A Guide to Connectors

Keeping track of your connectors? With ever-changing technology, it can be difficult to keep track of the types of cables and audio/video connectors used by your equipment. Some equipment uses multiple connector types, and you can choose how you want to hook up your system. If you need a quick refresher in cable connections, consider these options:

Optical: Also known as fiber-optic, optical connections are specifically designed to carry digital audio signal. Optical connections are comparable in sound quality to coaxial digital connections, but they are immune to "hum," or the interference you sometimes get in coaxial applications. Optical connections are often used in conjunction with S-video, DVI and composite video connections to carry digital audio for a fully digital media experience.

RCA: RCA is the oldest currently used industry standard for audio and video connections. RCA connections may be audio-only, with two channels for left and right stereo audio, or may include a third channel for video signal. RCA connections are still used in modern video applications, with component video using high-quality coaxial RCA connectors to carry high-definition signals.

HDMI: HDMI stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface. HDMI connections carry high-definition video and audio in a single cable, eliminating the need for multiple connector types. Unlike RCA connectors, HDMI sends a digital signal, so there's no interference and no signal loss over short distances. HDMI requires specialized cables for lengths of nine feet or more. With the right high-definition sources and a high-quality HDTV, the difference between HDMI and analog cables can immediately be seen.

Component: Component video is the most common type of connector to carry both standard and high-definition video signals. Component video splits a signal into its red, green and blue elements, then pushes these three channels out to the TV, allowing high-definition signals to be sent. This is the best analog method for transferring high-definition sources to an HDTV, but it can't match the resolution and quality of digital HDMI.

Composite: Composite video is a single RCA cable that carries video signal between devices. Composite video is an older analog technology used by VCRs, TVs and DVD players. S-video is a higher-quality alternative to composite video and should be used when possible to avoid the quality loss of composite video. While most devices still include a composite output, this should be your last choice if you're working with high-definition sources. It's still a great option for VCRs and older video game systems.

DVI: DVI carries digital video signal, including high-definition video, much like HDMI cables. However, DVI only carries video signal, so you'll have to use a separate audio connection to get sound for your digital or high-definition device. DVI is becoming less common as it is replaced by the smaller HDMI cable that also carries audio signal.

S-Video: S-video is an older type of video connection that replaces composite and standard RCA video connections. S-Video connections do not carry high-definition video signals, but may be a logical choice if you've got older-style technology which doesn't have high-definition or composite connections. Older DVD players, in particular, tend to get the best picture quality from S-Video.

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