable for the finest quality picture. BestBuy (et al) promote Monster almost exclusively. But they can cost up to $250. Meanwhile, Monoprice (and others) can be had for about 1/10th the price.

Gizmodo just finished their detailed three part breakdown (including using test machines at Monster's own HQ) and comes to the conclusion that "The only people who should buy Monster cable are people who light cigars with Benjamins."
posted by revmitcz (29 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just in case the "Pepsi Blue" stuff gets thrown my way - I'm not endorsing any of the above brands. I've just always wondered how good those high-priced cables were, and whether or not I'd need them when I finally made the jump to full-quality HD.

So, I thought others might be interested to see the breakdown as well.
posted by revmitcz at 3:06 AM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


The only people who should buy Monster cable are people who light cigars with Benjamins.

Well this might certainly be true for some of the people who buy these things, but there is at least one valid, technical exception that even Gizmodo had to concede:

Judging from these results, I would have to reiterate my original position, that it's best to skimp at short distances, but you don't want to be caught with the wrong cable installed in your walls. Even with the projector, it might be smart to buy a $30 cable first and see if it works, but be prepared, when upgrading your gear, to upgrade the cable too. Does it have to be Monster? Hell no, but you might have to pay something close to a Monster-sized price.
posted by three blind mice at 3:43 AM on July 27, 2007


If you want to go longer distances, you can always buy an HDMI-over-Cat5 extender.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:47 AM on July 27, 2007


Oh dear.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:59 AM on July 27, 2007


Monster has always been a marketing company first, industrial design specialist second, buyer's rep junket host third, heavy handed advertiser fourth, trade show whore fifth, and an engineering company ... distant sixth.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:21 AM on July 27, 2007


I recently purchased an HDTV (askmefi readers may remember the few related questions I've asked there -- I decided to go with the Sharp Aquos 37" Vyper Mode model) from Amazon, and was surprised to find Amazon selling HDMI cables for 92 cents each ("You save 98%!").

I haven't had a chance to test them yet (the cables already gotten here; the TV will hopefully be arriving this weekend), but this article reassures me that they'll probably suit my purposes perfectly (just an HD cable box and an upsampling DVD player).
posted by jozxyqk at 4:40 AM on July 27, 2007


But in the next iteration of expensive home AV equipment the signals will be wirelessly transmitted over UWB or some other technology. No need for expensive cables then right?

Lucky for all you *philes out there I'm in the final stages developing my revolutionary AV-quantum spray. This spray uses proven but untested advanced physics that improves phase coherence and signal transmission speed for transmitted AV signals for up to hours at a time in a room that's been sprayed. The spray also smells really nice.

Send me your money now!
posted by uandt at 4:46 AM on July 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


Indeed the cable racket is deep and wide, with lots of participants in unlikely places. Oddly enough, the ones that don't like to participate directly are the speaker and component manufacturers. A friend of mine who used to own a hifi shop claims that they bow out of the argument because cables provide a substantially larger margin than speakers or components, so they acquiesce to the cable BS to avoid pissing off retailers.

Bryston, at least, has made a direct stand against the "power cable cartel" by printing warnings against fancy power conditioners, etc directly in their manuals. With a 20-year no questions asked warranty, they have little to lose, I guess.

I used this site's commentary to keep me from buying $2,000 speaker cables for my $10,000 hifi setup:

Speaker Cable Faceoff

They have a series of three, culminating in a do-it-yourself design shootout. I went with this design:

DIY speaker Cable Recipe

And spent the $2000 on better speakers. I determined quite easily that the physical components of the system are more important than the electrical, and the physical charactersitics of the room are even more important than that.

Frankly, though, compared to the marketing you get from the giants like Coke and McDonalds, this kind of crazy snake oil is much easier to deal with. A/V manufacturers are like children in comparison to the big boys.
posted by zapatosunidos at 5:04 AM on July 27, 2007


Obligatory Penny Arcade strip, along with some HDMI cabling tidbits from Ars.
Also of note: SF Gate's article highlighting Monster's litigious practices.
posted by Smart Dalek at 5:15 AM on July 27, 2007


"and the physical charactersitics of the room are even more important than that."

Amen to that. To many people spend loads on equipment, shocking amounts on cables, without a thought to the room.

For those of us with the Home Theater hobby illness, it's a particular bugaboo. Newbies get excited about the latest projector, a particular brand of speakers or receiver, the minutest detail of cable composition, then completely gloss over the environment. Get the room right and one can make due with much less on the equipment side.
posted by cptnrandy at 5:17 AM on July 27, 2007


Note: HDMI cables are a different breed than speaker cord. 1080p, IIRC, will need upwards of 16Gbps. Home brewing these cables will be tough, unless you have the tools and the training to terminate them.

