Hey guys: I just got back from meeting with Noel Lee from Monster Cable, along with a posse of affiliated ladies and gentlemen, and their heavy equipment. I was there to talk to them about the fact that they sell—and have convinced a lot of retailers to sell—very expensive cable ($120 for 2 meters, last I checked). At the same time, there are cheaper non-Monster cables available on the Internet. My simple question Why? resulted in an organized, technical 2-hour response. I won't give you the blow-by-blow, but I have information that might make this debate interesting, and a bit more three-dimensional.
Let's start with my allegation about Monster, which isn't mine alone, because Lee helpfully pointed out the gist of it in the opening of his presentation:
I say, since everything is digital, and since HDMI is a spec, the cheap cable will get the data from point A to point B as well as any other cable. Additionally I say that if there are subtle (i.e. videophile-grade) differences in cables, the average consumer isn't going to spot them on the TV.
Am I wrong? Monster says yes, but in Lee's elaborate answer I felt both his POV and mine were justified.
Here are Monster's truths:
Bandwidth is King. The requirements of 1080p and beyond is what separates from the high-end cable from the knock-offs. This is the same as Ethernet cable, in the sense that a cable certified for HDMI 1.3a "Highspeed" will guarantee greater throughput. The newest spec, 1.3a means just over 10Gbps of bandwidth. Standard 480p requires less than 1Gbps, the current 8-bit 1080p requires 4.46 Gbps, but the next gen 1080p formats will require nearly 15Gbps, more than the highest certified HDMI cable can support. (See chart if you can, if not I'll try to get a better one up later.)
Not all cables are the same. During Lee's slideshow, he demonstrated via X-Ray slides that pricier cables (OK, Monster's) have a smaller chance of wear and tear damage at the point where the cable meets the connector. t's a concept that's easy for any musician to understand—remember all of those shorting-out patch cords?
Even if it has an HDMI-style connector, it may not be certified HDMI. You have to look for the HDMI logo, says Steve Venuti of HDMI Licensing. There are tons of knock-offs, especially the bundled or online cables, since you can't look at the packaging when you buy. Really high-end cables will certify other things, such as HDMI 1.3a and even "Highspeed."
Just because digital information is made up of ones and zeros it can still degrade, especially over distances. I get this now, because it's not about the digital info just getting there, like packet data. It's video, so it's about the digital info getting there at the right time to make sense. It's also audio, and over distances, there's a greater chance that audio and video will get out of sync. The following pictures show a test that they run that measures data throughput. In the interest of brevity, I'll just say that the more those lines crowd the center, the greater the risk of having crappy video.
This is what it looks like when a low-grade 10-meter cable tries to handle 720p:
This is what it looks like when a Monster 10-meter cable tries to handle 1080p: Differences in cable are easily spotted by untrained eyes. A PS3 feeding 1080p signal to a Samsung 1080p LCD TV starts to jitter and throw digital noise lines across the screen if the cable can't hack the bandwidth. We tested the two cables above on a PS3 showing a Blu-ray of Chicken Little and it was totally noticeable, there were lines and jitters, none of this videophile matter-of-opinion stuff that I had anticipated. It was totally obvious, and something that Monster says people often blame on their TV, not their cable.
Future proofing and heavy-duty cable are crucial for in-wall installation. This probably made the most sense of all. Given the fact that in-wall cable is longer than others, you'd need something that can handle the bandwidth. (In fact, when it gets to 50 feet, you don't have many choices in the cable world for that reason—Monster says it's soon headed for 100 feet of HDMI.) Couple that with staples, kinks and other weirdness that might happen with in-wall installation, and the fact that when you upgrade your TV, you don't want to have to re-do your drywall, and Monster has a good point.
Lest you think I be drinkin' Lee's Kool-Aid, here are my caveats to Monster's truths:
• If you are going from any source to a 720p or 1080i TV set, you should really be in the clear using a full-on crappy ass cable.
• As long as you're not doing installing the wiring in your wall, start with the crappy cable. If it sucks and you only paid $20 for it, go back and spend more on something certified.
• In the demo, Monster even proved that good components can offset crappy cables: that PS3 and that Samsung 1080p were able to work around much of the problems, all the more reason why, in a non-custom non-in-wall installation, you should try out the lower grade stuff first.
So listen, you've heard it from me: there are differences in cable, but there are also differences in technical requirements. We don't all need $120 cables for our components. As to the question of why Monster won't offer a lower-priced product in recognition of these differences in technical requirements, Lee told me to "stay tuned."
OK people, let's hear it. Go ahead and vent.