Are All HDMI Cables 4K?

Since 4K resolution has almost become a norm on TVs and monitors, understanding different HDMI cable versions have also become quite relevant. Are all HDMI cables the same? Are All HDMI cables 4K? are some of the concerns that confuse the uninitiated.

Well, the short and simple answer to the question is yes. An HDMI cable sold in the last decade or so will most definitely be capable of carrying 4K resolution. However NOT ALL can carry 4K resolution at 60Hz refresh rate.

When we talk about the visual output from your TV or monitor, resolution is not the only variable. Equally important is the refresh rate. And in some instances, the color bit depth is also a significant variable.

The point being, just because a cable can carry 4K resolution DOES NOT mean that you will have the best viewing experience. It should also be able to particularly carry nominal range of refresh rate i.e 60Hz.

Hence, you have different version of HDMI cables. In the following text I will explain this in detail.

So Are All HDMI Cables 4K?

Yes, all contemporary HDMI cables are 4K. However, they are not all the same. The following table explain this.

HDMI Standard
Certification
Max Data Rate
Supported
Specs SupportedBest Port
Standard4.95 Gb/s720 or 1080P @ 60Hz<1.4
High Speed10.2 Gb/sFHD @ 60Hz
QHD @ 60Hz
4K @ 30Hz
1.4
Premium High Speed18 Gb/s4k @ 60Hz2.0
Ultra High Speed48 Gb/s4K @ 60Hz
8K @ 120Hz
10K @ 120hz
2.1

Hence, you can see here that there are different types of HDMI cables these cables are also referred to as follows:

  • Standard HDMI aka HDMI 1.1/1.2 cable (Obsolete)
  • High Speed aka HDMI 1.4 cable
  • Premium High Speed aka HDMI 2.0 cable
  • Ultra High Speed aka HDMI 2.1 cable

If you have cable bought in the last decade or so, then you probably have ATLEAST have a High Speed HDMI cable that is capable of running the specs of HDMI 1.4.

HDMI 1.4 cables supports 4K resolution. Hence, in that sense, almost all of the HDMI cables do support 4K resolution.

However, HDMI 1.4 cable support 4K at ONLY 30Hz refresh rate.

In order to get higher refresh rates at 4K i.e 60Hz or 120Hz, then you will need to get at least an HDMI 2.0 cable or the Premium High Speed cable.

Also Read: How to Check HDMI Cable Version?

Primer on Resolution, Refresh Rate and Color Bit Depth

There are three primary aspects that govern how much data a display interface produces. These include:

  1. Resolution
  2. Refresh Rate
  3. Color Bit Depth

The more data the display interface produces, the more robust an HDMI cable you will need.

What is Resolution?

Resolution is quite straight forward. It is the amount of pixels on the screen. The higher the amount of pixels, the sharper the image quality. 4K resolution is identified as 3840 x 2160 pixels. Similarly, Full HD has 1920 x 1080 pixels.

Resolution Illustration pixelation
Source: Wikipedia

What is Refresh Rate?

Refresh Rate is a very important concept that you need to understand particularly in order to understand why there are different versions of HDMI cables in the first place.

Refresh rate is essentially the amount of times the screen refreshes or changes the image on the screen. Typical TVs and monitors have 60Hz refresh rate. Meaning, they refresh or a show a new image 60 times in a second.

Video is a nothing but moving images, if the screen refreshes slowly, then you will notice stutters and lags.

While a screen refreshing 60 times is unperceivable by human eye as it happens to fast. If the screen were to refresh, say, just 20 times or 10 times in a second, you will visually be able to distinguish each and every frame.

And as a result, the viewing experience will be plain abysmal.

The following video shows comparison of 30Hz and 60Hz Refresh Rate:

Notice how smooth the 60Hz refresh rate is compared to 30Hz refresh rate.

Hence, while you can have 4K, 8K or even 10K resolution on your TV or monitor, if the refresh rate is low, your viewing experience will be less than ideal.

This is where the different HDMI interfaces and cables come into play. While all contemporary cables can carry 4K resolution, not all can carry at 60Hz, let alone 120Hz and even 240hz (more on this below).

Refresh Rate DOES NOT Equal Frame Rate (Concern for Gamers)

Frame Rate or Frames Per Second (FPS) is highly related to refresh rate, however, it is not the same particularly for gamers.

