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Are HDMI Cables Backward Compatible?

Find out if HDMI 2.1 and 2.0 cables for 4K and 8K displays are backward compatible with older devices with HDMI 2.0, 1.4, and below ports.

HDMI cable Brandon Jones / TechReviewer

Last Updated: November 17, 2022

Written by Brandon Jones

Are HDMI Cables Backward Compatible?

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HDMI 2.1, 2.0, and previous generation cables are backward compatible with older devices, but there are some limitations in specific situations that I'll discuss in more detail below.

New versions of HDMI cables will work with displays and devices with older versions of HDMI ports, but it'll be limited by the device ports on both ends of the cable (whichever is the lowest).

There are also other that allow for better audio and color, in addition to resolution and refresh rates.

Other features in newer HDMI 2.1 cables allow for better audio, color, resolution, and refresh rates.

Check out my recommended HDMI 2.1 and 2.0 cables below to find the best cable for your setup.

HDMI 2.1 Cable With HDMI 2.0 (or Lower) Device Port

If you use an HDMI 2.1 (Ultra High Speed) cable with a display or device with an HDMI 2.0 or lower (High Speed HDMI or Standard HDMI) port, it will work, but the device would limit the cable's full potential and features.

With this setup, your display or device would only use the features it's capable of, even if a cable is a higher HDMI version. This is because the display or device has a lower HDMI version, so it'll use those features, even if the cable 'supports' more features.

For example, your TV would only display up to 4K @ 24 Hz with an HDMI 1.4 port even if the HDMI cable supports a refresh rate up to 120 Hz or a higher resolution.

HDMI 2.1 Device Port With HDMI 2.0 (or Lower) Cable

If you have a display or device that supports HDMI 2.1 (Ultra High Speed) and connect them with an HDMI 2.0 or lower (High Speed HDMI or Standard HDMI) cable, then your display or device would be limited to the cable's speeds and features.

With this setup, your display would only use the features of whichever version of the HDMI cable you have connected. The cable has the lower HDMI version, so it'll use those features, even if the display or device 'supports' more features.

For example, your TV would only display up to 4K @ 24 Hz with an HDMI 1.4 cable even if your TV supports a refresh rate up to 120 Hz.

HDMI 2.1 Features

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Below is a list of features that HDMI 2.1 supports. The display, device, and cable all must be HDMI 2.1 to provide these features:

New Features With HDMI 2.1
HDMI 2.1 Feature Benefit
Increased Bandwidth Adds support for 4K, 5K, 8K, 10K resolutions at 120 Hz.
Auto Low Latency Mode Enables ideal latency setting to be set automatically. Allows smooth lag-free and uninterrupted viewing and interactivity.
Dynamic HDR Lets a display alter the HDR metadata on a scene by scene or frame by frame basis.
Variable Refresh Rate Eliminates stuttering and frame tearing in games.
Enhanced Audio Return Channel Improves support of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio standards.
Quick Media Switching Decreases the delay when switching video sources.
Quick Frame Transport Reduces latency for smoother gaming without lag and real-time interactive VR.

Which HDMI Cable Type Should You Get?

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Since HDMI 2.1 is backward compatible with older HDMI versions, it's probably best to buy an HDMI 2.1 cable for future-proofing. You will ensure that you'll get the most out of your display without worrying about which one to buy. HDMI 2.1 is also needed for devices that support eARC, for better quality audio to soundbars and audio receivers. If you want to make it even easier, be sure to check out my recommended HDMI 2.1 and 2.0 cables below.

With that said, to get all of the features and speed increase, be sure to check if your display and device (PCs, game consoles, etc.) both support HDMI 2.1 and its features.

Keep in mind that HDMI cables can only go up to specific lengths. If you want a very long HDMI cable, you may need to go with HDMI 2.0 instead and follow one of these HDMI extension methods.

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Shorter HDMI 2.1 Cable

Longer HDMI 2.1 Cable

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Shorter HDMI 2.0 Cable

Longer HDMI 2.0 Cable

Max HDMI Cable Length

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Each type of HDMI cable has a limitation of how long it can reach. There's no specific "max" length a cable can go, but a limitation from the material they're made with.

Most newer copper HDMI cables reach around 15 to 25 ft (5 to 7.5 m). HDMI cables made with fiber optic can reach much farther. On average, fiber optic HDMI cables can reach around 50 to 200 ft (15 to 60 m).

Below are the three types of copper HDMI cables with their average length limits and resolutions they can handle at their max cable length:

Max Length of Copper HDMI Cables
Type Max Cable Length Speed Supported Resolutions
Standard HDMI 49 ft (15 m) < 10 Gb/s 720p 60 Hz | 1080i 60 Hz
High Speed HDMI 15–25 ft (5–7.5 m) 18 Gb/s 1080p 60 Hz | 4K 30 Hz
Ultra High Speed HDMI 10–15 ft (3–5 m) 48 Gb/s 4K | 5K | 8K | 10K 120 Hz

Why HDMI Cables Have a Max Length

Most HDMI cables are made of copper, limiting the cable's length because it loses signal strength the farther it reaches. Signal loss can happen with cables made of other materials also. This signal loss (attenuation) is measured in decibels per distance—the greater the distance, the more signal loss.

The signal level may not be high enough if an HDMI cable is too long due to too much attenuation. If you need to support a longer distance, you'll need an extender, repeater, or fiber optic HDMI cable. Otherwise, you will need to find a way to use a shorter HDMI cable.

How to Extend HDMI 2.0 Cables

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HDMI Repeater

An HDMI repeater extends the connection for shorter runs by connecting two HDMI cables and amplifies the signals for better transmission.

Determining the max length when using a repeater depends on the HDMI repeater and the HDMI cable type, but I give the average ranges below. Remember that HDMI repeaters are directional, so be sure to use the device's correct input/output sides.

HDMI Repeater Range
Resolution Length
4K @ 60 Hz 60–100 ft (18–30 m)
4K @ 30 Hz 100–130 ft (30–40 m)
1080p @ 60 Hz 135–195 ft (40–60 m)

To be safe, assume a repeater can reach only the shorter end of those ranges.

Fiber Optic HDMI Cable

Fiber optic HDMI cables are like standard HDMI cables but made with optical fiber inside the cable and meant for farther distances up to 164 ft (50 m) for 4K @ 60 Hz.

These cables aren't meant to be used with an extender, repeater, or switch and should be used alone. They also must be installed in the correct direction, with the output/display label connecting to the side with the display.

Learn more about fiber optic HDMI cables in my article: What Is a Fiber Optic HDMI Cable and Is It Worth Getting?.

HDMI Over Ethernet Extender

The HDMI over Ethernet extender is similar to an HDMI over fiber optic extender but uses an Ethernet cable for a shorter extension. An HDMI over Ethernet extender can extend the connection up to 130 ft (40 m) for 4K @ 60 Hz or 230 ft (70 m) for 1080p.

Learn more about HDMI over Ethernet in my article: HDMI Over Ethernet - How to Extend HDMI With Cat 5e/6a.

HDMI Over Fiber Extender

An HDMI over Fiber extender uses an optical fiber cable to transmit the data to reach a much farther distance. You could use an HDMI over Fiber extender to extend the connection up 1,000 to 3,300 ft (300 to 1000 meters) for 4K @ 60 Hz.

Learn more about HDMI over fiber in my article: HDMI Over Fiber - How to Extend HDMI With Fiber-Optic Cable.

Learn About TVs

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Want to learn more about TVs? Check out the articles in my TV series:

Learn About HDMI

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Find answers to your HDMI questions by checking out the articles in my HDMI series: