What types of Home theater cables do I need for installation?

When you are doing your home theater installation, there are two main categories of cables that you need namely: Video and Audio cables. These categories then have different types of cables for each category bringing the total number of cables to 14.

Image cables:

  • HDMI cables
  • S-Video
  • F-type (RF) or coaxial cables
  • RCA
  • Composite video cables
  • Digital video interface (DVI cables)
  • Component video cables
  • VGA cables

Audio cables:

  • Stereo RCA cables
  • Optical cables (TOSlink digital cables)
  • Speaker wires
  • S/PDIF cables (digital coaxial)
  • XLR cables
  • USB cables

But let us face it, you will not be needing all the 14 cables. The cables you decide to use for both your audio and video will depend on your home theater equipment and other factors that will come into play.

What kind of cables should I use? (considerations)

1.      Cable length

This is one of the most important considerations you should make before cable shopping. Cable length will mainly be affected by the type of home theater setup you want to have.

The idea here is to keep the cables as short as possible to reduce the amount of resistance that you get from your cables. This especially true for speaker wires. Having short wires will ensure that you are getting the most out of your speakers.

Longer cables may be needed for a more custom system. However, longer cables will have more resistance meaning that your audio will be less clear and quieter.

You can compensate for the increased resistance by using thicker wires and making sure that your speakers are correctly positioned.

2.      Conductivity

Having cables with the best conductivity will ensure that you get the best audio and image quality greatly improving your experience.

The conductivity is affected by the type of metal material that is used to make the cable. There are there types of metals used to make audio and video cables namely: Silver, copper, and gold.

Silver cables

Silver wires are the mid-range type of cables that offer less resistance than copper cables but more than gold.

These are the type of cables I would recommend you go for if your budget allows it. However, you should note that silver cables can oxidize which in turn increases the resistance. It is, therefore, important to make sure that they are well insulated.

Copper cables

Copper wires are very common in most home theater installations because they are the cheapest of all the three.

However, there are also higher range of copper wires that are more expensive than the typical ones. These are mainly gold-coated copper wires that help improve their performance.

Gold wires

Gold wires are the top-tier of wires that will have the least resistance and have no corrosion or oxidation but the biggest downside to these wires is the price. These cables are expensive and are mainly used by music nuts, audiophiles, and so on.

But if you are going for the best and have the money for it, these are the type of cables that you should use in your home theater.

3.      Type of home theater equipment you have

Different types and generations of equipment will have different connectors for both audio and video.

Modern home theater components are going to use more modern types of cables such as HDMI 2.1 but if you have older equipment, the more traditional cables such as S-video cables will come in handy.

We are going to look more into the type of cable that will go hand in hand with the components that you have.

Home theater audio cables

Gone are the days where there was just mono analog audio. Nowadays, different audio formats range from Dolby Atmos to DTS-X and different channels that you can content with from 2.0 to upwards of 11.2.4 and so on.

Getting the best audio from your equipment will play a part in how close your home theater experience is going to be as close as possible to the paid cinema experience. It is for this reason that you should invest in the best possible audio cables.

S/PDIF cables (digital coaxial)

Digital coaxial cables are basic audio cables used to send audio signals over short distances. You can use digital coaxial audio cables for connections between your audio/video processor and the output devices and also for a surround sound set up.

These cables, however, cannot support newer High-res audio formats such as DTS-HD, DTS-X, Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, etc.

RCA audio cables

Stereo RCA audio cables are another type of basic and analog audio cables that only transfer stereo audio signals.

For most of the traditional connections between audio devices such as turntables and receivers, stereo RCA cables will be needed.

Optical cables (TOSlink digital cables)

Optical audio cables are used to carry audio signals from the source using light pulses and cannot be affected by electrical or magnetic inference. And like coaxial cables they can also be used for a surround sound setup but cannot support 3D audio formats.

Because they are not affected by electrical or magnetic interference, optical cables have a cleaner sound than RCA. They, however, only work for short distances typically between 5 and 10 meters maximum, and are fragile.

USB cables

USB cables can be used to carry signals from your PC to a processor/receiver or integrated amplifier.

When shopping for a USB cable, you should look for one that is high-quality to reduce timing errors. You should also put into consideration the type of USB connector on your devices that can either be micro USB, Type B, Type C, or Type A.

XLR cables

XLR cables are common with audiophiles are capable of delivering balanced sound for high-performance equipment.

An XLR connector will have 3 pins one for the ground wire, another for the negative conductor, and the positive conductor. Noise from the negative and positive conductor cancel out giving clearer and more balanced audio compared to RCA cables.

Speaker wires

Most speakers do not come with their own wires which often means that you will have to purchase your own speaker wires.

Speaker wires come in different gauges/thickness that is 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18. The smaller the gauge number the thicker the speaker wire is and vice versa. Getting thicker speaker wires will mean less resistance and thus better and clearer audio.

