Tobias is an online writer who likes to keep up-to-date with the latest technology trends.
The terms "4K" and "Ultra High Definition" have become increasingly popular in the past few years. There are now many industries that are mad about the new 4K hype. To get the best out of your new TV sets and computer monitors, new HDMI cables are being offered to provide 4K resolution. But do you really need them?
Do I Need a New Cable for 4K?
The short answer to this question is probably not. Unless you are using hardware from over a decade ago, it is unlikely that you need to purchase a fancy new cable to enjoy 4K television. Don’t be fooled into buying expensive HDMI 2.0 cables or “4K HDMI cables”. There is no such thing and there never will be! However, if you are dealing with HDMI 2.1, then some new cables may be a necessity. I'll explain that further below. Read on to find out all about 4K resolution and why your current cables will probably get the job done.
What Is 4K?
4K simply refers to the display resolution that is common on modern television sets. The specific resolution is 3,840 horizontal pixels and 2,160 vertical pixels; the 4K refers to the nearly four thousand horizontal pixels. This is an increase from the previous standard of 1080p, which had a resolution of 1920 x 1080.
You often see abbreviations like 4K, 4K2K, Ultra High Definition, Ultra HD, UHD, Quad Full HD, QFD and 2160p. You should know that all of these terms mean the same thing. They all refer to 4K picture quality, which transfers a large amount of data. This requires appropriate hardware.
Not only must the TV set support this ultra high resolution (which is usually done through sheer size), but other components such as graphic cards and software (drivers) must handle these huge amounts of information. 4K-ready HDMI cables are key as the serial interface between the 4K signal source and the high-end television set.
What Kind of HDMI Cables Are There?
Here are the main types of HDMI cables on the market. Cables are differentiated by their speed and maximum bandwidth. Note that newer cables are compatible with older versions of HDMI on various devices.
- Standard: This offers a maximum bandwidth of 10.2 Gbps and supports up to 1080p HD resolution. This type of cable is fairly obsolete and does not offer 4K output.
- High Speed: This offers a maximum bandwidth of 18 Gbps and supports 4K UHD resolution up to 60Hz.
- Ultra High Speed: This is the latest cable that offers a maximum bandwidth of 48 Gbps. This cable can support 8K UHD resolutions at up to 60hz. While 8K TVs are not common, these cables do offer the best refresh rates for 4K resolution.
You should read this article to make sure you don't confuse HDMI cables with other types of cables.
What Are the Different Versions of HDMI?
There are different types of HDMI that a TV can have. Newer models will have newer versions. A cable or device that uses an older version could work with a newer TV. However, it won't utilize the TV to its full potential. Here is a brief look at the different versions of HDMI.
- HDMI 1.4: This supports 4K resolution up to 30Hz.
- HDMI 2.0: This supports 4K resolution up to 60Hz. Later updates added support for HDR video
- HDMI 2.1: This is the latest version. It supports 8K at 60Hz and 4K at 120Hz.
Does Every HDMI Cable Support 4K Ultra HD?
Virtually all HDMI cables manufactured today should at least support HMDI 1.4. This is the oldest version that supports 4K resolution. Most cables and TV models from recent years support HDMI 2.0. However, when it comes to cables, the important detail to take note of is the speed rating.
After the version numbering for HDMI cables was dismissed a few years ago, HDMI cables nowadays are classified as either Standard, High Speed or Ultra High Speed. These types differ in their maximum transfer rate, i.e., bandwidth.
- Standard HDMI cable: 4.95 Gbps
- High Speed HDMI cable: 10.2 Gbps
- Ultra High Speed HDMI cable: 48 Gbps
As you can see, faster cables provide higher performance. Most of the cables you can buy in stores today are High Speed. If you happen to find an old cable that has been lying around for a few years, there is a good possibility that it is a Standard cable. This will not support 4K.
How Do I Recognize a High-Speed HDMI Cable?
If you want to make sure that your HDMI cable supports Ultra HD 4K resolution, you have to look for the HDMI High Speed logo on the cable’s packaging.
Some cables may have the High Speed label on them. However, this is not very common. If you want to be 100% sure that you have the right cable, you might want to buy a new one.
Since nearly all HDMI cables provide the same display quality, you don’t want to worry too much about choosing a new cable. As long as it carries the High Speed logo and has a fair price, everything is fine!
HDMI Connector Types
In addition to different speeds, HDMI cables can have different connector types. You have to make sure the cable you get will actually plug into your device. Here are the different types out there.
- Type A: This is the standard connector that you will use the most. You will need this kind if you want to connect your Blu-ray player or game console to your TV.
- Type B: This is a type you will most likely never use. It is a dual-link connector that was intended to be faster than of a single-link connector. HDMI 1.3 increased the speed of a single-link connector, making this type lose its unique function.
