Making connections: cable types

The best performance requires you make the right connections between all equipment

You have a disc, or maybe a digital TV signal. You have a device that extracts the picture and sound from these sources. Now they have to be delivered to equipment that will turn them into, respectively, high definition video and audio. What’s the best way to do that? And what do you do with those non-high definition sources?

You need cables for all of this. Your Blu-ray player has to be connected to your home theatre receiver. It, in turn, has to be connected to both your TV and to your loudspeakers. There are different types and qualities of cables, and each must plug into corresponding sockets on the equipment you use. Fortunately, most equipment these days identifies sockets by name, making it easier to know which cable goes where, and the majority of home theatre receivers even indicate which source equipment should connect to particular sockets.

We describe the different cable types for video and audio in the table over the page, and rate the potential quality of each out of ten. Clearly, we recommend that you choose, wherever possible, a 10/10 connection (that is, HDMI). In some cases this won’t be available, so choose the next highest score that does cover your equipment.

Joined together

You may have your Blu-ray or DVD player – or whatever – plugged directly into your TV, in which case you will not really be enjoying high definition sound. So we shall look at how a home theatre receiver can provide high definition sound, improve some regular sound, and aid convenience.

Quite simply, you plug each of your source devices using their best available connections into your home theatre receiver. So your VCR will use composite video and analog stereo audio, while your Blu-ray player will use HDMI. Some of your other sources may use other, intermediate connections.

The receiver will extract the sound, decode it where necessary, amplify it and use it to drive your loudspeakers. If you happen to have some VHS tapes that you still like to watch from time to time, try switching your receiver’s Dolby Pro-Logic II processing on. Many VCR tapes from the 1990s have Dolby Surround encoded on them and can produce creditable surround sound.

Many receivers will take an analog video signal, even a poor quality composite video signal, and convert it to digital HDMI for you. This allows you to use a HDMI connection from the receiver to your TV, the benefit being that you only ever need to select the source you want to watch or listen to with the home theatre receiver’s remote control – you don’t then also have to change your TV’s input.