Video Cable Buying Guide

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Video Cable Buying Guide

When televisions first entered homes, owners only had to connect one video cable, the one from the antenna. Modern home theatre systems have many more components, and as a result, many more connections. As video technology has changed and improved, the connectors and cables used to transmit video signals have changed as well. So even if two home theatres have the same components, the video cables required may be different, depending on the video technology used by each component. Luckily, the different cables and converters available let buyers add a video source or television with the newest digital connectors and still use the older equipment in their home theatre.

Using the correct cables and converters ensures that all the components work together seamlessly. It also ensures that viewers get the best video quality possible with the available components in any video setup. Buyers need to understand the different types of video connections available in video components. They can then select the right cables for their equipment. Finally, buyers have to purchase the selected cables from a reliable source and connect them correctly.

Analogue vs. Digital Video Signals

Older video components use analogue signals to transmit video data. This is a fluctuating electronic signal that is similar to a wave form. Other signals in the area (electromagnetic or radio waves) degrade analogue signals if interference occurs. This shows up as static in the video. Analogue cables are shielded to prevent as much interference as possible.

Digital cables move video transmissions as binary digital signals (a series of ones and zeros). The signal does not degrade as much as analogue signals, and is not as susceptible to interference. Digital cables can carry much more data and are currently the best type of cable for video.

Some components offer several types of connection options. If both the components to be connected have digital connections, then buyers should use a digital cable. If both of them offer only analogue connections, then buyers must use an analogue cable. If one component offers only a digital connection and the other only an analogue one, then buyers must also purchase a converter to connect the two.

Common Analogue Video Cables

There are four common types of analogue cables used to connect home theatre components. A fifth is used for analogue video transmission in computer systems.

Coaxial RF Cables

The coaxial RF cable, also known as coax or F-type, can carry signals up to 350i when used as a video interconnect cable. This resolution is lower than an analogue TV signal. Therefore, buyers should not use this type of connection to connect a video source to a television since this can degrade video. Coaxial cables work well when transmitting signals from cable boxes or satellite dishes to a receiver. Buyers should use "RG-6" coax cables since they include better shielding than "RG-59" cables.

Composite Cables

Composite cables are capable of carrying a 480i video signal, and are good enough for analogue television. These cables usually have a yellow video connector paired with two audio connectors, one red and one either black or white.

S-Video Cables

S-video cables are similar to composite cables, and are capable of transmitting 480i video signals. However, they are superior to composite signals because "luma" (or brightness) information is transmitted separately from colour information. This results in richer colours. S-video cables do not carry audio signals.

Component Cables

Component cables are the best analogue interconnects available. Like S-video, video is separated into different "components". In this case, two components transmit colour information, and a third transmits brightness information. These cables can carry signals up to 1080p. They are usually combined with two more connectors for audio signals.

VGA Cables

Mostly used for computer systems, Video Graphics Array (VGA) cables were first able to carry a only very low 640x480 pixel video signal. The connector can now carry signals required for high definition video.

Common Digital Video Connectors

Digital video has been around since the 1980s and is now the preferred method of video transmission. Like analogue cables, technological progress has resulted in several different types of connectors.

FireWire

FireWire was developed to carry large amounts of data quickly; it is used in computer systems where high volumes of data need to be transferred. It is also known as IEEE 1394. Though rarely used to transmit high definition video signals, some televisions have FireWire jacks that allow direct video playback from compatible camcorders.

Digital Video Interface (DVI)

Digital Video Interface (DVI) was originally developed for computers, but was also the most common connector to transmit digital video before the advent of HDMI. These cables do not carry audio signals.

High Definition Media Interface (HDMI)

HDMI cables are the standard for digital video today. Unlike DVI, HDMI transmits audio signals as well as the video signal. The newest version of HDMI, HDMI 1.3, can carry 1080p video signals and eight separate channels of audio.

DisplayPort

The DisplayPort interface is used to connect a video source to a display device, but can also be used to transmit audio and data. It was designed by the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) to replace the VGA and DVI connectors found on computer systems. DisplayPort easily connects to older displays using an adapter.

Comparison of Different Video Connectors

Buyers must choose the correct cable to connect a video source to a display. The multitude of cables available makes the task daunting, but well-informed buyers should have no trouble choosing the correct cable.

