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Do you need a 4K HDMI cable?

Do you need a 4K HDMI cable?


If you’ve just bought a new 4K TV, you might be wondering if you need to buy a new HDMI cable to go with it. The very fast answer is: Probably not.

Here’s how to tell if the final call is a yes or a no.

HDMI cables explained

An HDMI cable is just a conduit between your TV and media device, be it DVD, Blu-ray, or 4K UHD Blu-ray player; a media streamer; a video game console; or a PC. Different types of HDMI cables do exist, but their designations indicate how much data they can carry. (Spoiler: There’s really no such thing as a 4K HDMI cable.)

When pared down to the most basic information, the video resolution guidelines–as set by the HDMI Forum Technical Working Group that defines the specification–are:

  • Standard HDMI: Up to 720p or 1080i resolution at a 30Hz refresh rate
  • High Speed HDMI: Up to 4K resolution (including 1080p) at 30Hz
  • Premium High Speed HDMI: Up to 4K resolution with high dynamic range (HDR) at up to 60Hz
  • Ultra High Speed HDMI: Up to 10K resolution with HDR at a 120Hz refresh rate (4K video can refresh at up to 240Hz)

The more detailed versions of the guidelines matter if you want more than just a basic TV signal: If you play video games at more than 30 frames per second, for example, or you intend to make full use of an HDR TV, or you want an HDMI cable that can also carry data over ethernet (most people do not, but that bandwidth can be used for other things).

gaming pc Flavio Ensiki (CC BY 2.0)

If you attach a gaming PC capable of gaming at 4K/60fps to your TV, you’ll need an HDMI cable that can handle that level of data transmission.

For these types of scenarios, you must take refresh rate (measured in cycles per second, stated as Hertz, and abbreviated as Hz), the level of color precision (aka color depth, measured in bits; e.g., 8-bit, 10-bit, or 12-bit), and color data compression (i.e., chroma subsampling) into consideration. The higher you go with refresh rate and bit depth—and the less color data compression you opt for—the more data that will be pushed to your TV.

Accordingly, you’ll need an HDMI cable that has adequate bandwidth. The chart below details the nuances that divide Standard HDI, High Speed, Premium High Speed, and Ultra High Speed HDMI. Currently, a Premium High Speed HDMI cable should cover the highest demands you’d ask of a 4K TV. Consumer devices that require an Ultra High Speed HDMI cable (e.g., 8K TVs) are still uncommon and expensive, despite more product announcements and declining prices in 2019.

(Note that the table refers to refresh rate in frames per second: 60fps is synonymous with a display refresh rate of 60Hz, and so on.)



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