Monster's 'Ultra HD' Cables: Essential AV Gear Or An Overpriced Crock?

Monster's new "Ultra HD Platinum" HDMI range is being billed as an essential purchase for anyone requiring the high-speed bandwidth demands of 4K video. On the downside, a single cable can set you back as much as $349. Is there any way this eye-watering markup could possibly be worth the money? Or will a $5 cable off eBay serve you just as well? Yesterday, Monster put its money where its mouth is in a live HDMI bit error face-off. Here are the results.

First things first: if you're simply looking to hook up your 1080p HD TV to a Blu-ray player or video game console, a Monster cable obviously isn't going to be worth the investment. As we have demonstrated time and time again, the quality of a HDMI cable makes little practical difference to the majority of users. Unlike the analogue TV signals of old, HDMI is digital which means you don't get a snowy effect or "softer" resolution: it either works or it doesn't.

The only significant downside to el cheapo HDMI cables is their limited lifespan: but even then, you're looking at a replacement cost of around $6. This means you would need to churn through more than 50 cables before you reached the same spend-level as Monster's flagship offering. It's therefore little wonder that many people consider multi-hundred dollar HDMI cables to be the A/V equivalent of snake oil.

However — as 4K/8K resolutions and higher frame rates slowly begin to creep into households, the HDMI cable you use will start to make a bigger difference. Whether this difference is worth spending a few hundred dollars on is debatable, however.

HDMI 1.4 versus HDMI 2.0

Since its inception in 2002, HDMI has gone through several iterations to keep abreast of the ever-evolving high-definition landscape. Over the past few years, HDMI version 1.4 has been the industry standard. This allows a maximum resolution of 3,840x2,160 pixels at up to 30 frames per second, or 4,096x2,160 at 24 frames per second.

At the time, this seemed sufficient to handle Ultra HD playback. As the technology developed however, it soon became obvious that the connection required more bandwidth to handle these higher resolutions and frame rates. This is where HDMI version 2.0 comes in, which supports 4K playback at up to 60fps (2160p).

As mentioned above, this doesn't really concern the average consumer, even if you happen to own an Ultra HD TV. But in years to come, the ability to access these higher frame rates will become more important: stuff like Avatar 2 in 3D or 4K video games running at 60fps won't be feasible on older cables. HDMI 1.4 either won't be able to handle this content or will suffer from digital artifacts and dropouts.

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Monster's new Ultra HD Platinum range all adhere to the HDMI 2.0 standard, which means they are future-proofed for years to come. Mind you, the same is true of countless HDMI cables released over the past year; many of which can be snapped up for as little as $20. So what else does Monster bring to the table?

A Monster or minuscule difference?

Monster's Ultra HD Platinum range have a refresh rate of between 60hz and 120hz depending on whether you plump for the standard or "Black" version. They support 7.1 lossless digital surround sound and boast cable-data rate speeds of up to 27.0 Gigabits per second.

They also come with a dinky inbuilt circuit that analyses the transmission rate and displays the current resolution on an LED indicator embedded in the cable:

We're not sure what the advantage is here — wouldn't you be able to tell if your TV was running in standard def instead of 4K by simply looking at the screen? According to Monster's product area manager Adam J. Hoffman, this is primarily aimed at technical novices and the elderly who might not trust their own eyesight.

Another feature Monster is keen to promote is its "Cable For Life" warranty. As its name implies, this means you will never have to buy another cable again. The main advantage of this warranty is that it also covers future upgrades: Monster will automatically replace your cable whenever higher bandwidth HDMI connections enter the market.

The only downside to this guarantee is that it only covers HDMI — if the industry moves to a completely different format in decades to come, you'll basically be stuck with your old cable. (Imagine if you'd signed up for a lifetime guarantee on composite cables in the '90s — you'd feel quite the fool today.)

But really, the chief selling point here is the extra bandwidth.

HDMI face-off

So how does Monster's top-of-the-range cable fare against cheaper options from the competition? In an attempt to demonstrate the Monster difference, Hoffman conducted a bit error rate test using signal generating hardware worth half a million dollars.

Facing the Monster Platinum Black was a 6.5 foot Belkin cable that retails for around $80 and a four metre offering from budget brand Ble. The results from the test can be viewed in the video below:

As you can see, the results were a bit of a mixed bag for Monster. While the Ble cable returned 27,744,200,000 errors, the Belkin model fared the same as the Monster Platinum Black, despite being a third of the price. With that said, the Belkin was a few feet shorter than the Monster, which gave it a slight advantage.

Based on this evidence, it would seem the only people who require a Monster cable are Ultra HD enthusiasts who need to feed an exceptionally long HDMI cable through their wall. Everyone else will be equally well served by a moderately priced HDMI 2.0 cable.

Originally published on Lifehacker Australia

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