Audio/ Video Cable Guide

Editor's Note:  Many of the pictures shown below are "Belkin" brand.  While we do not officially endorse Belkin, many of the staff here have used this brand with good results.  Your best bet is to shop around for the best price; and while Wal-Mart may have the lowest price locally and Best Buy will price match, you will always be able to find it cheaper on the internet, assuming you don't mind the wait for shipping.  Good hunting!

 

Audio/ Video Cable Guide

HDMI, RCA, S-Video--sorting through the large variety of audio/video cables can be time-consuming. Read on for everything you need to know about plugging in your audio/video equipment for your business's A/V Furniture or even your home theater.

HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface)

Use it for: Connecting Blu-ray players, TVs, AV receivers, PCs, game consoles, and other high-def video hardware

If you have a choice, select it instead of: Component video cables, analog audio cables

It's similar in performance and use to: DVI

It adapts to: DVI, Mini-DVI, Micro-DVI

Add more ports by: Connecting to a receiver

In addition to carrying pristine HD video at 1080p and beyond, HDMI can supply surround-sound audio, including Dolby Digital and DTS. This digital cable is your go-to cable for most home theater connections, including TVs, receivers, and game consoles. It supports HDCP encryption, so copy-protected movies should play without problems. This type of connection is available in several versions; HDMI 1.3 is typical, while 1.4 is releasing soon. The new version is capable of additional bandwidth for enabling high-resolution 3D video.

 

RCA (aka Composite Video or Phono Plug)

Use it for: Basic, analog audio and video; occasionally for digital audio

If you have a choice, select it instead of: Coaxial cable

It adapts to: Mini-jack ends (commonly found on camcorders and MP3 players)

Add more ports by: Connecting a splitter, repeater, or receiver

Introduced by RCA, this connector is ubiquitous among home audio and video components. Basic setups might use a white plug for mono audio--the left channel--and a yellow plug for video (not shown here). A red plug usually signifies right-channel audio, but the connector can carry other signals too. It's occasionally used for digital audio, in which one cable carries a full surround-sound signal. It's also the same kind of cable as for component video (see below).

 

Component Video (aka Y-Pb-Pr or RGB)

Use it for: HDTV video (especially older TVs), game systems

If you have a choice, select it instead of: Composite RCA video, S-Video

It's similar in performance and use to: VGA cables (especially the RGB version)

It adapts to: VGA, if your devices use the RGB version

Add more ports by: Connecting a splitter, repeater, or receiver

Component-video signals transmit over three RCA cables, typically coded red, green, and blue. Component video works at up to 1080i or 720p which means you're not getting "Full 1080p HD", still... it's a good option for analog HDTV connections. The cables typically run Y/Pb/Pr, which separates brightness, blue, and red to individual cables. Some systems use other signals, often RGB (red, green, blue); certain devices support both kinds of signals, but if you get a green-tinted image, you're probably set up for the wrong color space.

 

S-Video (aka Y/C)

Use it for: Midrange video devices

If you have a choice, select it instead of: RCA composite, coaxial

It's similar in performance and use to: Composite video

It adapts to: Composite video (but it loses its quality advantages)

Add more ports by: Connecting a splitter, repeater, or receiver

Ah yes, we remember the 90's... when now defunct Circuit City stores across the country tried to upsell the S-Video cable for a much better picture for your new $800 DVD player.  And they were right, for the times.  Today, this kind of connection is a clear boost over a composite RCA connection, but S-Video is still far from the quality of HDTV-supporting cables such as component.

 

Coaxial Video (aka Cable TV Connection)

Use it for: Connecting antennas; wiring a VCR to an analog TV; linking from the wall to the TV for cable broadcasts

It's similar in performance and use to: Composite video

Add more ports by: Connecting a splitter

The lowly coaxial cable supplies both analog audio and video between devices. It's also the cable of choice for TV-tuner antennas. Cable companies across the country use this cable, although they'll typically send a digital signal that a converter box at your TV decodes. Almost any time you attach a coaxial cable directly to a TV (except for a digital antenna), you should expect merely basic quality.

