Monday, July 27, 2009


My son and I were at Best Buy the other day and saw an HDMI cable for $150. He turned pale.

You see, he's been trying to convince me to get a new, high-definition computer monitor, partly by saying we could also use it as a TV. The $150, he noticed right away, was more than the cost of the monitor he wanted.

Is that possible? The cable costs more than the monitor? No, it's not.

In fact, we'd been home for less than 10 minutes when he found a comparable cable online for less than $40. That's a big difference -- more than $100.

Now, Best Buy would probably argue that its expensive cable is far superior than the cheaper cable. Some unfortunate suckers will probably believe it. CNET doesn't:

CNET strongly recommends cheap HDMI cables widely available from online retailers instead of the expensive counterparts sold in your local electronics store.
That's right at the top of CNET's "What HDMI Cable Should I Buy" page. CNET says it's tested a lot of different cables, from brand name to generic, and hasn't found a bit of difference in quality. It calls high-priced cables a "rip-off" and says you shouldn't pay more than $10 for a six-foot cable.

Popular Mechanics came to the same conclusion after its own eyes-on testng. Gizmodo came to a more nuanced conclusion based mainly by comparing the outrageously-priced Monster cables to cheap ones. Still, the testers at Gizmodo suggest starting with a cheap cable and upgrading later, if you think it's worthwhile.

The testing mirrors my experience with other kinds of cables and accessories. I've used cables to extend USB, monitors, keyboards, mice and more, and the expensive ones haven't performed any better than the cheap ones. I'm sure there are limits, but I haven't found them yet.

I ordered an amazingly cheap USB car charger from a company in Taiwan. Auspiciously, it arrived early. Not so auspiciously, the package read: "Universal great authority to you everywhere." For less than $2 it's hard to complain about the translation.

Inside the package was a cigarette lighter plug with a USB jack on it, a cable with a USB plug on one end and a generic power jack on the other, and an adapter to convert the generic jack to a Nokia power plug. It all seemed a little flimsy, but it's outlasted the phone by a couple of years now and still going strong.

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