questionshow do i determine quality in hdmi or optical…

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You don't need expensive cables. I use cables from Woot ($3.99), cables supplied with equipment (Blu-ray, Roku, etc.), and cables I bought from Monoprice.com. Never had any problems. For technical explanations, see these articles:

http://www.cnet.com/news/why-all-hdmi-cables-are-the-same/

http://www.cnet.com/news/why-all-hdmi-cables-are-the-same-part-2/

http://www.cnet.com/news/still-more-reasons-why-all-hdmi-cable-are-the-same/

A lot of good information on cables and links to other articles on HD TVs and signals in the above articles.

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HDMI is a digital signal and if you are simply going from a DVD/Bluray player to your TV, even the cheapest ones will carry the signal without loss. If the cable is so bad, the worse thing you will encounter is no picture, not degraded video. I have never encountered a cable that bad.

Some HDMI cables have additional wires to support new advanced features such as ethernet over HDMI. At this time, few if any products support that technology so even those cables will not help with quality.

There is very little profit on TVs and bluray players. I suspect retailers only get about a 5% GPM on those product. So there is a huge encouragement for them to sell you add ons like extended warranties (huge profit) and $80 HDMI cables (even larger profit). They can actually make more money with the add ons than the original product. They confuse you into thinking they are necessary when they are not.

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My best suggestion is to buy from a trusted source (be it product reviews, trusted company, etc).
The selling claims made are generally worthless except for things such as supported resolution, 3d, etc. Those should all fall under their respective versions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HDMI#Versions)
Theoretically as long as you buy the version that you need or better, you should be fine. The only real consideration should be length of cable; the longer, the more signal degradation, the more risk of not getting data on the receiving end.
But be careful to avoid poor quality construction and components. They're simple, but some manufacturers will still cut corners. An HDMI cable poorly made will cost about as much as a reasonably priced, well made cable. For individual items I usually buy on Amazon and make use of Prime shipping. For bulk purchases Monoprice can be a good way to go. You can do well to get dirt cheap on Ebay if you're careful.

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They are all basically the same. Amazonbasics makes a pretty nice one, by which I mean they feel particularly durable.

These rosewill ones from newegg have good reviews too and are super cheap:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16882021128&nm_mc=AFC-dealnews&cm_mmc=AFC-dealnews-_-NA-_-NA-_-N82E16882021128

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HDMI cables are either off or on. Meaning if the cable is crappy it simply doesn't work. If it's not crappy then it works. There is zero difference in picture quality between a 2 dollar cable and a 90 dollar cable. Except price.

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Thanks, everybody! Great to know most HDMI cables are fine. Is the same thing true for fiber optic cables?

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@glynis37: Pretty much the same deal. You can't go wrong buying at monoprice. It's cheap and it works. And if they sell you something that doesn't work they'll stand behind their products.

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The cable is digital. It either works or it doesn't, and it is really that simple. The only reasons you have to buy a more expensive cable is if you need a shielded cable (unless you live next door to a radio, tv, power, or radar station, you do not likely need one) or need to run a long cable (past a certain length, shielding will become mandatory). Another possibility would be maybe a flat cable because it looks nicer. Or you might have a special case where you need a 90 degree plug or some other special angle.

For any other reason - you do not need it! Buy the cheapest one. If it works, you are good. If it doesn't, return it and buy another.

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@glynis37: The same thing is true for fiber optics like TOSLINK, More money might get you a bendier or more sturdy cable, but it is not necessary. Fiber optic cables aren't even affected by electrical interference, so there is no need for shielding either.

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Just because a data stream is digital does not mean it works or does not! In particular, HDMI data streams carry a bunch of error correction and the protocol has a lot of room for handling lost data. If you have an electrically noisy cable you make still get the HDMI handshake but get some degradation. If the degradation get's bad you may have to turn the TV off and on to get another handshake which is sure sign of a marginal cable. However, having said that, I'd vote for the Amazon basics or those from Monoprice.

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This is a road quite a few people have gone down.. these guys tested one of the super "high end" Monster cables ($150) against a generic one.. Apparently the cheap one was better in torture-testing.

Almost all of my cables were less than $1.

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I bought 10 HDMI cable for $10 last year from another type of close out site.

I use them in gaming systems, Blu-ray and my satellite box. No issues what so ever.
Also picked up an optical cable from mono price for about 5-6 bucks for my Bose system,
they wanted $40.00 in the Bose store for one.

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@mkentosh: $40? Is that all? Wow, must have seriously been cutting you a deal for just $40 retail. That's like 3' store brand pricing.

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Also beware that the longer the cable that can have an effect on the speed the tv will recieve

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@inellybberee335: True but since electrons move at the speed of light, you would need a very long cable to notice any timing difference.

More importantly than the speed the TV receives is the resistance of the cable gets larger as the cable gets longer causing a drop in energy. There becomes a point where the cable can be so long that the signal strength is not good enough to receive a signal. For those long runs, it's recommended to use something other than HDMI cables. Some people use HDMI to Cat5 conversion for longer runs.