Are Expensive HDMI Cables a Rip-off?

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There are few products that look the same, do the same thing, but range in price from 1 cent to $300. Despite years of expert testimony, some consumers can still be talked into paying more for a cable than a TV.

If you’re in the market for a new television set, Best Buy is selling a Toshiba 32-inch flat-screen HDTV for $290. Not a bad deal, right? But you’ll need something called an HDMI cable to get that high-definition signal from your cable box or DVD player to your new TV. And Best Buy sells those too. For example, you can buy a 3-foot-3-inch AudioQuest HDMI cable – for $295.

You read that right. The cable costs more than the TV.

Of course, Best Buy sells cheaper cables. A 4-foot Monster cable costs $120 – it’s longer and cheaper. So what’s the difference? And why does RadioShack sell a 20-foot Monster cable for $200? That’s five times longer for less than twice the price.

Even more confusing, you can buy HDMI cables for as little as $10 for 6 feet or as much as $1,100 for 65 feet. The cheapest ones don’t feature fancy names like Vodka, Pearl, and Cinnamon, but do you really need cables sporting names more suited to strippers?

If you’ve fallen for this pitch before, don’t do it again. Because cheap generic cables are just as good as pricey name brands. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson explains why in this video report. Check it out and read on for more details…

Another triumph of marketing over common sense

If people are willing to pay $60,000 for a bottle of water, I guess it should come as no surprise they’d pay $300 for a TV connection cable.  But at some point common sense has to win over silly hype. Or, at least, it should.

You heard what the salesman said in Stacy’s story: “It is definitely worthwhile to invest a little bit more in a cable because it’s going to last you for a long time and you’re going to get the picture quality you paid for when you bought your TV.” No doubt this line or something similar is repeated thousands of times weekly in electronics stores nationwide. But that doesn’t make it true.

Lest you harbor doubts, here’s the Popular Mechanics comparison Stacy mentioned. These are the cables they compared…

  • 13-foot generic: $13
  • 13-foot Monster HDMI 1000 HD:  $200
  • 16-foot Honeywell with CURxE Light Technology: $300

The price difference is significant. But what about the audio and picture quality?

“None of our editors could tell the difference,” the magazine reported. “The fact is, HDMI is digital, meaning you either get the feed or you don’t. High prices and gimmicks like gold-plating don’t affect 1s and 0s.”

Here’s the kicker: The Popular Mechanics study dates back to 2008. It’s four years old, but the price of HDMI cables in electronic stores is still off the charts. Obviously, people who don’t know better continue to take their advice from commissioned salespeople rather than experts.

More evidence: In 2010, tech website CNET agreed with Popular Mechanics.  Two years ago, they declared

The editors at CNET are so confident that cheap HDMI cables offer identical performance, we’ve been using inexpensive Monoprice HDMI cables in the CNET Home Theater Lab for more than a year with no issues. … If cheap HDMI cables are good enough for the eagle-eyed video professionals at CNET, we’re betting they’re good enough for your home theater.

CNET says you shouldn’t pay more than $10 for one, and I agree: I bought a 1.5-foot cable from Monoprice for $3 a few years ago, so I could hook my Xbox 360 up to my computer monitor. It’s works just fine, but it turns out I overpaid. Because you can buy HDMI cables for 1 cent, plus a couple of bucks shipping at Amazon. Other cheap places to buy include Newegg, and, of course, at the technology section of our Deals page.

Bottom line? If you feel the need to throw money down the tube – or behind it – on marketing silliness, well, it’s a free country. But if you paid more than $100 for your HDMI cables, I’ve got a bottle of water you might be interested in…

Want to save even more on your TV habits? Check out 3 Steps to Cut Your Cable Bill 90 Percent.

Stacy Johnson

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