Wiring Guide

Wiring Boot Camp


It’s time to buckle down and concentrate.  This can get complicated  so take your time and work through this guide slowly.  We need to cover  some basics before we can really dig in.

Audio and video:  It is CRUCIAL that you understand  the basic principle that audio and video are two completely separate  entities.  They don’t have anything to do with one another, and they  require different cables to carry them (most of the time).  They don’t  work together even though it may seem like they do.  They live separate  lives, and we merely manipulate them into merging together for our  enjoyment.

Analog and digital audio:  We are only going to  focus on the difference between digital and analog audio since knowing  what digital video is won’t affect the wiring scheme.  Analog audio is  what we have been listening to our whole lives.  It’s simply a left and  right audio signal.  If you have 200 speakers hooked up with analog  cables, you will get 100 speakers playing the left audio signal and 100  speakers playing the right audio signal.  Surround sound is more than  just adding a bunch of speakers.  It’s making each speaker play a  completely unique sound which differs from all the other speakers in the  group.  That is how we can create the effect that someone is shooting  behind you to the left. If you want true surround sound, you must use digital cables.  If  you’re not using digital cables now, but think you’re getting true  surround sound, I’m sorry but you’re not.  Your receiver has technology  in it to synthesize surround sound from an analog source.  Not only will  it be weak, but it’s not accurate to what the director wanted you to  get.  To sum this up, analog sends two signals (left and right) and  digital sends surround sound.

Inputs and outputs:  This is a simple concept, but  can be confusing for first-timers.  The signal leaves the device through  the output and comes into the device through the input.  For example,  the video signal leaves the DVD player through the video output and  enters the receiver through the video input.  To get to the TV from  there,  it goes through the receiver’s video output and into the TV  through the video input.  From now on, outputs will be called “outs” and  inputs will be called “ins.”

Type of cable vs. quality of cable:  It’s important to know that the TYPE of cable used, will have more to do with the end product than the QUALITY of  cable used.  Each device can be hooked up several different ways, and  all of them will allow the system to work.  You must choose the right  cables so your system doesn’t just “work” but produces the best picture  and sound possible.  That part is heavily dependent on using the right  cables.  The quality of cable is also very important.  Once you know  which cables to use, you have to make sure the sensitive ones are  high-quality.  We will go over which ones are sensitive to quality in  the next section.

RCA:  RCA is a type of connector, not a cable.  It’s  the type of connector that you can find on the end of the old red,  white, and yellow cords laying all over the back of your TV.  We like to  call any cable with an RCA connector an “RCA cable” but it is in fact,  just the connector.  We will still call them RCA cables here.  Want to  know a secret?  ALL RCA CABLES ARE INTERCHANGEABLE!   What?  Did I just say that?  Call the cable police, I think I’ve just  committed a felony- at least to your neighborhood big box store  employees.  Yes, it’s true and not a joke.  Mix and match all you want.   Some RCA cables need to be high-quality or the outcome is garbage, but  you can interchange any RCA cable and it will work.

Audio Cables


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.
  • 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.
  • 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 4K, 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 TV.  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 Vanco or Wyrestorm.  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. There is even an option to upgrade an older receiver using HDMI and a Sonos adapter- You can get digital signals on zones 2 and 3 thru HDMI.

We guarantee any cable we sell.  If it fails, we will re-install a new one at our expense..

Video Cables

 Types of video 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.
  • Composite video cables:  This RCA cable is the  yellow one you see grouped together with a red and white one.  Even  though we’ve been using it for decades, I don’t see it going anywhere  anytime soon.  We still see it used for video game systems (like the  Wii) and for many commercial uses.  The quality of cable won’t affect  the system.  Spend $15 on one and you’ll be fine.
  • S-Video:  I don’t even know why I am wasting  e-space for this one.  This cable is dead.  You’ll have a hard time  finding any new device that even has connections for it.
  • Component video:  This is how we have been getting  HD for the last decade or so.  It’s a group of three RCA cables (red,  green and blue) and never fails.  Although we don’t use it much anymore,  it will still be around for a long time.  It’s great for video  distribution and for businesses.  It’s not capable of 1080p  (that’s mostly true but will be left for another day) but still shows a  great picture.  Quality isn’t overly important here either.  Spend $30  to $45 for a 6′ set and you will be fine.
  • RGB, VGA and DVI:  These are video cable that you  will use to connect your TV to your PC.  Newer PCs have HDMI outputs but  if it doesn’t have one, it will have one of these.  Installing these  cables in the wall are a PAIN since the connectors are so large and  fragile. Avoid it if you can.  If not, good luck.  I have always used  moderate grade cables, and I have never had one go bad.  I’d recommend  using a good quality cable just in case.  I don’t want any nasty phone  calls.
  • HDMI:  Like I said earlier, this is the cable we  will be using for a long time.  Not only does it carry 1080p, but it  also carries 4K.  Besides that, there isn’t anything else to say about HDMI  that I haven’t already mentioned.

