To get top performance from your audio and video gear, it's critical to use the highest-quality connections between components for optimal signal transfer. Upgrading your system's connectivity is one of the best ways to ensure you're getting all the performance you paid for.
Use this handy guide to get familiar with the many available connection options and learn the performance advantages of each type. Then, go to the CEA's interactive Connections Guide for help finding the best cables for your particular system.
DVI (Digital Visual Interface) offers a high-bandwidth, digital-to-digital video connection that bypasses the digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital conversions necessary between components with only component video connections. Eliminating the undesirable artifacts of such conversions results in a more faithful reproduction of the original signal. DVI connections may optionally incorporate the High Definition Content Protection (HDCP) protocol, enabling them to pass copy-protected digital broadcast content (if this capability is present, it's usually indicated by the designations "DVI-HDCP" or "DVI with HDCP")
Essentially a more evolved version of DVI, HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) adds digital audio transmission to provide a convenient, one-cable solution to digital A/V connectivity. It offers significantly greater bandwidth than DVI, enabling it to transmit higher-definition uncompressed digital video signals, and establishes a platform for the transfer of future as well as current display formats. And it does all this using a single cable, with a smaller, sleeker connector than DVI. Unlike DVI, all HDMI connections are equipped with the High Definition Content Protection (HDCP) protocol, enabling them to pass copy-protected digital broadcast content.
HDMI is backward-compatible with DVI, meaning that if your source component is equipped with a DVI connection and your display has HDMI (or vice-versa), you'll be able to convert the video portion of the signal via an adapter, while maintaining the integrity of all-digital signal transfer. However, since DVI makes no provision for audio signals, you'll need to establish separate audio connections when converting from either connection to the other.
IEEE-1394 Connection (aka FireWire, iLink)
IEEE-1394 is a standard (approved by the Institute of Electrical and ElectronicsEngineers) designed for the high-speed exchange of information between PCs and consumer electronics devices that transfer large amounts of data. To date, IEEE-1394 connectivity has been primarily used to connect digital camcorders to PCs for video editing, but certain high-end TV manufacturers (such as Mitsubishi) have begun incorporating it as an all-purpose digital A/V connection. The connection also carries control information, enabling the seamless coordination of multiple A/V devices — especially when optionally piggybacked with the complementary HAVi (Home Audio Video interoperability) specification. In theory, up to 63 compatible devices may be daisy-chained to a central control device (and operated using a single remote!) using IEEE-1394.
Familiar to PC users, this connection can carry video image data in a variety of formats and resolutions, and is often labeled according to these formats (VGA, SVGA and XGA are the most common 4:3 formats; WVGA, WSVGA and WXGA are their widescreen counterparts). RGB connectivity is becoming increasingly common on high-end TVs as well, facilitating what's commonly referred to as "digital convergence": the integration of formerly separate systems (such as your PC and your home entertainment system) via a single common display device. In other words, you can now compute using your TV as a monitor (and your home theater audio system instead of computer speakers) — particularly exciting news for avid computer gamers.
Component Video Connection
Though inferior to the digital connections listed above, component video is superior to both S-video and composite video because it provides improved color purity, superior color detail, and a reduction in color noise and NTSC artifacts. The 3-plug video output of a DVD player sends/receives the luminance (Y) and 2 color signals, each on a separate colored RCA cable.
An S-video connection is much better than a composite video connection, but it is not as good as component video. This higher quality video input/output segregates chrominance (color) and luminance (light) signals for excellent reproduction from high-quality video sources such as S-VHS, Hi8 and DVD players.
Composite Video Connection
A composite video connection is a direct video connection using an RCA-type plug and jack; it's superior to the RF type of connection but inferior to S-video and component video. In most cases, composite video cables are sold bundled with a pair of stereo audio cables for convenience. These bundled cables are often referred to as "A/V" (audio/video) cables.
Coaxial Digital Audio Connection
Making a digital connection (optical or coaxial) between your receiver and DVD player or CD player is a great option. A digital stream sends unprocessed sound information to your receiver (which, as a general rule, has a better digital-to-analog signal processor than a DVD or CD player) to be decoded and amplified. (In the case of SACD or DVD-Audio players, a 5.1-channel analog connection is necessary.) A coaxial digital connection sends signals electrically, as opposed to optically. This is not to be confused with an RF cable, which is sometimes called coaxial.
Optical Digital Audio Connection
Making a digital connection (optical or coaxial) between your receiver and DVD player or CD player is a great option. A digital stream sends unprocessed sound information to your receiver (which, as a general rule, has a better digital-to-analog signal processor than a DVD or CD player) to be decoded and amplified. (In the case of SACD or DVD-Audio players, a 5.1-channel analog connection is necessary.) An optical digital connection sends signals in the form of light, as opposed to electrically. Optical cables have the advantage of being immune to EM and RF interference.
Stereo or 5.1-Channel Audio Connection (Analog)
Stereo audio cables provide basic 2-channel analog audio connectivity between your VCR, CD player or DVD player and your home theater receiver (or the audio inputs on your stereo TV, in the case of your DVD player or VCR, if you don't have a receiver). They provide a better signal transfer than coaxial RF A/V connections, but a digital connection is vastly superior.
Note: 3 pairs of high-quality stereo audio cables can also be used to connect high-resolution multichannel audio players (SACD or DVD-Audio) to 5.1-channel inputs provided for this purpose on certain receivers.
Coaxial A/V Connection
Coaxial A/V cable (also know as RF cable) connects your cable box or digital satellite box to your TV. It can also be used to connect a VCR to your TV (but composite or better A/V cables are preferable). If your TV only has coaxial RF inputs, you can use a video switcher and RF modulator to hook up advanced sources like DVD players or home gaming systems (but picture and sound quality is not nearly as good as with composite, S-video or component video connections).