Making the Proper Connections


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.

Fearful of that nest behind your home entertainment system? Here's a rundown of all those wires, cables and connectors.

Oct. 23, 2007 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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.)

Coaxial Cable: This is also called RF, with an F-connector just like what comes out of your cable TV wire. Use RG-6 coaxial cable at a minimum. RG-6 is often bundled with high-speed Category 5, 5e or 6 data wire to form structured cabling for home networking.

Category 5, 5e, 6: Also known as Cat 5, 5e or 6, this is the high-speed data wire you use for a broadband Internet connection. It can be wired throughout the house for home networking, and audio and video signals can even be sent over it. The higher the number, the better the bandwidth and the faster a connection you will have. The “e” in 5e stands for “enhanced.” Get Category 5e or 6 if you can.

Speaker Wire: In this case, the lower the gauge, the better, because the wire will be bigger and hold more of the signal. We recommend 14- or 12-gauge for long runs in whole-house audio systems.

Optical/Toslink: These are digital audio connections. If you have them on both your DVD/CD player or receiver, use them. They’ll provide a much cleaner audio signal.

RS-232: This serial computerlike connection is used with some whole-house control systems. If you’re using RS-232, chances are you’re getting a pretty elaborate control system. Let your systems professional worry about it.

Fiber Optic: This super-high-speed wiring isn’t required yet in most homes, but it may be as we ever increase our bandwidth applications. Look for it coming to a curb near you.

For more information, check out our Best Wire and Cable of 2007.

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