 

Toslink (aka Optical Cable or S/PDIF)

Use it for: Connecting DVD players, game systems, cable boxes, and other devices to audio receivers

If you have a choice, select it instead of: Analog RCA audio; all other, common audio options

It's similar in performance and use to: Digital RCA audio over a single cable

It adapts to: Mini-Toslink

Add more ports by: Connecting a splitter or receiver

Let's face it...  Fiber Optics are cool, albeit, fragile, (don't step on them).  A digital connection, Toslink sends optical pulses that are decoded into audio. The commonly used S/PDIF signal carries surround details. ("S/PDIF" is sometimes used interchangeably as the cable name, although "Toslink" refers to the actual connector.) Mini-Toslink is occasionally used, especially with Apple computers; such jacks are often inside of the typical 3.5mm stereo mini-jack port.

 

Mini-Jack (aka TRS, 3.5mm Plug, 1/8-Inch Plug, Headphone Jack)

Use it for: Nearly every portable audio device, computers, portable speakers, video cameras

If you have a choice, select it instead of: A mono mini-jack

It's similar in performance and use to: 1/4-inch plug, 2.5mm plug

It adapts to: 1/4-inch plug, 2.5mm plug, RCA plugs

Add more ports by: Connecting a splitter

This headphone connector is ubiquitous, available on nearly every audio device and offered as the basic plug on media players. You'll most often encounter a stereo connection, which has two rings around the end. (If the plug has only one ring, it sends mono audio.) The plug is also often used to send video along with audio, adapting from the mini-jack end on a device to RCA plugs. The audio-signal output on a mini-jack is louder than the signal typically carried on stereo RCA plugs, so if you use an adapter (if you plug an iPod into a receiver, for example), turn up the volume slowly.

 

1/4-Inch Plug (aka TRS)

Use it for: Guitars and music equipment, home theater audio, pro equipment, headphones

If you have a choice, select it instead of: A mono mini-jack

It's similar in performance and use to: Mini-jack, 2.5mm plug

It adapts to: Mini-jack, 2.5mm plug, RCA plugs

Add more ports by: Connecting a splitter

This connector most often carries stereo audio to headphones. You'll also find it on professional audio equipment, home theater audio components, and many headphone designs.

 

2.5mm Plug (aka TRS)

Use it for: Mobile phone headsets

It's similar in performance and use to: Mini-jack, 1/4-inch plug

It adapts to: Mini-jack, 1/4-inch plug, RCA plugs

Add more ports by: Connecting a splitter

Though some mobile phones include mini-jacks, many more interface with a 2.5mm plug, often supporting microphones or hold buttons. You can adapt your larger headphone cables to this small size in order to listen to music, however.

 

XLR

Use it for: Mostly midrange and high-end microphones

If you have a choice, select it instead of: 1/4-inch plug

It's similar in performance and use to: 1/4-inch plug

It adapts to: 1/4-inch plug (although in that case it doesn't power mics)

Add more ports by: Connecting to a mixer

While this kind of connector can support more pins, the three-pin version is used most often in midrange and professional audio hardware. Microphones typically use this cable, which also can provide them with power.

 

Speaker Wire

Use it for: Connecting speakers

Add more ports by: Connecting a splitter or receiver

Strands of speaker wire--each with two cables inside--connect each speaker to your receiver. Brand-name versions are a waste of money. The gauge, however, can matter, especially when you're running long lengths, around 75 feet. Thicker wire (a lower gauge number) works best. Try not to use any excess cable, since that can produce interference. You can add a banana-plug tip to make the connection, but you'll get the same results by twisting the exposed wire end and inserting it into each device; just be sure to match the positive and negative markers on each component.

 

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