Making the Proper Connections
Fearful of that nest behind your home entertainment system? Here's a rundown of all those wires, cables and connectors.
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Use high-quality audio interconnects like Straightwire’s Chorus II, and not the stuff that comes with most components. Good cables can make a difference in sound quality.
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October 23, 2007 by EH Staff

Someday in the not-too-distant future, we may have one neat wire connecting everything in our home entertainment systems—or perhaps no wire at all! Ahhhhh … just imagine it. Fortunately, we are getting closer to that dream. You can now get all your digital audio and video through one HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) cable. You just need the proper connections. And more and more new gear is coming with that connector. That eliminates one part of the typical rat’s nest of wires and cables lurking in the dusty recesses behind most of our home entertainment systems. Then of course there’s speaker wire, power cables, high-speed data cables for networking and Internet connections, coaxial cables—it’s enough to fry the internal wiring of your brain. No need for that, though. Here’s a simple rundown of the wires, cables and connectors you should know about.

HDMI: High-definition multimedia interface combines digital audio and video in one wire. It contains HDCP (high-bandwidth digital content protection), designed to block digital pirating and allow you to see the full resolution of high-definition DVDs. Look for HDMI on HDTVs, receivers and high-definition DVD players. HDMI version 1.3 will allow for easier playback of new 8-channel Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD soundtracks. (For more on HDMI cables, check out Various Versions of HDMI.)

DVI: Digital visual interface is a video-only transport that, like HDMI, contains HDCP antipiracy technology. HDMI is compatible with DVI; you can hook up a DVI connection to HDMI with adapters.

Component Video: This is still used in many home entertainment systems, and after HDMI and DVI, it’s the video connection that will provide the best picture. It comes with three wires whose connectors are colored red, green and blue. If you don’t have HDMI or DVI connections, you should at least have component cables.

S-Video: The next best thing to component video, S-Video connectors are round with several pins that must be aligned properly in the sockets.

Composite Video: This is an older video connection that has plug-in RCA jacks. Only use it if you have to, as would be required with some low-end DVRs. (Though if it has an S-Video connector, try that instead.) If you really do have to, we recommend upgrading to something with better connections. (Don’t confuse this with the much better component video connections.)

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