The Truth About Monster Cable, Part 2

Cable_Test_Setup.jpg Last Monday, Brian and I had a chance to run down to Monster HQ in Brisbane, CA to run some tests for the HDMI Cable Battlemodo.

This time, we brought along a bag full of awesomely priced cables, mostly from Monoprice, that we were ready to run bandwidth tests on, side-by-side with Monster's finest (and most damned expensive) cables.

What were our findings?

1) At short distances up to 6ft (2 meters), you can pretty much get away with any cable.

Not all cables are the same, however, and in truth, it's the medium-priced cables that may be the real rip-off.2) At longer distances, cheaper cable tends to choke up. A 720p signal will make it, but even today's standard 1080p signal can fry out inside of a long cable that isn't built as well. If you are trying to hook up a 1080p projector on your ceiling to a Blu-ray or HD DVD player, this is a concern.

The tests, which fired digital signal through the cable to synthesize high-definition video, can be divided into REAL-WORLD requirements (720p and 8-bit 60Hz 1080p) and FUTURE-WORLD requirements (12-bit 60Hz 1080p and even 12-bit 120Hz 1080p). Mind you, the future formats don't exist now, so they should only be a concern when you are buying cables you intend to keep for five years, such as those you want to build into a wall.

OK, you got the results, now, don't you want to see how the test was done, and see what we saw?

Look at the pic above. The box on the left is an Anritsu Pulse Pattern Generator. To simulate high-def video, it sends signal down one of three paths within an HDMI cable, so its signal at any given time is ONE-THIRD the bandwidth of that video format. The list of bandwidth tests we ran is as follows:

REAL WORLD • 720p 8-bit 60Hz = 742 Mbps (x3) • 1080p 8-bit 60Hz = 1.65 Gbps (x3)

FUTURE WORLD • 1080p 12-bit 120Hz = 4.455 Gbps (x3) • 1440p 12-bit 120Hz = 8.24 Gbps (x3)

When the signal was sent out over the cable, its performance was measured on a Tektronix DSA8200 Digital Serial Analyzer. The argument goes like this: it may all be 1's and 0's, but what is being sent over that cable is electric current. When too much data is sent over a shabby cable, the device on the other end can't tell what is a 1 and what is a 0. The end result is video that is either jittery, full of digital snow, or flat-out not there.

The Tektronix display shows two arcs, a high ridge that stands for the 1's and a low ridge that stands for the 0's. As bandwidth increases, you will see that the arcs get fuzzier, and at the failure point, there are too many 1's that look like 0's, and vice versa.

Bear in mind, in some cases, if the cable failed at one level, we didn't go on to the next. Likewise, if we knew it passed the higher test, we might not go on to a lower test.

Monster Cable 2-meter ($120)

FUTURE WORLD 1080p - PASS Monster%202m%201080%2012.jpg

FUTURE WORLD 1440p - PASS Monster%202m%201440.jpg

Monoprice 6ft HDMI 1.2a ($4.79)

REAL WORLD 1080p - PASS Monoprice%20Cheap%201080p%208.jpg

FUTURE WORLD 1080p - PASS Monoprice%20Cheap%201080p%2012.jpg

FUTURE WORLD 1440p - FAIL Monoprice%20Cheap%201440.jpg

Monoprice 6ft HDMI 1.3 Category 2 Certified (Price unavailable, but fairly cheap)

REAL WORLD 1080p - PASS Monoprice%201-3%201080%208.jpg

FUTURE WORLD 1080p - PASS 1080p%2012%20Monoprice%201-3.jpg

FUTURE WORLD 1440p - FAIL 1440%20Monoprice%201-3.jpg

XtremeHD 2-meter HDMI 1.3 ($20)

REAL WORLD 1080p - PASS XtremeHD%201080%208.jpg

FUTURE WORLD 1080p - FAIL XtremeHD%201080%2012.jpg

FUTURE WORLD 1440p - FAIL XtremeHD%201440.jpg

Monoprice 6ft Heavy-Duty CL2 ($15.44)

REAL WORLD 1080p - PASS Monoprice%20HEAVY%201080%208.jpg

FUTURE WORLD 1080p - PASS Monoprice%20HEAVY%201080%2012.jpg

FUTURE WORLD 1440p - (CLOSE) FAIL Monoprice%20HEAVY%201440.jpg

Monoprice 35-ft In-Wall CL2 ($35.17)

REAL WORLD 720p - PASS Monoprice%2035%20720.jpg

REAL WORLD 1080p - FAIL Monoprice%2035%201080%208.jpg

FUTURE WORLD 1080p - FAIL Monoprice%2035%201080%2012.jpg

Monster 10-meter ($230)

REAL WORLD 720p - PASS Monster%2010m%20720.jpg

REAL WORLD 1080p - PASS Monster%2010m%201080%208.jpg

FUTURE WORLD 1080p - FAIL Monster%2010m%201080%2012.jpg

Monoprice 50-ft In-Wall CL2 ($53.64)

REAL WORLD 720p - PASS Monoprice%2050%20720.jpg

REAL WORLD 1080p - FAIL Monoprice%2050%201080%208.jpg

FUTURE WORLD 1080p - FAIL Monoprice%2050%201080%2012.jpg

You will notice that even the Monster 10-meter couldn't pass the Future World 1080p test. The Monster folks said they didn't have a 50-footer in the building that they could test with, but I suspect it would have done a little bit better than the Monoprice, possibly even carrying today's 1080p. But we did not test that.

Judging from these results, I would have to reiterate my original position, that it's best to skimp at short distances, but you don't want to be caught with the wrong cable installed in your walls. Even with the projector, it might be smart to buy a $30 cable first and see if it works, but be prepared, when upgrading your gear, to upgrade the cable too. Does it have to be Monster? Hell no, but you might have to pay something close to a Monster-sized price.

The truth is, the bigger rip-off appears to be the $20 XtremeHD cable. It didn't perform as well as stuff one-fifth the price. (No wonder they don't sell a 10-meter cable.) I would say beware of mid-priced cable of dubious origin. Our dealings with Monoprice lead us to believe that at least they know what they're selling, even at such a tremendous discount.

Stay tuned for HDMI Cable Battlemodo: The Truth About Monster, Part 3, where we try to match the laboratory results with basic, in-home testing. If the Digital Serial Analyzer said a cable fails, but it works just fine in my basement, maybe I'll have to call BS.