Wiring Guide: Page 2

Now you know the basics, it’s time to learn the application.

Types of audio cables:

  • Standard coax:  The old twist-on coax cable carries audio and video, but you will most likely never use it for that purpose.  It passes the lowest quality audio and video possible so don’t use it unless you absolutely have to.  If you have a mortal enemy, use it to connect his high-def cable box to his TV.
  • RCA audio cables:  These analog cables are the old red and white ones we have been using for decades.  The red one carries the right audio signal, and the white one carries the left audio signal.  Don’t throw them out yet.  You may still need them.  All of you that are using Zone 2 or Zone 3 on your receivers must use these cables to connect each device to the receiver- even the TV (if you are streaming media like Pandora radio through your TV).  I know you are already connected to the receiver via HDMI or some other digital cable, but you have to connect them again using RCA audio cables.  You will also use RCA cables to connect all your old devices to your receiver, so keep them around.  Don’t waste your money on high-end analog audio cables.  As long as they have a strong connector on them, you’ll be fine.  A $15-$25 set will work for most of us.
  • Subwoofer Cable:  This is an RCA cable that will connect your receiver to your subwoofer.  This might need to be a long cable, especially if your sub is on the other side of the room.  Whatever you do, don’t go cheap with this guy.  The sub cable is sensitive and really needs a high-quality cable.  Depending on the length, look to spend $50 or more.
  • Optical Audio cable:  This digital cable is a fiber optic that you will use to connect older devices to your receiver.  It can carry the older surround sound formats such as DTS and Dolby Digital.  If you are streaming media through your TV, you may need to come out of the TV’s digital out into the receiver so you can utilize your surround sound speakers.
  • Digital Coaxial:  This digital cable is identical to the optical audio cable in purpose but looks totally different.  It’s an RCA cable.  I’ve used low quality cables as a substitute and they have worked perfectly.  Maybe some professional audio calibration technician is yelling at his screen right now, but low quality cables have worked fine for me.  I try to use good cables for this one though- just in case.  A $30 cable should do the trick.
  •  HDMI:  This is the cable we will be using for a long time.  This cable looks like a computer cable and carries HD video and the new surround sound formats.  It has revolutionized the way we connect our home theater.  Now it’s one HDMI from each device to our receiver and one HDMI from our receiver to our TV.

Choosing an HDMI cable:  HDMI is always upgrading its capabilities.  At first it only sent audio and video, then it sent commands to other devices (like power off).  Now it sends 3D, and soon it will allow devices to share a network connection.  The HDMI cable that you have now will probably (no guarantees) do everything you need it to in the future except for sharing a network connection.  That needs a special HDMI cable with extra wires in it.  If your cable is from 2009 or earlier, there is a good chance it won’t have the extra ethernet wires.  That doesn’t mean your equipment won’t work.  It just means they won’t share an ethernet connection.  Make sure you get the latest and greatest (which is HDMI 1.4a with ethernet as I write this) so you’re not sorry down the road.

HDMI is a wire where quality really matters.  The version (1.3 or 1.4) is one thing and the actual quality is another.  HDMI is very sensitive.  It works or doesn’t work and just because it works for your cable box doesn’t mean it will work for your Blu-ray player.  Just because it works for your Blu-ray player doesn’t mean it will work for your 3D movies.  Don’t go cheap on this cable, but you don’t have to go crazy either.  If you’re going to install it in a wall and won’t be able to get access to it again, BUY A HIGH QUALITY CABLE!  Plan on spending $25-$35 for a 6′ cable and $50 to $75 for a 12′ cable at a minimum.  Longer lengths will be more susceptible to problems.  When you’re installing really long lengths or when you won’t be able to replace it, don’t take chances.  Your best bet would be to stick with solid brands like Monster or Ultralink.  A high-quality 50′ length might cost you $250 or more, but if your cheap HDMI cable doesn’t work, a new installation will be much more than that.  I have to plug the business here.  We guarantee any cable we sell.  If it fails, we will re-install a new one at our expense. 

 Page 1: Wiring Bootcamp      Page 2: Audio Cables      Page 3: Video Cables      Page 4: Making the Connection