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Audio & Video Cable Buying Guide

A comprehensive audio & video cable guide that will give you all the information you need on how to buy audio & video cables.


Getting Started

After purchasing your favorite HDTV and its additional components, you are going to need the approprite video cables to help your set it all up. Video cables connect all the necessary electronics together and presen them in an incredible way to complete your entire home entertainment center. When shopping for audio & video cables, make sure you get the best ones for the job. Here' you will find out which audio & video cables you will need to get the most out of your viewing experience.

Type

Composite Cables
Jacks for this type of cable are found on most AV equipment. They are colored yellow, red, and white. Yellow carries the picture while red and white carry the right and left channels of audio. These cables are not capable of carrying a high definition signal.

S-Video
This is an upgrade from the yellow composite cable. The audio for S-video is still carried through the red and white composite audio cables. S improves the picture over composite by separating the video signal it carries into 2 separate signals of brightness and color (luminance and chrominance). S-Video is also not capable of carrying a high definition signal.

Component
Again, the audio cables for a component video connection stay the same as above. The video signal, though, is now divided up into 3 parts: one part brightness and 2 parts color. The more the video signal is separated, the better the end result. Of the 3 types of cable that can carry high definition video and high quality audio signals to a digital or HD TV, component is the most basic.

DVI
DVI stands for Digital Video Interface. While all of the above cables carry an analog signal, DVI is the first video cable to carry both an analog signal and a digital signal. Keeping a signal digital from the source (digital converter boxes, HD cable and satellite boxes, Blu-ray players, etc.) to the display provides the overall best possible image. DVI is not used very often at this point but does appear on some projectors and computer products.

HDMI
For all current and future products, this will be the connection of choice. HDMI offers a whole new world of quality and simplicity. Instead of using multiple cables to carry the audio and video signals from component to component, HDMI carries video, audio, and control signals in one cable. It can carry both digital and analog signals and offers the highest picture and sound quality of any type of connection.Visit our HDMI Buying Guide to understand the full breakdown.

Coaxial
When HDMI cables are not an option, choose coaxial cables, they are the next best option. They can transmit surround sound as well as 5.1 channels of DVD-quality audio.

Optical
Optical cables transmit digital audio signals as pulses of light. Similar to coaxial, it's surround-sound-capable and can deliver 5.1-channels of audio. Unfortunately, it cannot carry the new high-resolution formats from Blu-ray. The sound quality of optical and coaxial cables is about the same, though optical connections are more commonly used.

Speaker Wire
Speaker wire is used to make the electrical connection between loudspeakers and audio amplifiers. They can be purchase din a variety of sounds and are incredibly easy to install. Depending on where youplace your speakers, you can run speaker wires into tigh corners or behind walls.

Things to Keep in Mind...

  • Cable length is also important. Try to use 6-foot cables at the shortest. Initial hookup is much easier, as is cleaning and maintenance. It is easy to bundle up some extra cable, but it is almost impossible to make a cable longer. Always err on the longer side if possible.
  • Always use the best possible type of cable when connecting your equipment. In other words, if your products support HDMI, you should use HDMI and not a lesser type of connection. The cable types ranked in order of quality of signal from best to worst is: HDMI, DVI, component video, S-video, composite video, coaxial. For audio products it is: HDMI, optical or digital coax, composite.

Features

The key to finding the best cables for your system is to be appropriate. If you bought the best possible TV you could buy, it only makes sense to use the best possible cables. If you bought a more value priced TV, mid-grade cables would be more appropriate. Unfortunately, the cables supplied with products are rarely the best choice.

Cables consist of 3 main parts. The conductor is the actual wire that passes the signal from one component to another. Shielding insulates the conductor. The connector is what attaches the cable to your equipment.

These are the 3 key things that make one cable better than another. As you increase the quality of a cable, the first and most important thing that improves is the conductor. Basically, as cables get better, they use higher quality metal and more of it. A good analogy is building a highway. If the cars are the AV signals, the cables are the highways they travel. If the highway is made of dirt (low-grade copper or other metals) and only one lane wide (those really skinny zip cord type of cables supplied with many products), the cars aren't going to be able to travel that highway very well. If the highway is made of state of the art materials (solid core copper, stranded silver, solid silver, etc.) and are many lanes wide (many cables can end up as much as ¾" in diameter and are a very heavy gauge), the cars are going to get from point A to point B very effectively.

Better shielding prevents other stuff from getting on that highway with the cars. It would be bad to have wildlife, children, non-yielding cross traffic, and other impediments on a busy highway. By the same token, it is bad to allow interference into your cables. Things like wireless networks, power cords, phone lines, TV signals, radio signals, cell phones, baby monitors, and many other wireless signals permeate your home and do significant damage to AV signals if traveling down an unshielded or poorly shielded cable. The better shielded a cable is, the cleaner and less "dirty" that signal is when it gets to your components.

Connectors are also important. Going back to the highway analogy, a great highway does no one any good if the on and off ramps are not equally as good. How a signal gets into and out of a cable is the function of the connector. Snapped, molded, or pressed on connectors don't allow the signal to flow into the cable properly. As cable quality increases, so does connector quality. Things like using better metal, welding the connectors on, and improving the fit of a connector to its component are things that improve overall signal and cable quality.

Cable length is also important. Try to use 6-foot cables at the shortest. Initial hookup is much easier, as is cleaning and maintenance. It is easy to bundle up some extra cable, but it is almost impossible to make a cable longer. Always err on the longer side if possible.

Always use the best possible type of cable when connecting your equipment. In other words, if your products support HDMI, you should use HDMI and not a lesser type of connection. The cable types ranked in order of quality of signal from best to worst is: HDMI, DVI, component video, S-video, composite video, coaxial. For audio products it is: HDMI, optical or digital coax, composite.

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