Having said that, it's not a $10/meter problem. It's a $1/meter problem, at worst.

Furthermore, the trick here is simple -- the shorter the HDMI run, the easier it becomes to build a cable. If you keep your runs under 3 meters, suddenly, cheaper 10m cables picking up noise aren't a problem.

In general, in any high bandwidth or high power situation, that's the fundamental rule -- cable is evil, use as little length as possible. Don't hang 10 meter of cable on a link when one meter will do.
posted by eriko at 5:31 AM on July 27, 2007


I've been to a Monster sales training seminar, and they explained one of the ways their speaker cables were better was because they twisted their wire strands counter-clockwise, instead of the standard clockwise, and this provided better sound because that's the way the electrons spin so there's less resistance.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:57 AM on July 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


Cables are the new extended warranty.
posted by gimonca at 6:04 AM on July 27, 2007


This has been going on since the first days of computer retailers. Remember 40 dollar parallel cables?
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:49 AM on July 27, 2007


In my previous career as a maintenance technician (and later a tech. director) in broadcast and post-production, I had a chance to set up and do some cable evaluation. The signal chain was simple: SONY CD player to power amp to Tannoy FSM in mid-field, the room was our THX-spec film mix theatre, the testers were recording engineers, and the testing methodology was double or triple blind. High-quality mechanical switches were used to switch between the cables under test, and cable-to-switch assignments were shuffled frequently to hopefully null out position bias and any switch position anomalies. We tried to use significant lengths - 50 or 100 ft - to exaggerate any cable differences.

We tested bulk speaker cable, and also bulk interconnect cable from the CD player to the amp. In each case we had 3 types of cable: cheap, our usual studio choice (industrial), audio esoteric (which was on the order of 10x or more the price per ft of our industrial type).

My bias going into the tests - as an engineering-type I thought that copper is copper, more is better.

The results were ... interesting. I'll just quickly summarize.

First, there were very very very very subtle audible differences between the cables, that even I could hear, and that were repeatable in testing. Second, not everyone chose the same cable as superior. It was near a tie for the top two places between our usual studio cable and the esoteric.

To us, the testing indicated that there was not always a demonstrable benefit in choosing the esoteric, especially given the cost difference, and everyone was satisfied that we were not sacrificing audio quality by not buying the esoteric.

At home I use #12 wire for speakers, and mid-grade premade interconnects, or I make my own using decent coax or guitar cable and mid-grade plugs (Switchcraft, Neutrix, etc).
posted by Artful Codger at 6:56 AM on July 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


I don't know about HDMI cables, but in audio cables Monster is considered an overpriced joke. When the resolution of an audio system is high enough good cables can make a difference. However, the price performance scale appears to be logarithmic, a little extra money will buy you big performance gains from the $10 cables packed with players etc., but beyond that, if there even is a beyond that, the costs are astronomical. If you lacked a conscience you could make an awful lot of money selling high end cables.
posted by caddis at 6:57 AM on July 27, 2007


$30,750???

Also, my link from a couple years back re: high-end audio stuff.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:00 AM on July 27, 2007


Trying to get back on-topic - the audiophile scenario is different from video/HD, so the above audiophile dissertation was a bit of a derail, sorry.

With video and HD, the difference between bad and good cable will be much more pronounced, as the OP's article demonstrated. Inferior cables can cause ghosting, reflections, smearing, etc - effects that are not at all subtle.

One last anecdote from my checkered past: what's the longest you can extend a Mac monitor's cable without problems - 10 ft? 25 ft?

For one install, where we needed to put a Mac-based editor in a closet, and the keyboard/mouse/monitor in a studio, we fabricated a custom extension of 160 ft for the monitor using 5 separate runs of RG-59 coax. There was no ghosting and only a very slight softening of the video.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:14 AM on July 27, 2007


I continue to be amused that audiophile magazines refuse to perform blind A/B tests on their reviewed components.

It makes the whole high-end audio business look like medieval alchemy, a pseudo-science with a few grains of reality hiding inside, obscured by wine-critic vocabulary and wishful thinking by the rubes.
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:19 AM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ah, but Monster lets you feel the power. My clothes have sounded so much better since I got one of these...
posted by bitmage at 7:33 AM on July 27, 2007


With video and HD, the difference between bad and good cable will be much more pronounced, as the OP's article demonstrated. Inferior cables can cause ghosting, reflections, smearing, etc - effects that are not at all subtle.

