Product Review

Monoprice.com: Entry-Level Cables that Everyone Can Afford

January, 2007

by Sandy Bird


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Specifications:

  ● Component Video: $12.54 for a 6 Foot Set ● HDMI: $6.37 for 6 Foot Cable ● Speaker: $24.95 for 100 Feet, 12 Gauge ● DVI/HDMI Adapter: $4.97

 

Monoprice

www.monoprice.com

Introduction

Well let me start with the fact I believe that cables make a difference in the performance of your A/V system. Good cables let you experience the full potential of the system, and bad cables will make the best systems look and sound like rubbish.

As important as good cables are, price and style have almost nothing to do with what makes a good cable. There are some very bad cables that cost a lot of money and there are some very good cables that can be had for a bargain, but the opposite is also true. Some very expensive cables are top quality and have connectors on them that make superior mechanical connections to devices. To make a long story short, good cables are about technology and not marketing or price.

Recently, I moved from the world of analog video, to digital video, basically going from a CRT-based projector with RGBHV inputs (think old school analog), to a newer DLP unit with HDMI (think latest digital technology) inputs.

As you might expect, I purchased this new projector online and of course forgot to purchase cables with the unit. This forced the required trip to the classic brick and mortar stores such as Best Buy, Circuit City, and others, to purchase some new cables on a whim.

After this visit, I became disappointed with the state of purchasing cables for the average consumer. The least expensive HDMI cable Best Buy sells is 3 feet long and costs $49.00, but this cable was not in stock during my visit. The cheapest in stock cable was $99.00, but it was 6' long to its credit. This was a surprise to me. I asked the sales person where the inexpensive cables were, and he explained that these were the cheap cables. He then attempted to up-sell the benefits of the $200+ Monster HDMI cables.

The sales person truly believed the Monster cables gave a better picture. I tried to explain to him that with a digital signal, cables simply work, or if not, they have very visible errors in the displayed image (like sparkles or green spots). I could describe the endless humorous details of this experience, but in the end I left without a cable and found some advice from a few trusted friends on the industry.

A number of people pointed towards an online retailer called Monoprice.com. Their claim is that their cables deliver top notch quality for bargain basement prices. Looking at the site, I figured I was buying some cables that would resemble the quality of the cables you receive free in the box with a new $59 DVD player. Even though I was worried about the build quality, I went ahead and ordered some samples knowing I wouldn't be out a lot of money even if the cables were junk.

The package arrived as a standard oversized envelope that was quite heavy for only having four cables in it. Opening the package revealed several cables in individually sealed plastic bags. A very wise A/V industry member (and I can't remember who it was anymore) once said, "If your cables come in packaging any fancier than blister pack, you paid too much for them." These cables certainly passed that test, no fancy packing material here.

Looking at the Monoprice's selection of HDMI and DVI cables, it becomes obvious that the longer the cable, the heavier gauge wire the cables need to be made from. This make senses as resistance of a wire is proportional to the length (longer cable = more resistance) and inversely proportional to the diameter of the wire (thicker wire = less resistance).

Monocable.com basically balances these two variables to make sure the cables are certified to perform to the HDMI standards and pass signals up to 1080p. If you are looking for short cables (less than 15'), you can get cables as low as 28 gauge and as cheap as $5 for 3' and as much as $8 for the 15' version.

Looking at the longer lengths you will probably end up with 22 or 24 gauge cables which can go up to 100' and cost between $14 (3' - 24 gauge) and $131 (100' - 22 gauge).

You also get a couple of different options in terms of the outside of the cable. If you are like me and need to run 35' of HDMI cable through a wall and ceiling you will want to go with one of the CL2 rated cables for in-wall installation.

If you are looking for some prettier cables to connect components that are closer together you might want to get one of the cables with the net jacket applied (something we see on many cables that come in packaging fancier than blister pack). All you really need to know is that the cables get heavier and stiffer with increasing length, and that is another reason to use the short extension cable I mentioned above.

Monoprice.com makes a few other products that might interest the new converted digital video cable purchaser, such as DVI-to-HDMI adapters (photo shown at right) that can be had for about $5. That's way less than the price elsewhere.

If you read our site often, you probably already know a few of our writers, including our master and chief, John Johnson, are not very impressed with the HDMI physical connection (HMDI.ORG is making some changes, to appear soon).

The main reason for this is that the connector has no way of attaching it except for friction, so it comes loose from time to time and can be bent. Connections like BNC, DVI, and others all have a way of locking the connector to the jack.

The second issue is that the HDMI jack does not seem to hold up after a lot of use (in a reviewer's world, these get a lot of use). In this case you might end up having to send your display in for servicing if you manage to loosen the fit of the HDMI plug and jack. You don't hear complaints like this about DVI or BNC, because they are locking connectors.

Monoprice.com sells a short HDMI extension cable which can be used to connect the HDMI plug to the display device. You plug the extension cable into the display, and tape the short extension to the side or top of the display chassis. Then you plug or unplug your regular HDMI cable into the short extender. Whatever stress occurs, will happen on the extension cable, not the jack in the display.

Performance

In all my tests, these cables performed flawlessly. I started with standard signals such as sending 720p and 1080i signals from my HD-PVR to my projector. I also wanted to test the cables more thoroughly, so I connected my PC to a 1080p LCD panel using the 35' HDMI cable, sending a 1920x1080 signal at 60 Hz. Again no issues with the cable.

Conclusions

Monoprice.com delivers everything you could want in a cable: first rate performance at bargain prices. They even sell specialized versions for in-wall installations, or with pretty outside jackets to impress your friends. They also have all the adapters you could need (HDMI->DVI, etc.) and innovative connectors like the extension mentioned above.

I cannot give a higher approval rating.


- Sandy Bird -

 

 

 

 

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