Home theater systems have become a new living room necessity; everyone seems to have one now. With home theater systems on the rise, it’s becoming more and more apparent that we have a need for new technologies which enhance these systems. With new technology comes new pain some technologies aren’t backwards compatible, some technologies are backwards compatible and some technologies are required to get the best out of your home theater system.
To help you out when collecting cables for your theater system or putting that “squid” behind your TV back in place. I’m writing this short guide to all the home theater cable formats from co-axial to HDMI and from speaker wire to optical all in one. This is not meant to replace your systems manuals, just enhance them helping you get the most out of your home theater.
Television signal cables come in a wide variety from co-axial to HDMI. It can be hard to choose the one that’s right for you. Below is a list concerning only the television cabling standards a little history and some information about each. This list is ordered from the oldest cabling format worth mentioning co-axial up to the newest format.
The first cabling format established which was of a unified nature was the co-axial cabling format. This method of connecting your devices and cable is the oldest and most reliable, despite it’s flaws. The co-axial cabling format in it’s early stages could not carry stereo sound. This due to only having 2 current passing connectors. This was enhanced with digital cable more recently allowing a co-axial cable to transfer digital information at high speeds. These digital signals are then turned back to analog at the television set and interpreted on different channels. This allows up to 5.1 audio to be transmitted on the cable, but this requires you to use a digital encoder/decoder.
Then there was RCA the next cabling format to come to light. The RCA or the A/V jack cabling format was substantially better then cable. It had the capacity to transmit in 3 channels with 3 separate wire sets. It was multicolored red, white and yellow. The yellow cable was used for video, red for the right audio and white for the left audio channels. When it came to connecting home devices, this quickly became the superior cabling format.
The next cabling format to take us by surprise was the S-video format. This little cable resembled that of a computers mouse cable with slight differences, has all the channels that RCA has and a couple extra wires for higher resolution display from devices like computers and DVD players. This cabling format still being analog is 100% compatible with any device which has a port to connect to.
These cables resemble RCA or A/V cables yet they are very different these cables transmit an analog signal to each of the color arrays allowing you to get HD images to your television. This was not possible with the Co-axial, RCA, or S-video formats. These cables are easy to hook up featuring a 3 color arrangement. To connect Component cables you simply match the colors on each end to their corresponding colors. However, this cabling does not have audio connectors so you still need a separate RCA cable to connect your audio source to your television.
HDMI, Finally HDMI has arrived combining all of the features of it’s predecessors. This new cabling carries a digital signal across many wires generating an HD image to the screen. HDMI is also capable of transmitting 5.1 digital audio to your speakers. This is a single cable not a cable pack like it’s predecessors and not without it’s flaws. Since it’s digital, only the newest devices support it and being in young stages as with any encryption and decryption technology, there are some bugs to work out. Overall I would recommend this cabling format to anyone with a home theater system.
By now you should have an idea of what cabling format your television uses, but what about your stereo? A home theater isn’t a home theater without a surround sound system and without the proper cabling, this system just won’t work. Below, I’ve compiled a list of cabling formats in order from the oldest to the newest.
Many of the older high quality televisions had speaker wire clips on the back to allow you to connect external speakers this basic format was OK but it left a lot to be desired.
After the development of RCA for video and audio this format became widely used in connecting stereo equipment. By simply dropping the yellow video cable and using only the red (Right) and white (Left) audio channel cables you have analog stereo. These RCA cables can be used to generate from stereo sound up to 5.1 surround sound by simply adding more cables.
Digital cabling is the new mainstream method of connecting your surround sound systems and musical components. This Digital Coax (spdif) looks a lot like a standard RCA jack however it uses the color orange to differentiate itself. By using digital streaming rather then analog you can send all the data for several channels over one cable. However, this method requires both devices be compatible. The sender has to encode the digital stream which when received has to be decoded again.
Digital optical cabling no longer uses Coax style cabling, instead it replaces electrical impulses with light pulses on many fiber strands called fiber optic cables. This new method allows signals to be transmitted much further and with no degradation.
By now you should have a good idea of what that all these cables do and what uses they may have to you and your entertainment center. Which methods you use are up to you and may be dependent on which type of television you have or which receiver you have.
Now it’s time to go and make a spider web of wires behind your television, all so you can enjoy a theater in your living room.