How to Choose A/V Wires
A home theater is only as good as the wires connecting it. Use these tips to find the right wires and connectors for your installation.
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Don’t be oh-so-casual about hooking up your home theater system.
September 01, 2005 by EH Staff

A wire is a wire, right? Well, not exactly. Some wire and connectors simply aren’t very good, and won’t provide you with high-quality audio and video. For example, you wouldn’t want to get that nice new HDTV, and then connect the DVD player with the same wires used for your low-resolution VCR. There are definitely better wires and cable you should use to connect your audio/video components and speakers—and it’s often worth paying a little extra to get them.

That doesn’t mean you have to go overboard and purchase thick audiophile-grade speaker cables that resemble trunk lines laid across the ocean floor. Some of that stuff can get very pricey, and should only be used if you are extremely serious about having the very best sound and can afford to pay big bucks for it.

But you can do better than a lot of the stuff that’s out there. Here’s a brief rundown of the most likely cable and wires you may encounter.

1. Speaker wire or cable connects your loudspeakers to the amplifier or receiver. There are a number of different connector types, so check the backs of your speakers and receiver or amp to match it. And don’t buy the cheap stuff at the hardware store. Most recommendations call for speaker wire that’s 16-gauge or lower: The lower the gauge, the higher the conductor inside. Also look for shielded speaker cables to prevent electrical interference if power cords are nearby. If you get speaker wire as part of a home-theater-in-a-box system, consider discarding it in favor of a lower-gauge wire.

2. HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) is a newer cable that transmits HD video signals and surround-sound audio in one wire with a small connector. HDMI connectors are becoming available on HDTVs, higher-end DVD players and audio/video controllers. If you can buy components with HDMI connections, do so, and get the HDMI cables as well. HDMI cables also come with HDCP (high-bandwidth digital content protection) that will allow some recording of digital TV signals.

3. DVI (digital visual interface) cables transmit high-definition video signals only and are compatible with the newer HDMI connectors through a small adapter.

4. Component video cable uses three separate wires. Outside of HDMI, DVI and RGB used on some video display devices, component cables are considered the best way to transmit video. Many audio/video devices and TVs now come with component video connections. S-Video offers the next best performance, and composite video the least.

5. Optical digital wire connects a DVD player to a receiver, and each has an optical audio or TosLink connection. Purchase the appropriate cable, and use it. It will give you a better, cleaner audio signal than traditional plug-in RCA-type connectors.

6. RF or cable wire commonly connects to your TV, VCR or other device from a cable system via an “F” connector, with the familiar pin in the middle of a screw or push thread. This wire carries both video and audio. Seek higher-grade RG-6 rated cable to route video throughout your house.

7. FireWire (also known as IEEE 1394 or i.Link) is useful for data and for recording high-definition video with a Digital VHS (D-VHS) player, for example. HDTVs are starting to come with these connections for this purpose.

8. Category 5 and 5e (also called Cat 5 or Cat 5e, the “e” for enhanced) is the high-grade communications cabling for computer networking and broadband Internet access. If you are interested in having a whole-house computer network and tying in audio and video, have your home theater wired with Cat 5 or 5e as well.

9. For speakers located far away, such as those in a multiroom audio system, a lower-gauge speaker cable such as 14-gauge or even 12-gauge may be required.

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