Research Hub > HDMI Cable Buying Guide

December 16, 2022

Use Case
8 min

HDMI Cable Buying Guide

Do you need an ultra high-speed HDMI cable, or will a premium high-speed HDMI cable suffice? This HDMI cable buying guide will answer these questions and everything else you need to know about HDMI cables.

CDW Expert CDW Expert
What's Inside
  • What is HDMI?

    Learn more about HDMI, a set of rules for rendering uncompressed, high definition audio and video.

  • What is an HDMI Cable?

    Find out more about HDMI cables, which are conduits that transfer HDMI video and audio between two HDMI-enabled devices.

  • Transfer Rates

    Learn more about transfer rates, which are references to bandwidth, or how many bits of data per second can travel along a cable.

  • Resolution

    Explore the two key parts of screen resolution and how this will inform your decision about which HDMI cable to select.

  • Types of Cables

    Explore the four main types of HDMI cables on the market.

  • HDMI Cables by Distance

    Find out more about how HDMI cable length should factor into your purchasing decision.

If you have ever been shopping for an HDMI® or audio video cable, you know it's not as easy as it sounds. Can you get the 4K visuals with a standard HDMI cable, or is a high-speed cable the better option? Do you need an ultra high-speed HDMI cable, or will a premium high-speed HDMI cable suffice? This HDMI cable buying guide will answer these questions and everything else you need to know about these cables.

What is HDMI?

HDMI® is a set of rules for rendering uncompressed, high definition audio and video. It’s the language that allows HDMI-enabled devices to communicate with one another. As the language evolves, new versions are released, and along with them, new features.

The current HDMI versions are 1.0, 1.1, 1.2,1.2a, 1.3, 1.4, 2.0, 2.0a, 2.0b and 2.1. Each subsequent version builds upon the previous version. A device rated for HDMI version 2.0a can communicate with a device that supports version 1.0, but it may not have access to all features available with version 2.0a.

Manufacturers can choose which features they make available for use with their devices, even if the item is rated for version 2.1. Pay attention to equipment specifications for the best understanding of what each item can do.

What is an HDMI Cable?

An HDMI cable is a conduit that transfers HDMI video and audio between two HDMI-enabled devices. When used with equivalent HDMI equipment, this type of cord offers a clear sound and picture for high definition video sources such as:

  • Blu-ray™ and Ultra HD players
  • Game consoles including X-Box, PlayStation and Wii U
  • Computer monitors and laptops
  • HD-ready cable and satellite equipment
  • Media streamers
  • HD TVs, HDR TVs and video projectors
  • Some digital cameras, tablets and smartphones

The type of cable needed depends on its intended application. There are two primary considerations when selecting a cord type: classification and distance. You should also consider transfer rates and resolution when deciding on an HDMI cable.

Transfer Rates

The transfer rate is a reference to bandwidth, or how many bits of data per second can travel along a cable to the endpoint on the other side. Gigabytes per second (Gbps) is the unit of measure that represents bandwidth.


Screen resolution has two parts: The number of pixels that can fit into a certain space and how often the frame rate refreshes per second.

A display can use an interlaced or progressive scan to render pictures on a screen. You will see refresh rates measured in Hertz (HZ).

An interlaced scan renders an image with interlaced vertical and horizontal lines. Resolution for interlaced scans is the number of pixels a screen can display per line, represented by a lower-case “i.” 

A progressive scan paints a seamless picture and refreshes the entire image at once. The number of pixels that can fit per square inch determines the type of scan’s resolution. Manufacturers denote it with a lower-case “p."

Types of Cable by Classification

When deciding on an HDMI cable, it's important to understand the classifications available. There are four main classifications of HDMI cords, each one optimized for different HDMI versions. Each cord classification also has progressively faster transfer rates and increased resolution capabilities.

Standard HDMI Cable

The standard HDMI cable offers up to 1080i or 720p resolution, and it is HD-ready with a refresh rate of 30Hz. Bandwidth for a standard HDMI cable is 5Gbps. This cable is also a solid choice for playing Blu-ray™ DVDs or media streamers. HDMI versions 1.0 to 1.2a are native to this cable.

High Speed HDMI Cable

With refresh rates up to 30Hz, the high speed HDMI cable enables device functionality. Relative to a standard HDMI cable, the main difference is that a high speed cable uses HDMI versions 1.3 to 1.4a. This introduces features like deep color and 3D graphics. The bandwidth also increases to 10Gbps. The applications of these cables are similar to standard cables, with the added benefit of better coloring and the ability to watch 3D videos.

Premium High Speed HDMI Cable

You can achieve up to a 4K resolution with a high dynamic range (HDR) and a refresh rate up to 60Hz with a premium high-speed HDMI cable. The premium version offers transfer rates up to 18 Gbps and uses HDMI version 2.0 a and b. This type of cable enables reliable visuals with Ultra HD graphics. A premium high speed HDMI cable is an excellent option for design applications, such as Adobe’s Creative suite, and for playing games with up to 30 frames per second.

Ultra High Speed HDMI Cable

Ultra High Speed HDMI cables present video in up to 8K resolution and supply up to 48 Gbps of bandwidth. You can achieve up to 10K resolution and refresh rates up to 240Hz on an HDR TV or 4120Hz refresh speed for video data with lower resolutions. This kind of cable is optimized for HDMI 2.1 and primed for new technology, which makes it a great choice for tech enthusiasts. In the meantime, you can enjoy games with frame rates that exceed 30 frames per second and leverage all the features of HDR TV.

 Cable Type  Resolution  Refresh Rate  Bandwidth HDMI Version   Uses
 Standard HDMI  1080i or 720p  30Hz  5Gbps  1.0 to 1.2a  Watch standard HDTV, Blue-ray DVDs and media streamers
 High-Speed HDMI  1080p and 4K  30Hz  10Gbps  1.3 to 1.4a  Enjoy Deep Color and 3D graphics
 Premium High-Speed HDMI  4K  60Hz  18Gbps  2.0 a and b  Play video games with up to 30fps and use design software
 Ultra High-Speed HDMI  8K or 10K with an HDR TV  120Hz or 240Hz with an HDR TV  48Gbps  2.1  Play video games with over 30fps and leverage all HDR TV features

HDMI Cables by Distance

Once you decide which classification of HDMI cable you need, you should then determine how long you need the cable to be. Try to select a cable that is just long enough for your application and to maneuver connected devices.

Passive Cables

A passive HDMI cable has one 19-pin plug on either end and can transmit data in either direction. It doesn’t matter which end is plugged into the input and output ports because the data packets can flow both ways. Passive cables are perfect for distances up to 15 feet and do not need an external power source to work.

Active Cables

Active cables, also called amplified cables, have two connectors like a passive cable, except one connector head has built-in amplification electronics. Most active HDMI cables have an internal power source, but some need an external supply. These cables are monodirectional and labeled so you know where to plug them in.

Cat5/Cat6 Fiber Optic Cables

To cover a sprawling business complex or campground, you need Cat5 or Cat6 cabling. The HDMI video source connects to a transmitter, and the display plugs into a receiver. The Cat5/Cat6 cable sends signals between the transmitter and receiver. HDBaseT is a newer type of Cat5/Cat6 cabling that carries IR remote control and serial signals in addition to HDMI.

Reigning in the Cables: How to Determine the Best HDMI Cable for Your Needs

When making your selection, use this HDMI cable buying guide to find a product that fulfills your current needs and has enough length to connect your devices. For cabling in hard to reach places, it’s a good idea to choose cabling that exceeds your needs so you’re prepared for upgraded technology.

No matter your needs, CDW has a wide range of HDMI cables from which to choose.