- Type C: This is a mini connector that is often used on DSLR cameras and tablets.
- Type D: This is a micro connector that is frequently used with devices like smartphones.
- Type E: These are specifically designed for automotive HDMI cables. These have a shell to prevent dirt and moisture from interfering with the signal. They also have a locking mechanism to prevent the cable from becoming loose in a car.
Keep in mind that if you don't have the right connector, you may be able to use an adaptor. This article on connecting a Macbook to a TV highlights this.
What About HDMI 2.1?
HDMI 2.1 was released in 2017. It offers 8K resolution and higher refresh rates. This version will require a new cable if you plan to utilize HDMI 2.1 to its full potential. You will need an Ultra High Speed cable.
For the time being, 8K content is nearly non-existent. Only a few TV models offer support, but this will certainly change in the next few years.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: What about length considerations? I sure don't think every high-speed HDMI cable will perform well with increase in length, say over 30ft. Surely you do need special 4k branded cables to prevent signal loss in such instances. Right?
Answer: For HDMI 2.0 cables the length should not exceed 30ft. While longer cables could eventually work as well, they are not officially supported by the HDMI standard. The brand does not make a difference; both branded and unbranded cables will struggle here.
Question: Can HDMI 2 support adding Atmos to 4k?
Answer: HD Audio is also supported by HDMI 2.0
Question: What about the refresh rate of a monitor? That should be taken into account if you are into games.
Answer: If your equipments supports high refresh rates (60Hz) @ 4K, you should make sure that the HDMI cable supports these refresh rates as well for 4K resolutions.
Question: Is there any such thing as a proprietory HDMI cable?
Answer: No there aren’t any proprietary HDMI cables. But mind different versions such as Highspeed and Premium HDMI Cables. Not every cable supports all features that HDMI is capable of.
Question: Well, these days everyone should be equipped with proper HDMI 2.0 cable to support 4k@60?
Answer: If you are buying a new cable and don't care too much about the price - probably yes. However, if you just want a cheap solution for your existing equipment, think twice.
Question: Is HDMI 2.0b even a real cable? Is HDMI high speed over Ethernet called by Verizon the "2.0b"?
Answer: The addition „b“ is relevant when using content with HDR (high dynamic range) color spectrum. Otherwise, there’s not much difference to HDMI 2.0/a
Question: What is a good HDMI cable tester?
Answer: Your eyes and ears! Honestly, you don’t need special equipment to check the quality of your HDMI cable. If your signal is flawed you will notice so by screen artifacts, display lags or audio jumps.
Question: Do you need a sky HDMI cable to work a 4K tv with the skybox?
Answer: No, any HDMI cable will do.
Shiva on July 21, 2020:
What do you mean by an active HDMI cable and Passive HDMI cable?
Tobias (author) from Germany on July 06, 2020:
@Adeymcg The 1.3b Splitter isn’t enough for HDMI 4K. Replace with a splitter that supports HDMI 2.0 at least.
Adeymcg on July 06, 2020:
Hi, hope someone can help, recently bought a hdmi 3 way port splitter for my 4k TV and DVD player plus 4k cable TV. Now the picture is grainey 4k the seller says it's not the splitter but what I can find the splitter supports HD 1.3b, supports 1080p, supports 250MHz/2.5Gbps what is 1.3b? Never heard of it is it that old? Seriously are these specs enough to support 4K???
joseph C on October 10, 2018:
Do you know any specific manufactures to look out for in particular who are trying to sell the HDMI 2.0 Cables/4k HDMI cables that do not actually support 4k?
Also I am a little confused, are you saying that manufacturers of these cords are actually saying they are hdmi 4k cords and they do not support it - or are you saying that you can get the same kind of cord for way cheaper and the manufacturers are trying to pull a fast one by jacking up the price of the 4k cables?
Tobias (author) from Germany on July 22, 2018:
KM, thanks for your comment. To which inaccuracy are you referring concretely?
Will Hansen on April 11, 2018:
Stay with top end on the new HDR tv's. Fusion4k is a safe bet and decent price for what you get.
Tobias (author) from Germany on February 21, 2018:
Richard, the 17.8 Gbit is a good indicator. To be completely sure, however, you'll need to test it. Alternatively you could look for cables that explicitly support HDMI 2.0(a/b).
Richard Howard on February 18, 2018:
The following is from a supplier and only mentions 1.3 and 1.4 compatible in the description. Will it be 2.0 compatible so I can get 60fps? I need for 4K content on my ps4 pro. Is the key the 17.8 gigabit and therefore everything else should be ok?