How To Make The Connection


How to wire your home theater:  Now you know what  the wires are and what they do.  It’s time to put that knowledge to  work.  The first thing you want to do is pick your equipment.  It all  starts with the right equipment.  If you haven’t done that, check out  our buyer’s guide.  Please contact us with any questions.

Making a Diagram

If you’re still following along, I’m assuming you have your system  all picked out and you’re ready to fire that baby up.  Our example will  be semi-complicated so we can be sure to touch every aspect of the  wiring process.  Start by drawing a diagram.  Here is a quick one I  threw together (see image on the right).  In this system, we are using a new 3D TV, 3D Blu-ray,  3D receiver, a generic iPod dock, a Wii video game console, and an old  cable box.  I’m streaming Netflix and Pandora Radio through my Blu-ray player.  The receiver is also a 2 zone receiver that I want to use to power a pair of speakers in the kitchen.


Choosing video cables:  The first thing we need to  do is find the highest quality video output on each device.  For the  Blu-ray player and the receiver, that’s an HDMI cable.  For the old  cable box, it’s component video.  The kids don’t care about the quality  of the Wii system, so we’ll stick with what came in the box (a composite  video cable).  The iPod dock doesn’t have any video output (some do,  but this one doesn’t).   Once I have the video cables selected for each  device, I need to make sure the receiver can accept all these cables.  I  asked So Cal Home Theater for a recommendation and they told me to get  this receiver, so I’m all good.  It can accept all the different types  of video cables.

Choosing audio cables:  Now, I need to choose the  best audio output on each device.  The best quality audio from my  Blu-ray player is HDMI so we’ll use that.  Since it carries audio and  video, I only need the one HDMI cable.  The old cable box only has an  optical audio out for digital sound.  I prefer HDMI, but since this old  box doesn’t have it, we’ll use the optical audio out.  I’m still only  using the analog RCAs for any Wii audio.  The iPod dock only has a set  of analog RCA outputs so we will use those.  The receiver will keep all  the audio to itself, so we won’t be passing on audio to the TV.

We can’t forget that we are using Zone 2 to power the speakers in the kitchen.  Zone 2 only sees analog audio inputs.  This  is very important and will save you a lot of troubleshooting and  frustration if you can remember it.  This goes for every receiver with  Zone 2 or Zone 3 features.  That means you will double connect the audio  when you are using a digital audio connection.  The Blu-ray and old  cable box have to be double connected for audio: a digital connection  for surround sound in the living room and an analog connection for music  in the kitchen.

Making the connections:  Now that I have all my  cables picked out, it’s time to plug them in.  It’s impossible for me to  explain how to do that through a website since every receiver is  different with different labeling schemes.  For example: one receiver  might use input labels like “DVD, Blu-ray, Cable/Sat, etc” while another  brand uses labels like “HDMI1, HDMI2, Video1, Video2, etc.”  All I can  say is take your time and try your best to match up the device with the  description.  It doesn’t matter where you plug them in as long as you  take note of it.  You won’t have an input labeled “Wii” so you might use  the “DVR” input, for example.  Try to plug the audio and video cables  from a single device into the same input label on the receiver.  You  can’t plug the component video cables from the cable box into “Video1”  then plug the audio into “Video3” unless you can “assign” the inputs.   If you get stuck or run out of the inputs you need on the receiver,  you’re going to have to “assign” the inputs.

Assigning inputs:   This is the last step of the  connection part of the job.  Manufacturers know that you might have  trouble matching video inputs to audio inputs.  For that reason, they  make several inputs assignable.  This means you can take the audio input  labeled “DVD” and assign it to the video input labeled “Cable box” for  example.  It sounds complicated, but it only takes a minute or two.  You  will have to read the receiver’s owner’s manual to find out how to do  that, but it’s usually (not always) done through the internal setup  menus.  The manual will tell you exactly how it’s done.  You might end  up plugging the component video cables from the cable box into “Video1”  and the optical audio cable into “Audio6.”  Once they are assigned to  each other, it’s fine.

Summary:  I know this seems confusing, but once you  get it, you’ll have a lot of fun experimenting with different things.   Don’t be scared to try.  Anything you do can be undone, and you can  always call out a professional (preferably us) if you get stuck.  We  might be able to walk you through the problems over the phone.  GOOD LUCK and please let us know if our guide helped you.