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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