Ideal For Gaming, HD and 3D Viewing
FULL HD 1080p, 1440p, 2160p Compatible
Lab tested to 17.8 Gigabit
Tobias (author) from Germany on January 14, 2018:
James, your existing HDMI High Speed Cables should work. However, if you want to be sure, you can buy one of the $6 HDMI High Speed Cables linked in the article above. They will work with 60Hz@4K because they completely support the HDMI 2.0 Specifications.
James on January 13, 2018:
Hey Tobias, could you explain what you mean by the 'HDMI connector itself'? I am about to buy the 4k player, and considering upgrading cables as want to achieve 60fps. My cable is high speed with ethernet - how can i know if i need a new one or not?
Tobias (author) from Germany on December 14, 2017:
Techie - that is true, but only for the HDMI connector itself. Talking about cables you can use the ordinary HDMI Highspeed Cables for HDMI 2.0 and 60 fps without any problem most of the times.
Techie on December 08, 2017:
This is a dangerous article as it doesn’t mention that 8Gbps hdmi will limy you to 30 FPS. HDMI 2.0 transfers at 18 Gbps that allows 60 FPS.
bo huggabee on May 19, 2017:
i bought a 10$ 2.0 hdmi from walmart. i had a high speed sony cable before it about 5 years old now. the shorter cheaper cable has superior bandwidth, and if you know what that does for gaming with a 4k tv, then you need it. i noticed it instantly. the picture quality wasn't changed very much except for the benefits of the 80 dollar cables color technology. sharper smoother shading. the two cables have different tones though. very subtle only maybe an artist will notice. the 2.0 cable allows you to use your proper refresh rate with you tv, is the point. instantly i noticed a massive change in quality all around. my sony cable still sells today for 77$ on amazon. i bought the 10$ ge cable from walmart. thats the advancement in tech. while the picture quality holds up over time. the overall benefits of bandwidth greatly outweigh a choked signal. you get to see the beauty more often. and if your tv has a good refresh rate, you'll be seeing a consistent 60 fps compared to the inconsistent and subtle drops i had before. i am looking for a cable that combines the benefits of both.
Timmy cross on April 15, 2017:
if hook a top of the line high speed hdmi up to a regular 1080 TV will make it better or do nothing at all
Asrar Hassan on January 17, 2017:
All I know is I'm using a cheapo $4 HDMI cable and getting 4K 60hz ;)
Tobias (author) from Germany on January 10, 2017:
Hi Jeffrey, the cable linked in the article above is completely fine for "high speed" applications. No worries :-)
Jeffrey Shelley on January 09, 2017:
I noticed the cables you have the link for on Amazon don't have the "high speed" logo on them. Is this what I need for my 4k TV? Thanks.
hi on December 21, 2016:
HDMI Versions vs. HDMI Cable 4K
Full 4K support was introduced with HDMI version 1.4. However, you can only be sure with cables certified as "High Speed" to support the high bandwidth requirements of HDMI 2.0. Cables classified Version 1.3 mostly don't work for HDMI 4K functionality. The following list will give you a rough orientation.
•HDMI cable 1.0 – 1.2 – no 4K Ultra HD support
•HDMI cable 1.3: Probably no 4K support depending on the cable
•HDMI cable 1.4: 4K support very likely, but not guaranteed
•HDMI High Speed Cable: 4K Ultra HD support guaranteed
SandyJ-60601 on November 24, 2016:
Marcy, the content displayed may also make a difference. Is your source really 4k resolution or is it 1080p (or lower) being displayed at 4k resolution? You may be getting a pixelization effect. They are probably displaying 4k or 1080p content that was specifically made to show off great resolution or great cinematic effects. If you are trying to compare that to the quality of reruns of Family Feud or MacGyver (circa 1980's) then their's just no comparison.
Dave on November 19, 2016:
Their TV is calibrated, yours is not. If this "electronics store" was Best Buy, they have their signals coming in through a source with much better quality than you do. They also have their lighting set up with TV picture quality in mind. You can pay to have your TV Calibrated to look as good as it can, but for the most part, it will always look better in the store.
robert on September 28, 2016:
you should go back to the store and buy the new hdmi high speed 4.9 cable..youll see
Marcy G on September 24, 2016:
I bought a vizio M SERIES 4k 55 inch tv and it's great but when I go into a electronics store and see a D series vizio with better resolution than mine??? I ask how is that more clear than my new 4k tv ?? He said did u hook up a HDMI high speed 4k cord and I said no and he showed me several it was 29.00 at target I brought it home and there's no difference what am I doing wrong?? Can someone,tell me wazzz up please.
Dane on July 11, 2016:
mmmmh...I see Amazon basic selling HDMI High Speed Cable as 1.4. I think people should also look for HDMI High Speed Cable and 2.0 together. Some companies will put HDMI High Speed Cable and actually mean HDMI 1.4