Cables and plugs

With the growing number of electronic devices in the modern home, figuring out how to link them all together can be a confusing task. Ian Grayson fills us in on which plugs and cables are used for what purpose.

You might be connecting a DVD player to a TV, or an MP3 player to a stereo system. Or, you may want to connect a video camera to a PC to download some home movies for editing, or display digital photos stored on a notebook computer on a television monitor.

To achieve such tasks there are a myriad of cables, leads and connectors from which to choose. Collectively known as ?interconnects?, each has been designed for a specific job and knowing which one to use is half the battle. There are audio and video leads, optical and digital signal connectors, and a range of cables that perform multiple functions.

Essentially every cable you?ll need to connect just about anything in the home falls into one of a basic set of categories. If you understand these categories, you?re well on the way to connecting devices in the way you want, and to perform the functions you need. The basic categories are audio and video, and within these, analog and digital. The digital variety typically offers better quality in a more convenient cable, and should be your first choice where available and where your equipment allows.

General advice

The cables packaged with electronic goods are typically the cheapest and nastiest the manufacturer could source. To do your investment justice (you wouldn?t put retreads on Ferrari), throw them away and invest in some aftermarket interconnects.

Overall, the quality of any cables you use will be reflected in their price. There is much debate over the types of cables and connectors that work best, but performance will come down to the way they have been constructed and the materials used for the connectors at each end.

Most equipment suppliers offer cables with gold or silver-plated connectors, usually at slightly higher price to their non-plated equivalents. The theory is that these will provide a better connection to whatever device you are using, minimising signal loss and the potential for interference. If your budget can wear it, it?s probably best to opt for plated connectors on all cables.

The quality of the cable itself is another important consideration. Sufficient shielding (the cover through which the cable itself runs) is vital to ensure the signal is not lost during its journey and does not suffer from interference from other cables or nearby electronic devices.

As a rule of thumb, the further the cable has to travel, the more important its quality becomes. While most cables will be used to link devices that are close together, others (such as a cable connecting a cinema amplifier and a video projector for example) need to travel further. Investing in better-quality cables for these types of applications will pay off with better video quality.

Armed with this knowledge, the task of selecting the right cable for each particular connection requirement should be straightforward. Plug your components together, fire them up, sit back and enjoy the home entertainment revolution!