Cables, Wires and Tools
A/V Cables Explained
With so many choices and functions, let's take a moment to review the many cables to be found in your A/V setup.
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April 26, 2008 by EH Staff

Maybe your head started hurting the last time you went to RadioShack and gazed upon its walls of wires and cables. The choices can be daunting. A professional electronics installer can certainly help, but if you’re looking to do the job yourself or want to know what your installer is talking about, here’s a quick guide to relevant cables and connection types.

Cat5/6 - Category 5, 5e and 6 cables are high-speed data cables used for Internet connections and home networking, specifically with IP (Internet Protocol)-based home networks. Category 5 (or Cat 5) has a bandwidth of 100 MHz for networks up to 100 Mbps, and Cat 6 has 200 MHz and is recommended for Gigabit Ethernet (1,000 Mbps). Cat 5e is an enhanced version of Category 5. They require an Ethernet jack (RJ-45).

Component - Component video separates the video signal into individual streams and these video streams are carried via three cables, colored red, green and blue that normally come bundled with RCA-type jack connectors. Component video signals will provide better color resolution, purity and fidelity than S-Video and composite video signals.

Composite - Composite video is a standard video connection that allows for the passage of a video signal with a maximum resolution of 330 lines. It’s generally a single RCA-type jack with a yellow casing and is often bundled with analog audio cables. You should stick to component video if possible.

Digital - Digital audio outputs feature less noise and interference than any other type of connection. It is either a coaxial cable that looks like a single audio cable or a TosLink optical connection that looks like an illuminated phone jack.

DVI - DVI (digital visual interface) is a video-only connection that provides a high-bandwidth interface between a video source and a display device. To protect content transmitted over DVI, a high-bandwidth digital content protection (HDCP) scheme offers a secure digital link between a source and display. DVI supports HDTV resolutions of 720p, 1080i and 1080p.

HDMI - HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) passes uncompressed digital audio and video signals. HDMI also uses the HDCP antipirating technology. You can find these connections on DVD players, audio/video receivers and HDTVs. The newer HDMI version 1.3 will provide better bandwidth for features like higher-fidelity Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio available on on high-definition DVD players.

IEEE1394 - IEEE1394 (or FireWire or i.LINK) is a flexible digital connection that can pass HDTV signals using MPEG2 video to devices such as high-definition D-VHS recorders. It also supports daisy-chaining.

RCA - RCA jacks are standard analog jacks that pass both analog audio and video signals. You’re probably familiar with these standard red-and-white audio cables.

RGB - RGB This provides the best video connections. The best version of RGB is RGB HV, which professionals will often use for high-end installations.

S-Video - S-Video will provide up to 400 lines of resolution and will improve your picture clarity beyond the standard composite cables, although it is not as good as component video. An S-Video input uses a nine-pin connector.

Speaker - Speaker wire recommendations may call for 16-gauge speaker wire or a lower number. The lower the gauge, the higher the conductor inside and the better the wire. A number of different connector types are available for all varieties of speaker wiring, from bare wire to plug-in RCA-type cables to banana plugs to spade lugs that wrap around binding posts. Also look for shielded speaker cables if power cords are nearby.

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