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Choosing Audio and Video Cables

A/V Cables

Audio Interconnects:

High-quality cables make a huge difference between producing clean, crisp sound versus generating subpar audio that is missing frequencies. When shopping for audio cables, take a few things into consideration before purchasing:

  • Cables that use oxygen-free copper conductors are more likely to reject background noise and pass the signal accurately with minimal signal loss.
  • Consider the cable’s shielding type. Cables with copper braid shielding tend to provide maximum rejection of RF (Radio Frequency) and EM (Electromagnetic) interference.
  • Look for connectors that provide high-pressure contact with the component’s jack. Most cables come with copper or gold-plated centers. This helps prevent corrosion for a reliable, high-quality signal transfer.

With so many different types of cables, it may seem overwhelming when you are trying to install a home theater system. This list should help you decide which cables are needed for your application.

What does HDMI mean?

HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) cables deliver clear digital audio and video signals. This type of connection is capable of transmitting high-def video and high-resolution audio over one cable. The connector transfers audio and video signals between components, eliminating any compromised sound quality. HDMI cables are known for delivering the best image quality, better than any other cable types. This surround sound cable can support up to 8 channels of high-quality “lossless” sound including Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD-Master Audio. HDMI cables should be used when connecting a high-definition device, such as, HD DVR, HDTV or Blu-Ray player to your home theater system.

Purchasing Tips:

Different cable brands may use different materials and construction techniques, so it is essential to purchase certified HDMI cables such as the Monster Cable MC 1000HD-4M.

Also, take into account that HDMI has gone through some changes and you will need to make sure that your cable meets the correct HDMI Standard of the components you are trying to connect.

What does an Optical cable do?

Optical cables transmit the digital audio signal as pulses of light. This type of cable is also surround-sound capable but can only be used with a 5.1 channel surround sound and does not carry new high-resolutions formats. Optical connections have become more popular these days and are your next best choice if HDMI is not an option. Many HDTV’s have an optical input so that surround signals can be sent from an over-the-air broadcast to your receiver. They can also be found on DVD players and recorders.

Purchasing Tips:

Again, purchasing a well-made cable is still important even though optical cables are less likely to receive interference. A quality cable will prevent “jitter” or “judder,” which are changes in the frequency that cause the audio to skip or freeze.

What are Coaxial Digital cables for?

Coaxial digital cables are engineered to pass a digital signal with a 75-ohm impedance and wider frequency bandwidth. They are the most common type of connection cable used for digital audio and can be used to carry radio signals, video signals and data signals. Coaxial digital cables and optical cables are considered the next best thing if HDMI isn’t an option. Even though they are not the best option, using coaxial digital cables is still considered a great way to get surround sound signal to your components. And unlike other audio cables, these cables can transmit digital signals without the need to convert to analog.

Purchasing Tips:

Make sure to look at the cable specifications when purchasing in order to check the cables’ impedance tolerance. This will tell you how close the cable comes to the 75-ohm impedance. Copper braiding is rather important since it is more conductive therefore providing better performance.

What is an XLR cable?

XLR Cables have an electrical connector design and are mainly used in professional audio and video electronic applications that require “balanced” audio. An XLR cable has the ability to deliver balanced signal, meaning that the final audio signal will have less unwanted noise. XLR cables are designed to give greater RF rejection and should be used when connecting home audio equipment with XLR connectors.  Again, they are used in professional audio settings such as live shows or recording sessions.

Purchasing Tips:

When evaluating XLR cables, be sure to check how balanced the cables are, as this is most important aspect of the cables. Look for insulated conductors to keep signals from interfering with one another. Also, solid shielding and copper conductors are a must to keep outside noise from affecting those signals.

Video Interconnects:

As with audio cables, a high-quality video cable can effectively maintain the strength and accuracy of the original signal. If a substandard cable is being used, it can cause lines, snow or other unwanted interference on your television. Digital video interconnect cables will provide you with the best picture quality when hooking up a high-def source like a HDTV or Blu-Ray player.

What is an HDMI Video cable?

This will be your main digital video connection option since it transmits uncompressed digital data. HDMI cables allow the video signal to remain in digital form and help avoid the “jitter” noise that can occur when the signal is translated to a digital format. These cables can carry standard-definition and high-definition signals. They are the only cables that can be up-converted from any source component at 720p, 1080i, or 1080p. HDMI cables should be used whenever possible, especially for connecting HDTVs, home theater systems, and satellite boxes. If you have an older video connection like DVI, you can use a HDMI-to-DVI adapter to connect the older component to a newer one. Unfortunately, DVI-adapters do not allow you to enjoy HD audio capability, it provides HD video only.

Purchasing Tips:

Be on the lookout for a high-quality metal in your HDMI cable. This will provide better signal transfer and reduce degradation that may come from your components. Shielding is just as important because it rejects interference.  The Monster Cable multimedia interface mentioned under audio interconnects is perfect because it has gold contacts and durable gold-plated internal shield. All of these features provide greater conductivity.

When would I use a Component Video cable?

Component video refers to a type of analog video information that is either transmitted or stored as three separate signals. The component video cables deliver exquisite detail and pristine color accuracy since each part is transmitted via its own cable. This type of cable can adequately pass along high-definition and progressive-scan signals up to 1080p. Component cables are a great alternative if you are unable to use an HDMI cable. Component cables can be found on most DVD players and A/V receivers.

Purchasing Tips:

Look for cables that have a copper center conductor with either double or triple-shielding because this type will preserve the video signal longer. Gold-plated connectors are a must for a secure fit.

What does a Composite Video cable do?

A composite video cable is similar to a component cable but it is in the format of an analog television signal and transmits resolutions up to 480i. This cable is often found in the box and should only be used for VCRs, older televisions, and other equipment where high-quality resolution is not necessary.

Purchasing Tips:

A cable with quality RCA connectors is your best bet. For the best possible signal transfer, purchase a cable with double-shielding.

As you can see there are many different cables, each suited for a variety of applications. Purchasing the right connection cable is the only way to ensure a crisp, clean picture with high quality sound.

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Staff writers at Sonic Electronix are experts in their field. In addition to a complete in-house training program, these experts typically have many years of hands-on experience in their specialty. Some come from car audio installer backgrounds, while others come with extensive retail experience.
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