Refresh Rate identifies the amount of frames the TV or the monitor has the POTENTIAL to show. So a 60Hz and a 120Hz monitor or a TV has the POTENTIAL to show 60 and 120 frames in a second respectively.

Frame Rate, in gaming at least, is the amount of frames your graphics card or the gaming console can actually generate in a second.

Hence if you have a 60Hz PC monitor, does not mean that you will get a consistent 60 frame per second. No, that depends upon how good your graphics card is and on the graphics settings of the game.

What is Color Bit Depth?

color bit depth wikipedia
Difference in image with different color bit depths. Source: Wikipedia

Finally, we have another important parameter that determines the amount of data generated by the HDMI interface, Color Bit Depth.

This parameters isn’t too important for an average consumers, but for professionals this matters.

Color bit depth defines the amount of colors the display can show. It is represented in bits i.e 8-bit, 10-bit, 12-bit etc.

Average monitors and TVs are 8-bit and thus can show 16.7 million colors. Professional monitors are 10-bit or higher. 10-bit equates to 1 billion colors.

Higher the Specs, Higher the Data Rate

The three key parameters, resolution, refresh rate and color bit depth all contribute to the data rate or the amount of data being generated by the video interface.

Higher the specs, the higher the amount of data generated (data rate). The higher the data rate, the more powerful an HDMI cable you need.

You can use online calculators such as this one to calculate your data rate.

Cables Recommended for 4K Resolution at Different Data Rates

ResolutionRefresh RateColor Bit DepthData Rate
(Gbit/s)
RIdeal Cable
Version
4K (3840x2160)3086.18HDMI 1.4
(High Speed)
4K (3840x2160)60812.54HDMI 2.0
(Premium High Speed)
4K (3840x2160)120825.82HDMI 2.1
(Ultra High Speed)
4K (3840x2160)144831.35HDMI 2.1
(Ultra High Speed
4K (3840x2160)240854.84HDMI 2.1 with DCS
(Ultra High Speed)
4K (3840x2160)30107.73HDMI 1.4
(High Speed)
4K (3840x2160)601015.58HDMI 2.1
(Ultra High Speed)
4K (3840x2160)1201032.27HDMI 2.1
(Ultra High Speed)
4K (3840x2160)1441039.19HDMI 2.1
(Ultra High Speed)
4K (3840x2160)2401068.56HDMI 2.1 with DCS
(Ultra High Speed)

Also Read: Do Monitors Come with HDMI Cables?

You Also Need to Have Newer HDMI Ports

As alluded to earlier, there are different versions of the HDMI interface NOT just the cable.

In order to connect 4K monitor or TVs and get 60Hz refresh rate, you also need to have the source device that at least has an HDMI 2.0 out port.

For instance, if your PC or laptop has an HDMI 1.4 port, and you connect it to your 4K monitor, you will be limited to 4K @ 30Hz despite having a Premium High Speed HDMI cable and an HDMI 2.0 port on the monitor.

The latest and most powerful HDMI version is the HDMI 2.1. This can support upto 8K resolution at 120Hz refresh rate.

Also Read: How To Check HDMI Port Version?

FAQ

Are All HDMI Cables the Same?

belkin HDMI 2.1 cable
Belkin HDMI 2.1 cable. Look no different from any other standard HDMI cable.

No, while they may all look the same, they can vary drastically in terms of performance.

Read in detail here: How Many Types of HDMI Cables Are There?

Do You Need 4K HDMI 2.0 Cable?

If you want to run your TV or monitor at 4K resolution and at 60Hz refresh rate, then you will need an HDMI 2.0 cable.

The older HDMI cables can only support 4k @ 30Hz refresh rate.

Final Words

So are all HDMI cables 4K? Yes, they are. Unless you have an HDMI 1.0 or 1.2 cables released all the way back in 2002 and 2005 respectively – which you mostly likely don’t – then yes, all HDMI cables can be classified as 4K.

4K support was released with HDMI 1.4 dating back to 2009. This was also the time when HDMI was becoming more and more widespread with multimedia interfaces.

Prior to this VGA, DVI and analog interfaces were more popular for monitors and TVs.

However, not all cables carry 4K signal the same way. Hence, you have different versions as talked about above.

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Author:

Atif Qazi
Atif Qazi is the founder of PCGuide101. He is a digital nomad who loves everything PC. He is a PC builder, tech enthusiast, engineer, and a lover of single player lore-rich RPG games.

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