August 26, 2010
| by Julie Jacobson
As we all love to do, HD Guru Gary Merson recently took aim at HDMI cable manufacturers who mislead with their product labeling.
The gist of his article is this:
Have you seen HDMI cables online or in stores labeled “120 Hz,” “240Hz” and “480 Hz”? It’s easy enough to slap such labels on HDMI cables but it’s a sham. … The same HDTV signal flows through all HDMI cables, whether labeled “120Hz” or “480Hz.” …
Clearly the intent of the refresh rate labeling is simply to confuse you into spending more money on HDMI cables than you need to. …
Monster, Audioquest and other HDMI cable makers mislead consumers by mis-labeling their step-up quality HDMI cables with the various refresh rates used by set makers to improve picture quality. The signal fed by an HDMI cable to a set never exceeds 60Hz.”
AudioQuest takes offense to Merson’s claims. (Monster Cable probably does, too, but we didn’t hear from them.)
CEO Bill Low posted comments on Merson’s story as well as our own rehash of the HD Guru article on sister site CEPro.com.
The pieces, he says, “make me smile and make me wince.”
The smile part is that I’m delighted to see deception and purposefully confusing claims taken to task, and I’m proud of how carefully I balanced responding to market pressure by only telling the truth. And, I wince at the less than perfect muckraking which is unfairly tarnishing AudioQuest.
Issue One: Refresh Rates
After giving us a long lesson on TV response time, refresh rate, and frame rate, Low concedes, “HDMI cable has next to nothing to do with any of them.”
Even so, he tells us, it isn’t a crime to suggest that a cable may be relevant to a certain refresh rate, just as (using Merson’s analogy) a garden hose might be labeled as especially well-suited for sod lawns.
And, when other manufacturers are doing it, it’s tough to compete without joining the rhetoric.
As Low puts it:
Because of the confusion in the general market about refresh rates and frame rates, because salespeople are also sometimes confused, because no warrior wants to go into battle unarmed ... AudioQuest received great pressure to put 120/240/600Hz on our boxes, or risk losing business.
Low says he went kicking and screaming into that battle, and finally came up with the verbiage that he says balances the “need” of the marketing department with the “truth” of HDMI engineering.
“I chose the words very carefully,” he says: “Delivers 100% of the data required for 120Hz, 240Hz and 600Hz displays.”
I happen to agree with Low’s assessment:
Who can read that and call it a lie? I carefully use the refresh rates as adjectives modifying “displays.” The cable “delivers 100% of the data required” totally true, not a shred of BS. If someone thinks this is misleading advertising, rather than simply harmless self-defense, then take a look at laundry soap commercials, much less diet plans.
He goes on to defend AudioQuest’s marketing by telling us that all AudioQuest HDMI cables carry the same messaging: “We don’t down-rate some models in order to make a more expensive model falsely appear to be more desirable.”
Issue 2: Cable Data Rates
There is one more major claim that Merson raises in his article: It’s misleading when manufacturers claim higher data rates than the HDMI specs call for.
“There is absolutely no picture quality advantage of purchasing a cable that is rated higher than the HDMI “High Speed” standard of a 10.2 Gbps!” Merson writes.
He highlights Monster’s shameless plug of a “Higher Performance” 17.8 Gbps HDMI cable.
Such claims are defensible, Low says: “Our experience at AQ is that past a point, past not much more than HDMI’s High-Speed requirement, higher bandwidth has no effect on audio or video performance ... but it’s not criminal for others to believe differently.”
Furthermore, he explains, since cable length is the enemy of data rate, manufacturers might look suspicious if they portray two different cables of different lengths but similar construction as having the same data rates.
Who’s Right, AudioQuest or HD Guru?
On the main points of the article, Merson and Low agree: 1) The scan rate of the TV has nothing to do with the cable and 2) data rates beyond a certain threshold don’t matter.
So why do manufacturers make consumers think that these data points are somehow relevant to HDMI cable? Low tells us that AudioQuest needs to play the same marketing game that Monster and others are playing. Who could argue?
Even so, the messaging discussed here sets a bad precedent. “By relying on misleading labels,” Merson tells us, “under-educated consumers will think they need to spend more money to buy a cable that gives them no added benefit.”
But there’s something that troubles Merson (and me) even more: “Consumers rely on salespeople to help them choose the right equipment, in this case the right cable,” he says. “But salespeople often rely on the package labeling.”
How many times do you ask for a salesperson’s help in selecting the correct product for your application and they simply do what you would have done anyway—check the labeling?
When in doubt, they will recommend, and you will buy, the product that looks like it fits your specific need—whether you need a hose to water your sod lawn or an HDMI cable to connect to your 240 Hz TV.
But Wait, There’s More
For Low’s entire 2,000-word response, including comments about audio-over-HDMI, see page 2.
Julie Jacobson is co-founder of EH Publishing and currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro, mostly in the areas of home automation, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. She majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. Julie is a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player with the scars to prove it. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.