HDMI cables for $2 or $600?
The Christian Science Monitor has a nice article on the premium HDMI cables that cost hundreds of dollars. The short story— the expensive cables may be made with better materials, but they don’t perform digital transmission any better than the cheap cables. I sent the article to a bunch of pals and got some interesting responses. The first came from Todd Murchison, author of my most popular blog post, evar.
This topic absolutely makes me livid. I had been buying my 6-foot HDMI cables at Fry’s for around $7 (and yes you can do better than Fry’s, but convenience goes a long way with me- there’s one nearby). Then one day I find myself at a BestBuy because they have a sale on a video game I want. While I’m there I figure (for the convenience) I’ll pick up an HDMI cable I need.
It took me 20 minutes of disbelief, wondering back and forth between the AV section of the store and the computer section before I finally admitted that they simply didn’t sell an HDMI cable for less than $100, no matter what department I went to. I actually ended up shouting at a clerk. I was yelling things like, "I know this isn’t personally your fault, but this is a rip-off, immoral, and unacceptable!" I repeatedly asked him how on earth they could justify charging so much for a digital format cable where quality makes almost no difference (compared to the days of all analog all the time). I actually finally got him to look at me and say simply "Because we get away with it."
I now personally boycott BestBuy. They charge absolutely ridiculous prices for HDMI cables knowing full well that they are taking advantage of people who don’t know any better. I know the adage "buyer beware", and I know that it’s up to a consumer to do research and understand what they are getting themselves into, but this is ridiculous. Most people who go to BestBuy to, say, upgrade to an HD TV should not need to spend an hour with Google researching cables so they fully understand the situation. Knowing the ins and outs of cables, signals, analog, digital, etc. is very likely not their job and it’s not something they should need to be worried that they will get taken for a $93 ride on!
BestBuy clearly understands that the average consumer will likely put a reasonable amount of time into researching the TV they want (I would hope) but that they will (like many of us) not think about the cables until very late in the process (like say, when the "helpful" sales person says "now do you have all the cables you will need? If not we have some lovely $140 cables right over here…").
This is the worst kind of predatory business practice in my opinion. BestBuy sells themselves on their convenience and user-friendliness, and then they turn around and take advantage of their customer base like this? These are likely the very same people who got used to paying $60 for Monster brand analog cables, back when that DID make a difference, and BestBuy is shamelessly taking advantage of that.
Ok, I’ve rambled enough. As you can see, I really am upset about this. Anyway, bottom line, please just don’t spend more than $10 for an HDMI cable (unless it’s 50 feet long) and if you see a poor not-so-technically minded movie buff reaching for the overpriced package, jump in and let them know the truth- then go yell at the store management.
Next to respond was Linear Technology converter apps guru and eFlea attendee Mark Thoren. Mark, being a true analog guy, included a good tip as well as a satiric reference to more HDMI bunkum:
When tracking down HDMI cables for my in-laws last holiday season, the cheapest I found was Costco - even when bundled with a bunch of other AV cables that I just threw in a box o’ spare cables. What really screwed me was that I stuck one of these guys in series with each signal.
Soon after, my protégé Francis Lau sent a link to an Amazon HDMI cable that will set you back $350. Shortly after that Joe Curcio, field applications engineer for National Semiconductor, sent a note about all the audiophile stuff we engineers routinely make fun of:
There is a guy (whose name and company I have forgotten but not important) comfortably retired in St Helena (pretty high on the cost of living index for those not familiar) who made his fortune not during his life as a day-to-day engineer, but rather during about 5 years in his 50’s selling "audiophile" cables. His particular "story" was to add a dc bias to the cable using a 9-volt battery. It of course was adjustable ($0.05 pot) so that the lunatic fringe audiophile community could have an infinite level of adjustment and an associate infinite collective of opinions as to what was the perfect setting - pure genius. Packaged in a velvet bag and housed in a solid wood box, he took full advantage of the "market factors" that surround this community. Consequently, profitability calculations needed to be expressed exponentially.
Do I take issue with these guys who offer and distribute this stuff? Well, not really as there is no one holding a gun to the folks who part with their money and there are certainly plenty of normal priced alternatives. Come to think of it - any body know where I can get cheap velvet bags?
So how did I get all these brilliant high-dollars folks to respond to my email? Easy, I just baited them with this satiric note:
These guys are real idiots. I just bought a $658 HDMI cable from Piezeo Goobertronics and was absolutely stunned at the picture quality on my 17-inch monitor. As you must know, the PG units are not only gold plated, they use rubidium-cesium alloys in the transmit path. Furthermore specialized polyrazzmatazz compounds insure a complex dielectric constant to keep signal integrity beyond good, to perfect. In addition the entire cable is cryogenically cycled, and made of copper that is not only oxygen free, even nitrogen and the far more troubling argon have been removed from the copper crystalline matrix. In order to insure that the picture stays better than perfect, they actually enhance picture quality and edge slew rates by bonding a polymorphic focusing stone to connector bodies on both ends of the cable. All that was not enough for me, so I made sure to paint the end of the connectors green, with a felt-tip pen.
The result– stunning presence, awesome imaging, the sound and picture fields are pristine and elegant all at once. The PG cables move the monitor from being a conventional 2-D representation device to creating a Fourier-optics wavefront reconstruction. Anyone that does not buy a Peizeo Goobertronics HDMI cable is an idiot and well, frankly, just an inferior human being. No, actually, they are sub-human, and just barely animals.
Signed; A concerned watcher, listening carefully.
At least I noted a tip that analog guru Paul Grohe taught me—the HDMI cables are 130 bucks in the video department at Fry’s while they are 8 bucks over in the computer section two aisles over.