Frankenstein Cables

If you’ve been shopping for Audio/Video or computer products recently, you may have noticed the prominently displayed High-End, Super-Polymerized, Silicone-Jacketed, Digital-Ready, High-Resolution, Triple-Shielded, Ultra-High-Speed, Oxygen-free, 100% Copper, Gold-Plated, M*****r Cables. (I will call them “Frankenstein Cables”; names have been changed to protect the guilty.)

No matter the brand name, you will know them by their prices. Any cable that costs more than a DVD player is definitely a Frankenstein cable.  They look pretty and very Space-Age, but are they worth the money? Unless you like leaving your cables where your friends can see them and go, “Oooh!” or you just like spending money, No. You will probably never see the difference in picture and sound between a $5 cable and a $50 cable. Maybe I should call them “Vampire Cables” – they’re certainly good at sucking money from your wallet!

Unfortunately, manufacturers have found out that 5 cents worth of gold plating equates to 10 or 20 dollars more in profits. Yes, gold is expensive, but when you can plate it on just a couple of atoms thick, an ounce of gold will plate lots of cable ends. Does it help? Theoretically, yes. Gold is an excellent conductor of electricity, and it doesn’t oxidize. But nickel is almost as good at a fraction of the price, it just doesn’t look as cool.

The manufacturers of home entertainment equipment have spared every expense on the included cables; They are the lowest quality money can buy. The idea is to give you something you can use out of the box, and they will probably work just fine. If you do decide you want better cables, there’s no need to mortgage your house. Even the basic cables on sale at the big box stores are horribly overpriced. The stores make most of their money on accessories, not computers and TVs. Online stores such as monoprice.com that specialize in cables can save you hundreds of dollars over local prices.

What about computer cables? They would like you to think that because computers are more complicated than TVs, premium cables are more necessary. Not true, and here’s why: With the exception of HDMI cables, most home entertainment signals are analog. An analog signal looks like this:

If a cable cannot carry the signal properly, it might look like this:

This is called “clipping,” and results in distortion in sound or picture.

A digital signal, on the other hand, looks like this:

A digital signal has only 2 states: on or off. Said another way, it’s either “there,” or “not there.” This means that as long as there’s a sufficient difference between the on and off signal, the most expensive cable in the world won’t improve things. The cable either works or it doesn’t.

Armed with this information, you can cheerfully ignore any advice to spend big buck$ on an HDMI cable, or any other cable. Go out and have a lobster dinner instead. You’ll probably still come out ahead!

This post has been adapted from my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now! Click here to read all about it.

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