You might be thinking about upgrading to an Xbox One X or PS4 Pro this Black Friday after looking at all those Cyber Monday gaming deals and wondering whether all your existing kit is up to scratch for the big move to 4K.
Here's the thing. Some worries are understandable. You worry whether your cat hates you. Whether you can ask for a pay rise. Whether you should really buy Skyrim for Switch even though you already own it fives times over on other platforms. What you shouldn’t worry about is HDMI cables. All the jargon that surrounds this simplest piece of tech seems designed to confuse and scare you into buying a £120 gold-plated cable on the high street. We’re going to clear up the confusion.
Here’s the thing: HDMI cables are, for the most part, as simple as they seem. While HDMI standard has changed over the years to allow for things like high refresh rate 4K video and HDR, the cables themselves haven’t changed much.
The terrible secret: there’s no such thing as a 4K HDMI cable. HDMI cables also either work for a particular setup, or they don’t. If you just bought a 4K HDR TV and an Xbox One X, and find that HDR games and videos seem to display perfectly fine, you don’t need a new HDMI lead.
This does not mean that all HDMI cables are equal, though.
What's the difference then?
If you notice flickering in your display, or if there’s no picture at all, this could be down to the HDMI cable. There are two common issues. First, the cable may have dodgy terminals. Higher-quality cables tend to be much better made than cheap ones (surprise, surprise), and connection faults can crop up, particularly if you haven’t simply plugged the cable in and left it there since installing.
The second possible issue gets to the root of the actual difference between HDMI cables: bandwidth. This is a measure of how much data a cable can reliably carry. How fat is the pipe? You’ll see this detailed in some product listings as so many “Gbps”. To make sure there’s enough room for all the 4K and HDR-ness our eyes can take, look for one with at least 18Gbps bandwidth.
Getting a decent-quality, high-bandwidth cable becomes more important the longer the cable is. Want a 1m HDMI? A rock-bottom cable should do just fine. If you need a 10m HDMI, a little more research may be needed. There’s just one more problem. When you’re buying a cable from a brand you’ve never heard of, how do you know if their claimed specs aren’t completely made-up?
HDMI Licensing itself has come up with a solution. If you see a cable with a legitimate “HDMI Premium” seal of approval, you can be (almost completely) sure you’ll encounter no issues. It’s just a logo, but also comes with a QR code to check online to ensure the manufacturer hasn’t pilfered the image off Google Images and printed it on the packaging.
If we were buying a 5m HDMI today for an Xbox One X, we’d buy one of these new-spec cables. However, current hardware will also run perfectly fine with a good-quality “high-speed cable with Ethernet”.Now that the tech blurb is out of the way, here are some HDMI cables for gaming to consider, along with a few little extra design features that might sway you.
1. OMARS Premium HDMI
The best all-rounder
Transfer speed: 21Gbps | Length: 2m/3m | Certification: HDMI Premium Standard
The OMARS Premium HDMI has just about everything we look for in a cable, particularly after spending a packet on new hardware. First, it’s fairly cheap. At under £10 for a 2m or 3m cable, it won’t eat into your games budget too much.
These cables are also certified to the HDMI Premium standard. At present this main seal of quality to look for. OMARS also claims bandwidth of 21Gbps, higher than the 18Gbps gold standard.
The design is about as plain as HDMI cables come, but the connectors aren’t too bulky. This is important if you wedge your consoles up near the wall to save space. You’ll usually find the OMARS cable sold in lengths up to 3m, which should do the trick for most setups.
2. Onyx HDMI
Best for durability
Transfer speed: 18Gbps | Length: 2m/3m | Certification: HDMI Premium Standard
If you want a cable that should take a bit more abuse than the one you might find in Poundland, take a look at the Onyx 4K HDMI cable.
It has thicker-than average cabling, with an extra mesh sheath on top to act as armour against chair legs or the teeth of bored pets. The connectors also have metal outers, making them more rigid than most.
We don’t usually advise people get too worked up about gold plating but, sure enough, there’s “24ct” gold bling on the terminals too.
And, the bit that really matters, the Onyx 4K is certified to the latest HDMI Premium standard. You’ll find cheaper options that work just as well, but this is a good pick for those who demand the finer things in life.
3. AmazonBasics High-Speed HDMI
Best for price
Transfer speed: 18Gbps | Length: from 1.8m - 10.6m | Certification: CL3-certified
Amazon has its own range of low-price tech accessories, including a smart-priced HDMI. You’re looking at £5.99 for a 1.8m version. Beat that, un-named high street retailer.
It’s a low-frills black plastic affair, but does have gold-plated terminals to avoid looking like it came bundled free with something. This one isn’t certified to the HDMI Premium standard, but it has the part we’re after anyway: 18Gbps bandwidth.
The AmazonBasics HDMI comes in lengths up to 10.6m, and the design appears to scale up a little as you get to the higher lengths too. For example, that longest version is CL3-certified. This is a spec for custom installers, and means the cable is designed to handle higher voltages.
We’d like to see the look on someone’s face after spending £100k on a home cinema only to find their installer had used AmazonBasics cables, mind.
4. Belkin HDMI 2.1 Ultra High Speed
Best for future-proofing
Transfer speed: 48Gbps | Length: 2m | Certification: HDMI 2.1
Are you one of those insufferable people who always has to have the latest iPhone, the latest watch and every new game on the day of release? You also need Belkin’s new Ultra High speed HDMI.
This is one of the first cables to be primed for HDMI 2.1, a spec designed to wave in 10K-resolution video. Just don’t mention that to the Xbox One X, let’s give it at least five minutes of 4K glory.
The cable can handle up to 48Gbps video bandwidth, which today’s consoles can’t even get close to. It also proves why Belkin is such royalty among tech accessory makers. Despite being better-specced than some cables costing £2000, this one costs just £29.99 for 2m.
It also has conveniently small connectors and, to be frank, we just trust Belkin a lot more than most no-name accessory makers.
5. Rhinocables Flat HDMI
Best for discrete cabling solutions
Transfer speed: 27Gbps | Length: 2m | Certification: N/A
If you want to run your HDMI under a rug, perhaps to reach a projector without tearing up your walls’ plasterwork, a flat cable is the best option. Just a few millimetres thick, it’s a lot less obtrusive than the average round type.
The cable itself is also nylon braided for added toughness.
There’s no mention of the HDMI Premium standard, but Rhinocables claims bandwidth of at least 27Gbps, which is well in excess of what we need for 4K and HDR. We don’t really care too much about how our HDMI connectors look as, with any luck, they’re out of sight 24/7. However, the Rhinocables HDMIs are chromed if you must have a bit of glamour to everything you own.
Best for space saving
Transfer speed: 4K compatible | Length: 3m | Certification: N/A
In the saturated world of HDMI cables, it’s good to have something to help you stand out. SlimHDMI’s name gives its game away. This is one of the lowest-profile HDMI cables around.
It’s not the cable itself that is ultra-slim, which would have a knock-on effect on performance, but the terminals. This is handy if there’s not much free space behind your game console or TV.
There are no grand claims about its performance, but it is ready for 4K. Given an ultra cut-down design probably won’t do any favours for durability, this is a cable for a specific situation. At the same time, it may be exactly what you need if normal designs are just that bit too chunky.