Is this true? I dont have much HD experience but my understanding is that the HDMI transport is digital. Regardless of what cable you use, either you get the bits in a timely order, or you drop them. I can imagine stuttering as the encoder drops frames, but not ghosting or smearing. Ghosting would be a problem with analog transports.

Secondly, this isnt exactly a scientific test. They're disparaging entire manufacturers by testing one single cable. There's always the chance they got a dud or one with bad shielding. A random sample of 5 or so cables per company would have been nice.

Cables are only one part of the system. It could be that some hdtv's have crappy signal processing and can't handle a dirtier signal that, say, a better hdtv can handle. That shouldn't necessarily be the cable company's fault.

Overall, its nice of them to do this, but I'm afraid that the people who would make an impulse purchase for a 50-100 dollar cable at best buy aren't going to be reading reviews anyway.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:48 AM on July 27, 2007


I support all stupidity levies (monster cables, starbucks, lotteries, scientology, $15 marinara, iphones, tricky rebates, $30 vinegar, option arms, etc) if it enables suppliers to sell good items and services at more reasonable values from monies skimmed off from the gullible. It also keeps a useful quantity of money in circulation.

For long runs, why didn't the video people just use SDI, and stick with coax?
posted by meehawl at 7:58 AM on July 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


I've been to a Monster sales training seminar, and they explained one of the ways their speaker cables were better was because they twisted their wire strands counter-clockwise, instead of the standard clockwise, and this provided better sound because that's the way the electrons spin so there's less resistance.


Is this serious? 'Cause that's hilariously awesome.
posted by mkultra at 8:15 AM on July 27, 2007


This has been going on since the first days of computer retailers. Remember 40 dollar parallel cables?

posted by damn dirty ape at 8:49 AM on July 27 [+] [!]


To be fair, in parallel cables there was a difference. Your standard cable could not handle bi-directional communications since they did not connect all the pins, which became and issue when lasers and inkjets started off-loading the control functions from a built-in panel to a software panel on the PC. Some printers also dropped a bunch of internal memory and did all the rendering in elaborate windows drivers.

This also lead to more expensive switchboxes for those that shared a printer with multiple PCs, or ran multiple printers on one PC. Try running an HP LaserJet 4L on a cheap cable or switchbox. It wouldn't work.

The 'expensive' IEEE-1284 cables were properly pinned-out to handle full bi-di communications, and were more expensive because of that.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:37 AM on July 27, 2007


(I said) With video and HD, the difference between bad and good cable will be much more pronounced, as the OP's article demonstrated. Inferior cables can cause ghosting, reflections, smearing, etc - effects that are not at all subtle.

(damn dirty ape said) Is this true? I dont have much HD experience but my understanding is that the HDMI transport is digital. Regardless of what cable you use, either you get the bits in a timely order, or you drop them. I can imagine stuttering as the encoder drops frames, but not ghosting or smearing. Ghosting would be a problem with analog transports.

Yeah, I was lumping analog video and digital together which is misleading. You're right that the cable-induced problems in HDMI would show up differently. My (poorly made) point was that in the cases of video and HD, the cable-induced problems aren't subtle.
posted by Artful Codger at 9:02 AM on July 27, 2007


Funny. I was just talking with a former co-worker who now works as a home theater installer for Best Buy. He was amazed at how much they charge for cables. (Something like $100 some dollars for less than 50' of coax.)

Cables have always been a huge-markup revenue generator for stores. I now use the cheapest cable I can find for pretty much everything. I'll only buy something more expensive when I notice some kind of problem with the cheap stuff.

It almost never happens.
posted by quin at 10:38 AM on July 27, 2007


I listened to a salesman at Good Guys or similar telling a customer they needed Monster cables because otherwise the left/right/front/back signals would not arrive at the speakers at the same time.
posted by maxwelton at 11:33 AM on July 27, 2007


I've been to a Monster sales training seminar, and they explained one of the ways their speaker cables were better was because they twisted their wire strands counter-clockwise, instead of the standard clockwise, and this provided better sound because that's the way the electrons spin so there's less resistance.

That's awesome. That's better than the time I heard a software salesman at a trade show continually blame a maintenance contractor for the constant poor performance of his software, because the contractor plugged both the PC and the monitor into the same power strip when he set it up.
posted by SweetJesus at 1:56 PM on July 27, 2007


Is this serious? 'Cause that's hilariously awesome.

Yep. Reporters and salespeople have that in common - neither the ability nor the desire to actually know what they're talking about, yet without fear of repeating practically anything they're told as if it were indisputable.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 7:33 AM on July 30, 2007


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