Searching For Tivo & HDMI Cable Insanity

tivohd_wremote_rf_300rgb440I hate to admit this, but on December 24th my wife and I went to Best Buy looking for a last minute gift. We decided that her younger brother needed a Tivo. Ours is a three Tivo household, although only TivoHD sees any real use these days. One you get used to having a DVR you want one on every TV, and radio too for that matter.

Though we’d had two SD Tivo units for years when we bought or HDTV we initially got the Time Warner HD-DVR instead of Tivo Series 3. The Tivo Series 3 units were $800 at the time, more than we were willing to pay. That experience was enlightening, like stepping back into the dark ages. What crappy menus, and basically no intelligence at all in the software. The CableCo DVR was simply dreadful.

When TivoHD became available in 2007 Stella bought me one for my birthday, we were both so sick of the CableCo DVR. Anyway, her brother needed a Tivo…and Best Buy seemed like a likely source.

We found them in the store, which was about as busy as you’d expect for Dec 24, but there was only the display model in the Series 2 SD units. There were a few HD units boxed on the shelf. We decided to inquire as to the back room inventory.

That process took a while as the one clerk in the section was busily checking out a man who was buying a BluRay player and 50 inch LCD-TV…a total of $4500…in cash. The process of handling all that cash was very slow. The buyer counted it out, then the clerk recounted, then a manager was called to triple check the count. All the while I waited patiently…sorta.

During this time I noticed that the guy with all the cash was being nailed $140 for a 6 foot HDMI cable! Wow! What sucker!

hdmi_cable_270x270We bought our HDTV two years ago in December 2006. A Sharp Aquos, it was the very first true 1080p capable LCD offered. That model was made available only a few weeks before Christmas. HDMI was still very new and cables were expensive. I paid $80 for a 3 meter HDMI cable back then, and thought that was highway robbery.

In my day job I deal with production grade HD signals routinely. These are generally passed as SMPTE-292M serial digital signals over coax cable terminated in BNC connectors. That’s 1.5 Gbps uncompressed HD video over coax. In this environment we appreciate that high quality cable is “a good thing” for many reasons, but these are all quantifiable based upon known electrical properties. There are issues of capacitance, impedance, frequency response, interference rejection, reflection, etc.

However, the thought of $140 for a short terminated cable is simply insanity. Someone sees you coming! The story they tell you to sell that wire is pure, made for consumers, B.S.!

Quick! Someone call Penn & Teller!! We got us a program idea!!!

partsexpressdec08flier In the digital domain the signal tends to be either useful or not. It’s called the “cliff effect.” The signal can degrade down the wire considerably and still be completely recovered by the electronics at the receiving end. That’s the nature of digital signals. They’re there, until they’re not. They don’t degrade gradually. The picture doesn’t get “snowy” like an analog TV with a weak signal.

Of course, the process of mining and refining unobtainium is expensive. But it’s well known that longitudinally asymmetrical bidirectional hemispherical woven unobtainium is the only wire construction known to be able to accurately reproduce the precise blue of a clear Northern Canadian sky. Nothing else has the sheer emotional impact.

If you’re reading the package and you encounter language similar to the previous paragraph, or worse a salesman spouting such nonsense, you should put the package down and move on immediately. It 100% pure B.S.

Look, good HDMI cables can be had from places like CablesToGo for around $30 per 2 meter terminated length. This month’s flier from Parts Express (right) lists a 1 meter HDMI cable for $3.88!

Yes, gold is an excellent conductor. Gold plated connectors may offer an advantage in that they may not corrode over long periods of time. We’re not building the pyramids here. Even Radio Shack has modestly priced cables with gold plated ends.

To me this is just like old laundry detergent ads on TV, I can’t see the difference, can you see the difference?

It’s worth noting that you essentially never see consumer brand name cable being deployed in production environments. You’ll find Belden, Canaire, Mohawk and the like…sometimes Monster Cable but never the likes of  Pear Cable as made famous by the ever popular James Randi. RCA leads for $1200/0.5m length! What folly!!

A good friend of mine, and Director of Engineering at a major broadcast manufacturer once said , “Contrary to popular opinion, the electrons don’t like the pretty wires better.”

Best Buy didn’t have the Tivo we needed, but Fry’s was just down the street, and not nearly as busy. They had stock so we were happy in the end.

  • I was going to post about Randi’s challenge until I got to the bottom and saw you had already mentioned it. The cable crazies are a fun bunch. When we’re talking about digital interfaces like HDMI it seems to be impossible to get those guys to understand that it pretty much works or it doesn’t, there is not really any room for a cable to just slightly screw with things.

    On that note, this is a fun one from Denon. $499 for a 5 foot ethernet cable. I love my Marantz (owned by Denon) hardware, but that’s ridiculous.

    Another pair of cable suppliers I’ve had good luck with are Monoprice and Blue Jeans Cable. Blue Jeans uses only Belden cables with Canare ends so they’re where I go for inexpensive quality, monoprice delivers for absolute dirt cheap while still being decent quality.

    • Yeah, that’s cute!

      Have you ever noticed that they’ll sell you a multi-channel power amp with 10 channels, each capable of providing 150 watts into 8 ohms, all channels driven. That same amp is rated to draw only 120vac @ 12 A.

      The amp can’t deliver 1500 watts into load if it only drawing 1440 watts from the wall. It can’t be 100% efficient, even if it’s class D.

      Then they say, delivers 300 w/c into 4 ohms. That’s great! With only 1800 watts available from the wall (120v x 15a) it can output 3000 watts (10 ch @ 300w) Right.

      Makes me wanna warm up my Mister Scott impersonation. “Ye canna change the laws ‘o fisicks!”