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Grow Your Business Technology

Stop Paying So Much for HDMI and USB Cables

HDMI cable Credit: Shutterstock/Allexxandar

If you provide computers and/or monitors to your employees, then you know that expenses for the cables required can add up depending on how many seats you have. You don't want to spend too much, but you want to make sure you're getting dependable accessories for your office. It's easy to overspend on computer cables, mostly because retailers offer "high-quality" or "ultra" cables at hundreds of dollars. Avoid wasting funds on these unnecessarily extravagant cables.

HDMI cables used for connecting computers or other media devices to TVs, monitors and projectors are currently the most common cables for this purpose. They come in two varieties, per HDMI.org: standard and high-speed. The key difference between the two is compatibility, with standard cables only able to display up to 1080i resolutions and the high-speed able to handle up to 4K resolution. Most retailers price high-speed cables only slightly higher than standard cables, which have been getting phased out anyway.

Beyond these two differences, not much sets apart different HDMI cables in terms of picture quality. The cables are merely a connection between two devices, and there aren't any special features that will make your picture or audio quality better. Certain brands price their cables sometimes higher than $100 because of features such as gold-plated connectors or 4K compatibility. Gold connectors do nothing to enhance the quality, and all high-speed cables can transfer 4K.

Some features that make certain cables more expensive that you may want to consider are length and protection. Because of HDMI cables' design, the longest one can run and carry a signal without any electrical enhancement is 10 meters. Cables longer than 10 meters usually have extra technology such as repeaters or amplifiers to carry the signal, which makes them more expensive.

Another feature to consider is insulated shielding for the cable. If you plan on placing the cable somewhere there's a risk of damage, then a protected cable may be best, but it will usually cost more. There are also fire-rated cables that are made for running within walls if you're concerned with fire safety.

If you just need a short cable for a simple setup, and there's no difference in quality between low-end and high-end cables, you may decide to buy the cheapest cable you can find. Internet vendors or local dealerships can offer HDMI cables for a few bucks, sometimes as low as $2. However, there is the possibility of receiving a cheaply made or counterfeit product from these sources.

According to the Counterfeit Report, unauthorized dealers and websites have been known to sell fake cables, labeled as a legitimate brand such as Monster. These cables either don't carry a signal properly or don't work at all. Be wary of purchasing cables with minimal packaging. Be especially wary when ordering from overseas wholesalers. To be sure you're buying a legitimate cable, look for the HDMI Premium Certification seal. It has a QR code that you can scan to confirm its authenticity. If you shop with a trusted retailer, then you should be fine.

Spending $5 to $20 on a high-speed HDMI cable should suit your needs for a simple office setup just fine, unless you have specialized needs for cables with extra length or protection. Spending any more is overkill.

Much like HDMI, USB cables are a digital format, so as far as data transfer goes, expensive cables won't perform any better than cheap ones, since the transfer rate depends entirely on the devices you're connecting. The one aspect where certain USB cables can outperform others is their charging capability. Certain cables can carry a larger current, allowing you to charge your devices faster, while some charge significantly slower. However, fast-charging USB cables don't have to cost that much either.

Usually USB cables packaged as phone or tablet chargers are priced higher, but you can find fast-charging cables in the same store for cheaper. Look for cables that list "quick charge" as a feature, or look for the cable's electrical current output. Current is the speed that electricity travels, so the larger the current, the faster the charge. A 2.4-amp cable is typically the fastest you can find.

Other than charging speeds, connecter type and cable lengths, USB cables are identical. Dropping $60 on a USB cable that touts gold or brass connectors for high speeds doesn't get you much more than status. [See Related Story: Best USB Type-C Accessories and Cables]

The same unauthorized dealers and fake cables exist in the USB world as do in HDMI. And bad cables can do damage. One Google engineer destroyed his Chromebook testing USB Type-C cables he bought from Amazon. So it doesn't hurt to read the user reviews before you click "buy." Also, Amazon has since banned any cables not officially compliant with the standard specifications issued by the USB Implementers Forum. When it comes to HDMI cables, look for those built to HDMI Forum specifications to be safe.