Passive Vs. Active HDMI Cables -  All You Need to Know

What is active HDMI? How does it differ from passive HDMI? Do you need a passive HDMI cable or an active one?

The questions around HDMI are many. One important aspect of enjoying quality display revolves around the HDMI cables. This is also where active and passive HDMI comes into the picture. 

We bet you're confused and need some straight answers. So, here is our take on active vs. passive HDMI and how to choose the right cable for your needs.

First, we will share a few words on HDMI cables.

Maximum Length of HDMI Cables

Standard HDMI cables are called passive HDMI. They are bidirectional and can be hooked up to connect a video source and an HDMI display. Passive HDMI cables are the natural choice for most people, as they are affordable and work both ways.

Unfortunately, passive cables have one big restriction- they are not very long. You are bound to experience signal attenuation that takes a toll on the quality of the picture. Or, in other words, your HDMI signal loses its strength over long distances.

Passive HDMI cables can run up to 20 or 30ft if they are exchanging HDMI 2.0 signals. After that, your signal will become weaker, resulting in a loss of quality. 

The optimal cable length of newer standards like HDMI 2.1 is even less. A passive HDMI 2.1 cable with a 48Gbps data exchange rate will support a length of a maximum of 10ft. As we said earlier, most people will be okay with that as 10ft will cover most homes easily. You can connect your game consoles, displays, and PCs without any difficulty.

After 10ft, a passive HDMI cable will not be able to maintain the 48Gbps rate. You will need something else to enjoy the full bandwidth of HDMI 2.1 over long distances. 

That's exactly where active HDMI cables come in!

What is Active HDMI Cable

Active HDMI cables are your answer to the distance limitations of HDMI passive cables. They come with an on-board processor to amplify the signal over long distances. You can enjoy the full 48Gbps bandwidth of HDMI 2.1 for as long as 25ft without any loss of quality. 

Active HDMI cables can help you connect your display with 4K or 8K sources even if they are far apart. The cables can also pack additional features introduced by the manufacturer. 

You can also go for HDMI 2.1 active optical cables to send your signals over longer distances. They are high-end cables and made of fiber optic to support distances of up to 30ft. Even then, you will not experience any loss of quality or signal attenuation.

Active HDMI cables have durable shielding for carrying 4K or 8K over considerable lengths. You can also take advantage of 120Hz gaming without any challenges.

Any standard HDMI cable is a passive HDMI cable. An active HDMI cable is optimized for amplifying signals over long distances. Both cables have a few differences, which we will explore below.

Active Vs. Passive HDMI Cables: What Sets Them Apart

The obvious differentiator between active and passive HDMI cable is the supported distance. Active HDMI cables will carry HDMI signals without any loss for up to 25ft. Passive HDMI cables, on the other hand, can run up to only 10ft to support the full bandwidth of HDMI 2.1.

Here are the additional differences-

Processor or Amplifier

Active HDMI cables pack an amplifier to strengthen the signal. You can easily distinguish between an active and passive HDMI cable by looking at it. Active cables will have a box or adapter that contains the amplifier.

Passive HDMI cables don't manipulate the signal and don't have any processors. They look like just any ordinary cable.

Source of Power

Active HDMI cables come with an amplifier. As a result, the cable needs additional power to drive the processor. Generally, active HDMI cables can draw power from the devices at both ends. Some cables may also have an external power adapter. Without power, an active HDMI cable will not work.

Passive HDMI cables, on the other hand, have no processor and don't need power. You can just hook them up and enjoy your favorite movie.

Direction of Signal

Passive HDMI cables are bidirectional, meaning they can carry data both ways. As a result, you don't have to worry over which end you are connecting to your devices. 

Active HDMI cables can carry data only in one direction, from the source to the display. They have connectors that are marked to help you hook up your systems. You can't just connect any connector to your devices and expect it to work.

Cost

Passive HDMI cables are the cheapest of the lot. They don't have additional equipment and are your best choice for shorter distances.

Active HDMI cables, with their processors, can cost many times more than a passive cable. 

How to Choose the Right HDMI Cable

The differences between active and passive HDMI cables are not noticeable if your cable is within 10ft. You will not feel any change in the quality of your signal or picture. 

Most home users will be okay with a passive HDMI cable. They cost less and are easier to operate. You can hook them up without worrying about connectors and still enjoy flawless picture and audio. Plus, they also don't need any additional power to work. You can even use them for newer standards like HDMI 2.1, albeit within 10ft of distance.

Go for an active HDMI cable if you are using newer formats like HDMI 2.1 over long distances. You will need an amplifier if you want to enjoy a 48Gbps data rate once you go past 10ft. Longer distances will surely need a processor to make up for the loss of quality.

Active HDMI cables will help you connect your source and display easily for 20 - 25ft. You will enjoy full bandwidth and high-quality pictures.

You may also need an active HDMI cable to connect multiple displays. 

Choose a cable based on your needs to enjoy performance and affordability. 

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