Understanding Video Cables

Making sense of all those wires

Video cables can be extremely confusing, and with today's elaborate multimedia systems, it can seem more difficult than ever to make sense of them. While it's easy to get overwhelmed if you're inexperienced, the truth is that video cables aren't nearly as complicated as they seem. You simply need to understand the purpose of the cable and know where connections are supposed to originate and terminate. While that may seem to be easier said than done, it will make a lot more sense with a basic primer on the main types of video cables.

The Five Main Types of Video Cables

While there are dozens of different types of cables, you're most likely to encounter these five terms in the world of home theater:

  • HDMI cables. High-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) cables operate at specific frequencies, and serve as multipurpose connectors for audio, video, and Internet hardwiring applications. They connect signal sources with display devices, and usually have four sets of twisted pairs guarded by a shield.
  • DVI cables. Digital video interface (DVI) cables are used to connect a video source with a corresponding display device, such as a television set or computer monitor. They are available in single-link and dual-link configurations and are most commonly used to connect computer hard drives to monitors. However, with desktop computing systems becoming less common, DVI cables are beginning to fall out of use.
  • SVGA cables. Super video graphics array (SVGA) cables transmit analog signals from sources to display devices, and like DVI cables, they are typically found in desktop computer setups. They support higher resolutions than their VGA counterparts, but again, with the use of desktop computer systems in decline, the heyday of SVGA cables may be over for good.
  • Component cables. These are the cables that plug into the back of your television. The "component" label indicates that the incoming source has been divided into multiple parts -- typically including separate channels for luminance, brightness and chrominance.
  • Composite cables. A composite cable, as you may have guessed, combines the separate channels of a component cable into a single cable. The key thing to remember here is that neither component nor composite cables support audio, so you'll always need separate cables to hook up your picture and your sound if you're setting up a new TV.

If you have any doubts about proper system setup, or if you feel overwhelmed by all the different cable types, seek professional assistance. You risk damaging your system if you make the wrong connections, and many retailers offer setup assistance and technical support free of charge to customers.

Got questions about audio, video or Internet cables? Wondering whether high-end cables are worth buying? Learn all about cable types, features and prices here:

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