Type of Cable

Signal

Maximum Resolution

Picture Quality

Audio Signal

Recommended Uses

Coaxial cable

Analogue

350i

Poor

No

VCRs

Long-run cable between satellite dish or cable TV entry point and receiver

Composite cable

Analogue

480i

Fair

No

VCRs

Analogue TV

S-video cable

Analogue

480i

Good

No

DVD players

Digital TV

DVRs

Game consoles

Component cable

Analogue

1080p

Better

No

HDTV

Non-HD digital TV

DVD players

DVRs

Game consoles

FireWire cable

Digital

1080p

Best

Yes, as part of data transferred to file

Camcorders

DVI cable

Digital

1080p

Best

No

HDTV

Personal computers

HDMI cable

Digital

1080p

Best

Yes

HDTV

Blu-ray players

Game consoles

High-definition DVRs

Personal computers

When choosing a video cable, buyers should select the highest resolution output available at the source and the highest resolution input available at the destination device, and then select a cable that matches this setup. If the devices support HDMI, use HDMI cables. If not, the next best connector must be used. This ensures the highest possible video quality with the equipment available.

Cable Construction

Another important factor to consider is the cable construction. An inferior cable results in interference and degradation to the video signal.

1. Connectors

Connectors are the ends of the cable that plug into jacks. These can be of two types, either molded or assembled. Molded connectors can withstand considerably more stress than assembled connectors. Connectors are made of different materials, and the construction material can affect the performance of the cable. Nickel over brass is one of the preferred materials; it has good transmission qualities, and is also durable. Gold connectors are also marketed as a premium option, but whether or not they are more effective is debatable. However, in conditions where oxidation is an issue, gold connectors offer superior performance.

2. Conductor Material

The centre conductor of a video cable is the primary conductor, and it plays a large role in the cable's performance. Oxygen-free copper and silver-coated copper wires are the best options. Larger gauge conductors perform better than smaller gauge types. Buyers should note that gauge numbers are denoted in reverse, with larger numbers denoting a smaller gauge. Cables are also available with solid or braided centre conductors. While solid conductors offer a small performance advantage, braided cables are much more flexible.

3. Shielding

Shielding is important because it protects the video signal from external interference. There are four types of shielding: braided, spiral, foil, and twisted. A good rule of thumb is to choose cables that have at least two layers of shielding. Shields are measured in "percentage of coverage". A higher percentage is better than a lower one.

4. Outer Jacket

The outer jacket protects all the inner components of a cable. They are usually made of PVC, but some are also made of a material called "plenum", which is fire retardant and required by some construction codes. Stronger jackets offer better protection against cuts and scratches.

5. Cable Length

Users should keep cable length short since video signals tend to degrade over long distances. If very long lengths of cable must be used, buyers should consider using extenders to maintain the quality of the video signal.

How to Connect a Digital Device to an Analogue One

In some cases, the output at the video source does not match the input on the display. In general, when connecting an analogue source to an analogue display, if the connectors do not match, an adapter is all that is required. The same applies if both the source and the display are digital. For example, a DVI source can be connected to an HDMI display with an adapter. Of course, audio needs to be transmitted separately, since DVI does not transmit audio signals. The signal need not be converted, only the shape of the connector must be changed.

However, if one of the components is digital and the other analogue, then a cable with different connectors on either end does not do the job. The signal must be converted. Buyers can find a wide range of converters available for this purpose. Some of the most common are:

  • Composite to HDMI converters
  • Component to HDMI converters
  • HDMI to component converters
  • HDMI to composite converters

Buyers must remember that an analogue to digital converter cannot convert the signal in reverse, or vice versa. For example, a converter designed to connect a component source to an HDMI display cannot be used to connect an HDMI source to a component display.

Buying Video Cables on eBay

Buyers seeking video cables to connect a video source component to a television or monitor can find an attractive selection on eBay, with listings to suit any requirement or budget. Buyers can begin a search by entering a phrase in the search bar on eBay's home page. If buyers are already on another page on eBay, they can use the search bar on that page. Buyers can enter more keywords when looking for a specific cable or type of cable. For example, a search for “gold plated component video cables” returns a list of all the gold plated component video cables available on eBay. The list can then be filtered based on various criteria, such as price, condition, and seller location.

Buyers should review a seller's return or exchange policy before committing to a purchase. If sellers are close by, buyers may contact them to arrange for a local pickup, if both parties are comfortable with the arrangement. This saves buyers the cost of shipment.

Conclusion

Video cables transmit video signals from a video source to a television or display. The first video signals were analogue, but the current standard is digital. Buyers can find a range of analogue and digital video cables for both types of signals. To avoid signal degradation, buyers should choose the best cable for the components to be connected. A good rule of thumb is to choose cables that match the highest quality connection available on both components. Along with the type of cable, buyers must also consider the cable's construction. Higher quality cables transmit video signals better. When connecting analogue components to digital ones, buyers must purchase an appropriate converter as well.

Video cables are readily available in the audio-visual section of electronics shops. They are also available online. Buyers looking for video cables online can find a wide selection, and a pleasant shopping experience, on eBay.

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