Without HDMI cables, connecting a source or input device such as a Blu-ray player, game console, media streamer, smartphone, or digital camera to any output or display device (such as a television or an external monitor) wouldn’t be that simple.
HDMI cables offer diverse capabilities based on the bandwidth or data signal transfer speed, and the cords used for the different tasks could vary.
While these different kinds of HDMI cables are pretty good at what they do, are they “digitally flexible”? In other words, do these cables have a single direction, or can signals travel through them both ways?
Read on to find that out and gather other pertinent information.
Do HDMI Cables Work Both Ways?
Click image for more infoHDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) cables help transfer audio and video content between devices.
An HDMI cord has two ends: one end picks up data from the source device, and the other end supplies that to an output device, like your external monitor or TV.
As mentioned above, there are different kinds of HDMI cables.
But in the interest of this write-up, let us not focus on each variant and sub-type available and broadly classify them as:
Passive cables are bi-directional, or they work both ways. It doesn’t matter which end of the cable is plugged into the output or input device. Because the signal moves both ways, passive cables are also called “non-directional cables”.
Active HDMI cables are not bi-directional. The two ends of the cable have respective tasks to carry out. One end receives the signal, and the other end delivers it. Active lines are, therefore, also called “unidirectional” or just “directional”.
Active cables have a built-in circuitry that helps them transfer data signals over much longer distances than passive cables.
How to Identify Directional Cables from the Bi-Directional Ones?
Older HDMI cables did not come with any labels or logos denoting their direction.
The ones produced now have their ends appropriately marked, making things more convenient for the user. The labeling has become an industry standard, and it’s rare to see an active cable not making their input and output ends identifiable.
For instance, this Cable Matters Active HDMI Cable has two ends as “display” and “source”. The Monoprice 30 Feet Active HDMI Cable , too, has its extremes marked.
Some active cables use arrow signs instead of texts to indicate their direction. The arrow on one end directs away from the input device, and the other indicator points toward the output device.
If an HDMI cable you picked up is not identified (no words or signs, for instance), check the product box or the manual.
Another sign an HDMI cable is the “active” kind is its length and thickness.
A passive HDMI cable can be up to 25 feet (7.6 meters) long. If the cable is longer, it’s likely an active cable.
Also, active cables are relatively thinner than passive cables, which helps them remain fairly flexible and easy to manage.
What Happens When You Insert a Directional HDMI Cable the Wrong Way?
A passive cable is bi-directional, and it doesn’t matter which end gets plugged into which device (source or output).
With active cables, however, the correct cord insertion matters.
If a directional cable’s ends are swapped, or the source end is inserted into the output port on a device or vice versa, you’ll be greeted with a blank screen on the display device.
Rectifying that is pretty straightforward, however. Just switch the cable’s ends. Fortunately, you’ll not be damaging the active line by inserting it the wrong way.
However, if the cable is part of a permanent fixture, such as your home theater, running behind drywall, fixing it would mean some serious work and will cause you to regret.
Thankfully, it’s rare to see people using the wrong ends of their active cables, especially with the ends of most active lines correctly marked and the nature of the thread mentioned on the packaging.
Even if the cable is not correctly labeled or the manual doesn’t mention the cable’s direction in bold letters, it’s natural to double-check things or do a trial run before setting the cord in place permanently. That shall help eliminate confusion and confirm things.
Bi-Directional or Directional: Which is Better?
While it might seem that a bi-directional HDMI cable is more convenient due to its swappable sides, it’s not necessarily so.
As mentioned earlier, active cables have built-in electronics that let them function seamlessly over longer distances. A passive cable’s performance could be significantly impacted by how long it gets.
When it exceeds the maximum length, attenuation occurs, or the signal strength starts to weaken. The drop in signal quality could be due to proximity to other frequencies or cables, temperature, walls, wire insulation, etc.
Defects inside the cable could also be the reason. The longer the line, the greater the possibilities of internal flaws.
An active cable is not necessarily immune to attenuation, but it tackles that with great ease, thanks to its built-in signal boosters or amplifiers.
Choose an HDMI Cable Based on Your Setup Requirements
If you need an HDMI cable that’s longer than your average HDMI cord, or you want something that spans your entire room, an active cable is a natural pick.
Active HDMI cables – particularly the optical kind – can be several times longer than a regular passive cable and still not pose major image clarity or signal strength concerns.
It is impossible and unimaginable for passive cables to send data signals more than 100 feet long. That, however, is barely a feat for active HDMI cables.
However, the cable reach doesn’t imply passive cords are inferior or have no purpose to serve.
If you are hooking up an output and input device that are part of a temporary setup and relatively close to each other physically, you need not splurge on an active cable.
Because besides the ability to carry signals over a longer stretch, an active HDMI cable is not superior to the passive cord in any other way.
While shopping for a passive HDMI cable, just make sure you do not buy the most inexpensive cable out there, to ensure cable quality and reliability.
You’ve got more than a few options when it comes to high-speed, robust passive HDMI cables. The following are some of them:
- iVanky 4K HDMI Cable
- Monoprice 115428 Certified Premium HDMI Cable
- Belkin Ultra HD High-Speed HDMI 2.1 Cable
- iBirdie 4K HDR HDMI Cable
To conclude, HDMI cables can be bi-directional or work in a single direction. And as alluded above, both have their places. Therefore, pick your cable based on your requirements or learn which HDMI cable type meets your needs the best.
Kindly note, HDMI cable direction has no say in the quality of the signals transferred. The price is also not indicative of performance. Just make sure the cable is built well and comes from a recognized brand (preferably).
Catherine Tramell has been covering technology as a freelance writer for over a decade. She has been writing for Pointer Clicker for over a year, further expanding her expertise as a tech columnist. Catherine likes spending time with her family and friends and her pastimes are reading books and news articles.