If you are planning to run your speaker wires over longer distances, make sure that they are as thick as possible. Thicker wires are also great for low impedance and high-power set up.

Thinner wires on the other hand (typically 16- and 18-gauge wires) are great for speaker connections that run for less than 50ft. These speakers are also great for low impedance and low power system (8 ohms to as low as 4 ohms). Thin wires cannot be used over longer distances because they use up a fair of the power to generate heat other than powering the speakers.

Video cables

HDMI cables

Most media rooms and home theater use HDMI cables to transfer HD images to and from the media source to the display device. HDMI ARC cables can also be used to carry audio to and from your processor to your media display.

How to get the right HDMI cables for your set up

When shopping for HDM cables, the length should also be one of your considerations. Typically, most HDM cables will need to be about 2 meters or less but 30+ feet, you will need HDMI cables that use hybrid fiber/copper conductors, fiber or active circuitry. Longer HDMI cables should run in-wall.

You should also consider the resolution you want to be watching. A 1080p cable would be great, but investing in a 4K resolution cable is even better. Also, if you are planning to invest in a 4K HDMI cable, make sure that your sources, receiver, and the display device can support 4K. Make sure the HDMI cable you get is labeled as “premium High Speed” for true 4K.

Having an HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) would be great if you want to avoid having a separate cable for your audio. This is if your devices support HDMI ARC. There is also HDMI eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel) designed to provide you with uncompressed and high-quality audio and can also handle 3D audio formats and bigger bandwidth.

F-type (RF) or coaxial cables

Coaxial cables can be used for both digital and cable TV with an RF connector also known as an F-connector or cable Tv connector. These R-type cables can be used to carry both video and audio signals from a satellite dish, antenna, or cable TV box to your display.

RF cables can pass up to 1080p resolution videos.

When shopping for a digital coaxial cable, you should look for one stamped RG-6 which will have better shielding, thicker insulation, and a larger conductor. You should also look for a threaded coaxial cable for a high-quality connection.

Composite video cables

Composite cables have similar connectors to RCA cables and come in three-color cables typically, red, white, and yellow. These were the most common cables for video back in the day carrying signals from older components such as DVD and VCR players.

If you are using an older Tv and older media sources, this may be your go-to, but if that is not the case, you may never need to purchase these cables.

Component video cables

Before the invention and betterment of HDMI cables, component video cables were the standard video cables for high-quality home theater images.

If you still have older home theater equipment, component video cables can come in very handy. They carry the color and black and white signals separately with no audio. This means that if you plan on using component video cables on your older components you may also need a separate cable for your audio signals.

DVI, DVI-D or DVI-I cables

DVI stands for digital visual interface cables and can either be a hybrid of both analog and digital cables (1920 by 1200 resolution at 60 hertz) or can be fully digital (19 -25 pin DVI-D).

These cables are designed for you to get the best out of your LCD monitor but can also be used in your home theater or media room to connect your PC to a different display device for example when you are using your TV for gaming from your computer.

There are several types of DVI cables;

  • The Single-link DVI-D cable is the most common (digital-only cable).
  • The Dual-link DVI-D cable (high bandwidth digital only).
  • DVI-A (analog only).
  • The Dual-link DVI-I cable (analog and high bandwidth digital).
  • Single link DVI-I cable (analog and digital).

Single link DVI cable comes with one digital information transmitter while a dual-link DVI cable has two information transmitters.

S-video cables

Today, there is no much use for these cables but they work by having 4 pins that separate color signals from black and white signals like composite video cables. However, s-video cables have a better resolution and a better image quality overall than composite video cables.

VGA cables

VGA cables are commonly used to connect a PC to a display monitor or any display device with a VGA connector. These cables can support both analog and digital video signals.

Home theater cable tips

Plan your wiring distance before shopping

Having cables of the right length is very important, especially when it comes to saving on cost. Having a plan before buying your cables will help you buy better cables of the right length.

Keep signals cord a few inches from the power cords

Doing this will help minimize the interference between your signal cables and your power cords.

Avoid bending your cables

Bending cables or trying to make short cables reach can cause stress on them and can easily damage them, especially for optical cables.

Label your cables

When you label your cables, you will get to know where each cable is running to in case you are planning to move your set up or when you are doing an upgrade.

Connect your speakers in phase

Connecting your speakers in phase means that the negative wires are connected in the negative ports and the positive wires are connected in the positive ports in both your speakers and receiver/amplifier.

Not doing this can wipe some of the frequencies and sometimes you may never get to notice unless you are a true audio nut. However, you will easily notice when the audio is subtractive for lower frequencies and high-end frequencies. This may also mean that you are not getting the value for your money from your audio setup.

Final thoughts

Knowing the kind of cables that will best suit you depending on your device can help you save a lot of time and money when you are doing your installation.

Check the kind of ports available on your devices, consider how big your home theater room is and the kind of audio and video that you want to get from your home theater set up.

You can also go wireless for most parts of your system if you have equipment with wireless Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity.

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