Will HDMI give me a better picture, avoiding HDMI cable ripoffs

Week of April 30, 2006

Q: Will I see a noticeable difference in high definition picture quality if I upgrade from the component video connection to the HDMI connection? I have high definition cable and the newest version of their box has an HDMI output (the older ones only had DVI). I have a Sony 42″ LCD TV.

With HD-DVD/Blu-Ray high definition discs hitting the market, I know I’ll need that HDMI cable eventually (alas my TV only has one HDMI input), so if it will improve my high definition cable picture quality, I figure it’s worth it to buy the cable now. But if the difference is negligible I can wait- that cable is a lot of money!

-Andy Heuer, Manhattan, KS

A: For readers who are unfamiliar with the terms, I will start with a little background on the connections you mentioned in your email.

The component connection uses the red, green, and blue RCA coaxial connections on your HD cable box or DVD player to send the picture to the television. It is an analog signal (though very high quality) and only carries picture information- you must you a separate connection to carry the audio signal.

DVI is a digital connection that carries video only- no audio.   It was launched sometime after the start of HDTV, but soon afterwards DVI was superseded by HDMI.   HDMI   is a digital connection that carries both audio and video information.

HDMI is an evolving standard, as some of my readers have found out to their chagrin. A lot of components are not fully compatible with each other, even if they both have HDMI connections.   For example, some receivers have HDMI but can’t use the audio portion- a separate digital audio connection is needed.   Fortunately, it’s a safe bet it will work fine for connecting a cable box to a TV.

HDMI will produce the most noticeable improvement in picture quality when used with digital displays such as LCD TVs and microdisplays (LCD, DLP, LCoS).   Because of this I believe you will see a difference with an HDMI cable.

I can understand your hesitance to just try it based on the price of the cables.   You probably have been led to believe that the cables are expensive because when you go looking for one the big-box stores try to sell you a Monster Cable that is $149.99 for a 4-foot length. That’s a ridiculous amount of money for a cable, especially one that carries a digital signal, like a   USB computer printer cable.     Would you spend $149.99 to connect your computer to a printer four feet away?

Your hesitance to buy has served you very well in this case.   If you go to www.monoprice.com you can get a 6-foot HDMI cable with gold plated ends for $5.97. Need a longer length? Get a 15-foot version for $7.56, or even a 25-foot length for only $27.24.

So- $149.99 or $5.97, and the picture will look identical with either cable.   Why, the Monoprice version even gives you 50% more length, which gives you more placement options with your DVD player.

Something tells me $5.97 is an impulse purchase for you- and worth it to satisfy your curiosity. Go and get that cable and try for yourself, I think you will be pleased with the result.   You can use the $144.02 you save towards one of the HD DVD or Blu-ray players you mention.

HDMI switchers are available for when you need to add more HDMI connections to your TV. A very nice one I have seen recently is the HSB-600 from Sherwood Newcastle. It switches HDMI, converts component video to HDMI, and separates the audio stream from HDMI connections and sends it to an optical digital audio connection. The HSB-600 is $300 (a great price for a product of this type) and can be seen at www.sherwoodusa.com.

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