Sound Advice: Beware pricey cable scams

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 12, 2011 - 3:32 PM

Is there any way a cable can make things look and sound better, or is it really just the scam it seems to be?

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Q Given what you have written in the past about expensive HDMI cables, I had to tell you about this weekend's experience at a big-box retailer. I was cringing over $495 wiring packages and overheard a salesman successfully push a $95 package on a customer by saying, "You bought an excellent TV; you don't want the cable holding you back." It was all I could do not to pull the customer aside and share your advice.

How is it that people still fall for this? Is there any way a cable can make things look and sound better, or is it really just the scam it seems to be?

A I haven't written about the expensive cable scam in a good while. As you can see, it is ripping off people every day.

The short answer is, yes, it is a scam -- and a shameless one at that. Retailers are certainly entitled to a profit, but selling something for $100 or more by claiming special properties for it is just wrong.

Imagine that you are in an ordinary department store, and you see a single dinner fork for $95. The fork has an impressive name and beautiful packaging, and it appears to be well finished and made of good quality materials. It is just a fork, though. What could possibly make this simple utensil worth $95?

You read the advertising copy on the package. It says, "When eaten with this fork, sweets will have a more sublime flavor." Another line reads, "More tender, juicier meats" followed by "better digestion" and "lifetime guarantee."

Since you use a fork every day and have common sense, you know better than to think a fork can change the taste of what you eat with it. So it is with HDMI cables. Manufacturers can tout "reproduces all colors" or "highest definition video," but any functional cable does exactly the same thing.

HDMI cables transmit a purely digital signal of 1s and 0s. Digital either works, or it doesn't work. If there is something wrong with the cable, you'll immediately notice problems. If you have a good quality cable with a solid connection and adequate shielding, the results are 100 percent perfect whether you spend $5 or $500 on the cable.

In my living room, I have a $13,000 TV connected to a $5,000 video processor with an $8 HDMI cable from Monoprice. I would certainly pony up $95 for a cable if I thought it would make a difference. Knowing that it won't, I saved the money. I feel sorry for the customer who spent $95. That money could have gone toward a better TV.

You can find good-quality HDMI cables for $10 or less at Monoprice (www.monoprice.com), Amazon (www.amazon.com) and Eden Prairie-based My Cable Mart (www.mycablemart.com), to name a few. If you purchase them at a local retailer, you can expect to pay more for the convenience and its overhead, and that's fair. Almost $100 for a short cable is out of line, though.

Submit questions and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.

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