Published on 17th Oct, 2013 by Cable Chick

The Truth About Cable Versions

The Truth About Cable Versions

In our technology driven world, both software and hardware receive updates to improve functionality. But what about cables? We cut through the confusion and tell you all about cable versions - and when they actually matter.
We hear a lot about HDMI versions and DisplayPort versions. They seem to have new ones every few years and each one brings with it a bevy of advanced features. But what about the cables? Do they change, too?

Many of our customers come to us on wild goose chases looking for a specific version of a cable which simply doesn’t exist. Another important classification is to understand the difference between functionality and capability. More about that later.

Which cables have versions? Which don’t?

In truth, not a lot of cables have true versions. Based on the stock we sell, only the following cables have variations that make a critical difference when purchasing:

  • DVI – There are four flavours of DVI including DVI-D, DVI-I, DVI-A and Dual-Link DVI
  • USB – The main ones these days are Version 2.0 and Version 3.0, plus a bunch of different plug and socket shapes, which we don't count as a version change.
  • Network/Ethernet Cable – Cat5 and Cat6 are both very common now
  • FireWire IEEE1394 – There are three speeds to choose from, each with its own plug shape

By contrast, the following cables don’t have versions (like v1.2 or v1.4a), but are commonly marketed as or mistakenly referred to as having a version:

  • HDMI* - We only stock full-function cables, but in a variety of quality levels
  • DisplayPort - The cables have never changed, but there are two sizes to choose from.

*HDMI technically has a ‘standard’ cable and a ‘high speed’ cable version. But we haven’t sold the slow ones for over 6 years. We unfriended them for good. We only stock fully-featured High Speed with Ethernet cables. They do everything, and there's really no point shopping for a lesser cable.

If you need to identify what plug/socket you have or need, our cable chart is the best one ever made. It covers just about every cable we sell.

What’s the difference between each cable with a ‘true’ version?

DVI is readily identifiable because the number of pins and their configuration on the cable ends change between the three main flavours. The hardest difference to spot comes on the Female sockets you find on display monitors and computers – sometimes the only tell-tale is the presence or absence of the 4 pin-holes which surround the flat bar.
DVI Connector Diagram

USB version 3 can be spotted because they generally colour the plastic inserts in the tips of the cables blue (or sometimes the whole cable is blue) and they sport the SuperSpeed USB Trident logo. For Type B and Micro B plugs, the difference is very apparent in their physical change - the extra pins have to go somewhere, so they added extra protrusions.
USB 3.0 Super Speed Example

FireWire is also easy to spot because each plug type looks totally different. If you have a cable which has two different plug types, the whole cable runs at the speed of the slowest one because there are fewer pin contacts as they get smaller. Fewer pins means fewer data lines, equalling reduced bandwidth.
FireWire Diagram

Category 5/6 RJ45 is next to impossible to determine. Unless you label them or colour code them like we do (beige/blue for Cat5, black for Cat6) only expensive testing equipment can know for sure. The good news is that Cat5 cable can already go very fast, and most internet and networking hardware you find in the home can’t go fast enough to benefit from Cat6 – not for a while yet, at least.

How do they determine which cables are which if there is no physical change?

Whether it’s freshly-baked silicon wafers or basic LAN cables, manufacturers use a process called binning to group mass-produced products into different quality levels. For a microprocessor, the ones which go the fastest in testing are sold at the highest price, with slower chips labelled as a mid-range, low-cost option.

The same goes for cables that are physically identical, such as Cat5 and Cat6, or HDMI v1.0 and HDMI v2.0. When they make ten thousand cables in one hit, not all of them will come out perfectly. Testing every cable tells the manufacturer if they are good enough to pass the bandwidth requirements for a high-speed link, or if tiny imperfections in the copper line, insulation or twist ratio have degraded this potential down to the next speed bracket.

The quality of the workmanship and materials is very important to ensure that the majority of cables made in a large batch meet the highest possible technical standard. Additionally, some cables require extra testing by an independent third-part, such as HDMI or VESA, to ensure that the requirements are met correctly.

This certification process is important to us, and we only stock compliant HDMI, DisplayPort and USB cables.

Do I need to match cable versions to my equipment?

Especially in the case of DVI and Firewire, you absolutely do. USB is backwards and forwards compatible for the regular Type A plug, but if you see a physical change then of course it needs to match. Likewise for Cat6 cable – if you know your equipment absolutely needs the additional bandwidth to operate, then by all means seek out Cat6 and use it when necessary.

For HDMI and DisplayPort, there is only one ‘version’ of the cable on our shelves today, and the only thing which can limit their capability to perform is their length and build quality. As mentioned earlier, many customers are erroneously told by hardware salesman that their DisplayPort 1.2 monitor needs a special DisplayPort 1.2 cable – but the truth is there is no such thing. The essence of DisplayPort 2.0 capability resides in the monitor, not the cable link.

All you need to do is match up your socket shapes (ie: Mini DisplayPort or Micro HDMI, etc) with our product photos and use cables as short as you can get away with for best performance.

If all HDMI cables are the same version, why do you stock more than one range?

All cables lose bandwith over distance. This concept is fully explored in our blog on Going the Distance - Maximum Cable Length Guide. For HDMI, there is no limitation on length specified by the HDMI industry body. However, cable quality has a definite impact on the performance of a cable.

Short distances, and direct connections between powered sources and displays require only the basic HDMI cable type. When going longer distances, or when connecting to swiches, splitters and unpowered (ie: mobile) source devices, a higher quality cable is required in order to ensure enough bandwidth is available for running your content at full resolution.

While there may not be a difference in functionality between our High Speed with Ethernet cables, their capability to perform is dictated by their build quality and intended application. Put simply, you can't daisy chain our cheapest 20 metre HDMI cables and expect the same performance as you'd get from Amped Onyx. Likewise, a long HDMI cable may have plenty of bandwith for 1080p in 3D, but may choke on a 4K resolution.

Still stuck?

We have a whole bunch of experts caged in our basement who rely on your technical questions for their food and water. Simply fill in the enquiry form on our Contact Us page and you can get the right advice first go. You could even save a life! ☺

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