You did your research, shopped around and know that you are getting the best value for your money on a new TV or computer. You’re excited to take your purchase home, but then the salesperson reminds you that your new treasure doesn’t come with cables. As you look at your options, the salesperson is really talking up the cables with the gold-plated connectors. You want to get the best images you can on your new TV or PC, but is the more expensive cable worth it? Simply put: no.

There are several things going on in this scenario:

  • First, in order to be competitive, stores sell TVs and computers at low margins—especially when those products are on sale. In order to recoup some of the costs, cables are heavily marked up. And I do mean heavily.
  • Second, a lot of brick-and-mortar stores like Best Buy offer incentives to employees for selling cables.
  • Third, brand-name cable manufacturers visit stores to explain why their cables are better than the no-name brand. So, along with getting an extra vacation day, the salesperson might actually believe that the Monster cable with gold-plated connectors will provide a better image—but it's not true.

Why price doesn’t matter

HDMI (TV cables) and USB (computer cables) are both digital cables. Digital cables either have the complete signal or they have nothing. Years ago when we had analog cables, like with VCRs, the picture could be fuzzy or have various degrees of clarity. With digital technology, the information is transferred in a series of zeros and ones. If there is a signal to receive, any HDMI or USB cable can get the entire signal, including all of the colors and sounds.

However, there are differences in the cable’s bandwidth (how fast the data is sent), and the difference in speed might impact the movie or game you are watching. However, all cables at the same HDMI standard and category (the current standard is HDMI 1.4; Category 2 for Hi-Speed) are the same speed—gold-plating and Mylar shields do not improve the speed or quality.

The savings

PC magazine did a blind test of HDMI cables ranging from $3–120, and users saw no difference when watching Blu-ray or 3-D movies. A basic 6-foot HDMI cable sells for $3.50 at Monoprice and is currently on sale at Amazon for only $2.49 (regularly $5.79). If you want to buy your cable in the store, buy the no-name brand. Best Buy sells a basic 6-foot HDMI cable for $5.49. For comparison, the 6-foot Monster-brand HDMI cable sells for $23.98, and an AudioQuest cable with pure silver connectors goes for a shocking $1,495.99. Compared to the AudioQuest cable, the Monster-brand cable seems like a steal—but now you know that even $23 is too much to pay!