Wednesday, October 3, 2012

HDMI Cables

Interconnect cables have evolved over the years starting with RCA single-ended, maturing to differential, then optical, and today the various flavors of HDMI. With each advancement came promises of simplicity and assured perfection in connectivity. However as time passed, perfection was not always achieved and the old saying of garbage-in garbage-out held fast.

HDMI cables are a wonderful concept for connecting all video, analog, and network signals from one device to another via digital transmission schemes permitting only ones and zeros to pass between them.  The theory is that in a digital signal, there is no way for anything to degrade because of the simplicity of digital technology.  Well, that's the theory anyway and for most of you high-end videophiles, you are already aware of the significant differences between so-called perfect HDMI cables.

So what's up with this? In theory it should work but in reality it does not.  I own several flavors of HDMI cables all connected to my Samsung 52" 650 series television (which I love BTW and have resisted replacing because of not only its good video quality but its fine built-in DACs).  I recently connected a DIRECTV DVR to it since my wife loves football (and she REALLY loves football). So out of the box it came and connecting it with my extra 1-meter BetterCables Silver Serpent HDMI cable we were ready for the NFL.

After turning it on, I immediately noticed a huge edginess and pronounced sibilance region up until that time was not present on any of the other devices already connected to the Samsung. While the video quality was pretty good, the audio quality was terrible. Back to the drawing board.

Hoping that it was a burn-in issue, I tolerated the annoying sssssssssssssssssibilance for about a week and then realized that it was not going away.  Swapping the HDMI cable with a Monster M series 1.3a 1-meter version, hoping for the best.

Normally, I do not like Monster Cable products since they have a tendency to color things a bit unnaturally but I had this one lying around and decided to give it a try. The results pleasantly surprised me.  While the audio anomaly of sibilance still persisted, instead of it being sssssssssssssssssibilance it changed it to ssssibilance, the best way I can describe it in words. The edginess to the sound is now at least tolerable.

So with this improvement, I decided to start checking the obvious beginning with absolute electrical phase, aka chassis leakage.  Results: yes indeed there was a minor issue with the LNB power supply but a quick swapping of the leads on the power transformer resolved that issue. However, the ssssibilance problem persisted and I was left scratching my head again. Eliminating the common problems pointed to the source of the problem as inherent to the design of the DVR.

Additional investigations following my normal troubleshooting steps still uncovered no additional built-in issues I could solve externally.  Putting it another way, there was nothing wrong with the system or the way it was connected.  Yes, the problem is still there today but I am very tempted to unbutton the lid on the DVR and start poking around. So far, I have resisted doing this willing to try a few more HDMI cables loaned to me by friends and audio-video salons.

For now, we listen to the DVR at low levels so that the fingernails-on-the-blackboard effects of the poorly designed do not make their way to our sensitive ears. If one of you readers could point me to a solution you may have uncovered, I would be eternally grateful.

So folks, this is a plea for help. I hope that at least one of you have solved this problem and are willing to share with others what you did.  Until then, I'll be lisssstening to over-the-air signals when critical sound is essential.

Yours for higher fidelity,
Philip Rastocny

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