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Fiber optic HDMI cables are now considered a must-have for many people worldwide. These cables consist of little groups of optical fibers protected by an outer, insulated covering and are used to transfer video and audio from one device to another. But are they worth it?
Fiber optic HDMI cables are worth it because of their superior bandwidth, greater security, and faster data transmission. You can use this cable to transmit huge pieces of data across the globe in seconds.
This article will help explain all you need to know about fiber optic HDMI cables, such as how the cables work, what they are, and when to go for one. It will also discuss the age-old question: are they better than copper HDMI cables?
What Are Fiber Optic HDMI Cables?
HDMI (short for High Definition Multimedia Interface) has become extremely common in many electronic setups. They are used for home theater systems, video game setups, and even conference rooms.
Many types of these cables have been invented, but only a few rival the versatility and performance levels of fiber optic HDMI cables.
A fiber optic HDMI cable performs the same function as a typical (majorly copper) HDMI cable but at a more efficient rate. Like many other fiber optic cables, they help to transmit data in the form of light pulses using fine glass or plastic filament.
While fiber optic HDMI cables look strikingly similar to conventional ones, their components are slightly different. Traditional HDMI cables use oxygen-free copper with a purity level of 99.95% to transmit information.
However, data transmission speeds using copper cables can’t match the transmission using fiber optics.
Compared to conventional HDMI cables, which can only carry a piece of data over 25 feet (7.6 meters), fiber optic HDMI cables can transfer data at distances of up to 200 feet (61 meters), making them suitable cables for transferring data between computers over long distances.
Conventional HDMI cables can also attain this data transfer over long distances, but they need amplifiers.
Not only is this more costly, but these amplifiers will also need some electrical power to stay functional. In most cases, transferring data using copper HDMI cables over long distances isn’t efficient or easy.
Interestingly, many fiber optic cables allow data transfer speeds of up to 18Gbps without interference or losing any signal, making them popular for streaming high-resolution videos such as 4K.
If you’ve ever wondered how an opponent always seems to get the better of you in highly-competitive games like Valorant, better HDMI cables could be the answer.
Currently, there are several types of HDMI cables, and all of them have a fiber optic variant. The strongest and latest variant of the HDMI cable is the HDMI 2.1.
HDMI 2.1 supports 4k@60Hz and 4K@120Hz and also has impressive refresh rates. It also has a bandwidth capability of 48Gbps, which is enough to provide video and audio to your TV or monitor at lightning-fast speeds.
Fiber optic HDMI cables are best used alongside displays with excellent display resolutions like this ASUS TUF Gaming VG289Q1A monitor (available on Amazon).
This 28-inch monitor comes with 4K resolution, which promises a crisp and clear display, coupled with a massive range of colors that further promote a fantastic gaming experience.
How Do Fiber Optic HDMI Cables Work?
Now that technological innovation has paved the way for devices with higher resolutions, cables have become a problem.
Although copper HDMI cables have long been used for home theater systems and other electronic setups, they are becoming obsolete as they do not keep up with the latest technology.
This problem gave birth to the use of fiber optics for HDMI cables. Like many fiber optic cables, these HDMI cables work based on light and a concept called total internal reflection.
Total internal reflection is the complete reflection of light from a surrounding surface back to the original medium rather than being refracted on the surrounding surface.
Since light keeps reflecting against either surface, it stays “trapped” between both. Since it also always reflects off each surface at an angle, it travels forward over time.
Think of the light as the ball in a pinball machine but instead of a square machine, the pinball is trapped in a narrow space.
This ability to catch the light and reflect it internally is what makes fiber optic cables so good and puts them far ahead of the competition.
Fiber optic cables use a group of glass strands as thin as human hair surrounded by an external coating called cladding.
This cladding is purposefully made with a lower refractive index than the fiber optic cables, which is how total internal reflection is made possible. Manufacturers usually do this by adding some impurities to the cladding.
Information in the form of light is transmitted through the fiber optic cable’s core—the middle of each glass or plastic strand. Bigger cores can often transmit more light through the cable than smaller ones.
All HDMI cables transfer information after data encoding has taken place. This process is known as Transmission Minimized Differential Signaling (TMDS). TMDS prevents signals from being lost and minimizes interference.
The sending device (typically media players or game consoles) performs this data encoding process and sends the information through the HDMI cord to the receiving device (typically TVs and monitors).
Converters are attached to both ends of the HDMI cable. These converters convert the data from the sending device into light and back into a readable signal for the receiving device.
Fiber optic HDMI cables work similarly to standard HDMI cables. From your point of view, you’d need to plug one end into your sending device (your source) and another into your receiving device (your display).
Should You Get Fiber Optic HDMI Cables?
Whether you’re trying to watch a movie or play games, you need an HDMI cable for that to happen. There are dozens of those in stores worldwide, but not all of them can provide you with the quality of media you want.
As with other cables, fiber optic HDMI cables have some benefits and downsides. Remember to consider these before making a choice.
