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How To Choose the Right Wire and Connections for Home Theater?

When connecting audio and video components together, most people have some questions. Which cables (wires) should I use? What is the difference amongst the different quality cables? Are high-end cables really worth the money? Plus we’ll even answer some questions you didn’t ask. Why not, we’ve got nothing else to do.

Generally speaking, just about any piece of wire can carry a signal. However, cables are engineered to do the best job possible for a specific circumstance. Can you substitute an RCA cable for a digital coaxial cable? Yes, but the lack of shielding and lower bandwidth will cause the RCA cable to pick up interference and yield lower signal quality. Below and on the following pages we list the common cable choices ranked from worst to best. You should always choose the highest quality connection type your equipment will support. This doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive brand of cable, but you should choose the best connection to guarantee the highest sound and video quality.

Another rule of thumb, use the shortest cable that will reach. Longer cables result in greater signal loss. However, allow enough slack in your cable to ensure access to the back panels when you pull out your equipment. Otherwise, cable can become stretched or damaged.

Are those expensive high end cables worth the price? That depends upon your equipment. The cables should match the quality of your equipment. If the cables are inferior, you won’t get the quality you paid for from your equipment. If the cables cost more than your receiver, you’ll never hear or see the difference. Most cables will do an adequate job. A good quality cable will satisfy most people. If you have made a substantial investment in quality gear, then high end cables are probably for you.

Why do cables have arrows printed on them? If they have arrows, they should point away from the source. The arrow points away from the end that is grounded. This means excess voltage drains away to the source, which results in less signal interference.

Are gold contacts really better? Absolutely. Gold is resistant to corrosion. If you leave a steel connector and a gold connector sitting out for a year, the first will be tarnished while the latter will still shine. That tarnish on the steel connector is not as conductive as steel and so will interfere with the signal.

Audio Interconnects

Composite cables, aka RCA cables are the standard “free-in-the-box” cables we are all familiar with. When no other connection is available, then RCA cables are fine. Although, we recommend that you choose good quality cables.

Digital Audio Coaxial uses coaxial cable that is essentially the same as the video coaxial (RF) cable mentioned below. However, when used for audio, RCA connectors are used. This cable is capable of carrying a high quality digital audio signal.

Optical cable uses Toslink connectors and so the cable is often referred to as Toslink cable. Because it carries a signal of light impulses, it is nearly impervious to interference and cable length is not an issue. As to sound quality, there is no evidence that it is superior to digital coaxial, nor is there a consensus amongst listeners.

Video Interconnects

RF (aka Coax, Coaxial) cable is a round shielded wire that is most often used to bring a cable or antenna signal into your home. This 75ohm cable uses an “F” type screw-on connector. For video signals, its use should be limited to bringing the signal indoors. Other cables provide better signal carrying capabilities between components. For long runs of cable or for DSS, invest in RG6 (rather than RG59) because of its lower signal loss.

Composite cable, aka RCA cable, combines signals and carries them in one wire. It is used for both video and audio. A common configuration is three wires fastened together; one wire (yellow) for video, one wire for the right audio channel (red) and one wire for the left audio channel (white). This cable uses the standard RCA slip-on connectors. It gets the job done, but it will not carry HD or progressive scan signals. It is the minimum grade of cable to be used in a home theater set up. If your equipment will support a higher quality connection, use it.


S-Video  cable carries the video signal on two wires, one for luminance (Y) and another for chrominance (C) and thus is sometimes referred to as “YC”. It improves picture quality substantially over composite, but will not carry HD or progressive scan signals to the TV.


Component cable carries the video signal over three wires. One wire carries luminance (Y), a second wire carries the blue signal (“B-Y”, “Pb”, “Cb” are used synonymously) and a third wire carries the red signal (“R-Y”, “Pr”, “Cr” are used synonymously). The green signal is derived mathematically. Component cable carries an analog signal. Regardless of the whether the output from your cable box or DVD player is digital, it is converted to analog for component connections and the converted back to digital in your TV (if it supports digital). Component cables are the minimum requirement to carry an HD or progressive scan signal to your TV.

Component cables with RCA connectors

DVI stands for Digital Visual Interface. DVI carries a digital video signal. DVI and HDMI carry the same quality video signal, currently the highest quality signal available. DVI or HDMI should always be used when available.

DVI connector

HDMI stands for High Definition Multimedia Interface. In addition to carrying a digital video signal, it also carries a digital audio signal. In addition, HDMI has bandwidth to spare for future upgrades. HDMI and DVI carry the same video signal and adaptors can be used to connect HDMI output to DVI input and vice versa.

HDMI connector



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