Benefits of Fiber Optic HDMI Cables
The main benefits of fiber optics come from how it works. Since the cable uses light to transfer data instead of electricity, it leapfrogs many conventional problems cables have.
Here are a few benefits of fiber optic HDMI cables:
Longer Transmission Distance
Compared to the typical HDMI cables, fiber optic HDMI cables can send signals over a longer distance without facing electromagnetic and radio frequency interference. Also, signal loss is significantly reduced when using fiber optic cables.
Many conventional HDMI cables can’t handle sending electronic signals over long distances. After reaching a certain point (about 7.5 meters or 25 feet), the signal starts to weaken. Ultimately, you will get a choppy display that’s unpleasant to watch. In fact, it might not display anything at all.
When using a fiber optic HDMI cable, you also don’t need to worry about latency or jitters over long distances.
It sends signals from the source by transferring electronic signals into light pulses and back into electronic signals for the display to process. All this is done extremely fast, eliminating any room for latency or jitters.
They are Lighter than Normal HDMIs
Fiber optic HDMI cables are made up of optical fibers, which are significantly smaller than copper. This makes them much lighter than conventional HDMI cables.
These cables can fit in much tighter spaces, and you can carry them around easier than normal HDMI cables.
In addition to being smaller, fiber optic HDMI cables also offer good resistance to corrosion over time. They’re also resistant to radiation.
High-Quality Audio-Visual Effects
Copper HDMI cables mainly use electrical signals to transmit information from one device to another. While this was a groundbreaking revolution back in its day, its speed can’t keep up with today’s devices.
As such, you should expect that there can sometimes be a slight downgrade in video and audio latency, especially over longer distances.
On the other hand, fiber optic HDMI cables offer amazingly-fast data transfer speeds because they use lasers (light). As science has continued to prove, light moves much faster than electricity. Currently, fiber optic HDMI cables offer excellent audio-visual quality with no latency.
It Has Smaller Ports for Versatility
Interestingly, some variants of this HDMI cable come with smaller ports attached. Upon detaching the lower ends of these cables, you’d find smaller HDMI connectors underneath.
These miniature connectors allow you to connect with smaller devices like phones, tablets, and monitors with smaller port options.
Because of this, many people who want to connect huge displays to smaller devices tend to opt for fiber optic cables.
Downsides of Fiber Optic HDMI Cables
Now that you know all the upsides of fiber optic HDMI cables, here are some of their downsides:
They Only Work in One Direction
Unlike conventional HDMI cables, virtually all fiber optic HDMI cables can only transmit information in one direction. This is because amplifiers, equalizers, and filters are all built into the cable and cannot work in reverse.
This one-directional data transfer is one of the drawbacks of transmitting data and information over long distances with fiber optics. As a result, if you don’t install this HDMI cable correctly, it won’t work—all you’d see is a blank screen.
Because of this, it’s vital to plug your cable right-side in. While standard HDMI cables have no specific connector marked as input or output, fiber optic cables do.
This downside can be significant for difficult installations, especially when trying to run HDMI cables behind walls. No one wants to go through that stressful process only to find out that it was put in the wrong way!
Looking at the HDMI cable to know the correct direction would be best. Many manufacturers include an arrow icon or other indicators that let you know the proper end to insert into the source and display. Alternatively, you can check the product specifications.
You can test the connectivity order manually if you want to skip all this. Remember to check the product specifications before you make a purchase. If an HDMI cable offers two-directional data transfer, chances are that it’s not fiber optic.
More Expensive Than Normal HDMIs
Although fiber optic HDMI cables can save you money in the long run, they are significantly more expensive at the point of purchase. Conventional HDMI cables averagely cost between $10-$15, depending on their manufacturer, length, and other factors.
On the other hand, fiber optic HDMI cables cost between $25-$200. If you’re in the market for a new fiber optic cable, a good mid-ranger is the iBirdie 8K Fiber Optic HDMI 2.1 Cable (available on Amazon.com).
This option gives you 50 meters of wiring and allows 8k display at up to 60Hz. It also displays 4k at a smooth 144 Hz.
As good as fiber optic cables are, it’s a tough sell when they can cost more than ten times the amount of a standard HDMI cable. That said, there are a few cases where a fiber optic cable is a no-brainer option.
Fiber optic cables are good for people who need particularly long lengths of cable. They can also serve you well if you don’t mind shelling a few extra bucks to future-proof your setup.
While you can get by with standard cables right now, display technology is rapidly advancing, especially with the advent of HDMI 2.1. As a result, getting a fiber optic cable means you’re less likely to need a replacement in the near future.
However, a standard HDMI cable will serve you just fine, especially if you’re not too picky about getting the absolute best display. In the end, it comes down to preference.
Whether it’s for streaming games over long periods or watching movies from the comfort of your home, HDMI cables are extremely crucial. And there’s no better type of HDMI cable than the fiber-optic variant.
Although there may be even more technological innovations in the future that beat this HDMI cable, this is currently one of the best HDMI cables available.