The only way to get the clearest picture and sound quality is to purchase the newest HDTV cables, which are constantly updated to support new features. With new specifications tailored to 3D pictures and 4K resolutions, these cables will usher in a new era of cable programming.
Types of HDTV Cables
TV viewers with the biggest televisions and best sound systems won’t be able to take advantage of their home theater systems without the right cabling for the job. Each type of cable performs one function, and most home theaters require most or even all of these cables:
Coaxial cables can be found in every home across the United States. These round cables bring in digital signals from cable providers, and these same wires can be used interchangeably with cable modems.
However, most TV subscribers don’t hook up their coaxial cables directly to their televisions. Most television subscriptions today require the use of a separate cable box to take advantage of features like popup TV guides and HD programming.
Most homes also use coaxial splitters to transmit TV and Internet signals to several rooms from the same source, so homeowners can watch TV while the kids watch a movie in another room.
HDMI, or High-Definition Multimedia Interface, cables are the most popular home theater cables in use today. With HDMI cables, users can connect everything from cable boxes and Blu-ray players to computers and game consoles to their televisions.
HDMI cables are also renowned for their simplicity. A single cable can transmit both video and audio signals in crystal clear quality, and the digital nature of the HDMI standard means that it can be updated with improved specifications on a regular basis.
Fortunately, HDMI cables are backwards compatible. The latest standard, HDMI 1.4b, added 1080p support for 120 Hz programming, which many television manufacturers are adopting. HDMI 1.4a added support for 3D programming, and many new TVs can upscale 2D pictures into 3D in real-time.
However, HDMI cables suffer from two main drawbacks. They are relatively short; most cables measure just 6 feet in length. Many HDMI cables are also expensive. Generic brand cables are available, but many are constructed from shoddy materials. A well-constructed 6 foot cable will set TV viewers back at least $20.
Because digital is the way of the future, component cables are being abandoned in favor of HDMI. However, component cables are sufficient for all but the newest types of programming.
Component cables transmit analog video signals over three distinct cables, which carry red, green, and blue pictures separately. The television reassembles the three images, and the picture quality is every bit as impressive as HDMI. Component cables also use RCA cords for audio signals.
TV viewers looking to watch 3D programming will need to upgrade to HDMI since component cables don’t support the standard yet. While component cables support resolutions up to 1080p, there is no indication that they will support 120 Hz programming any time soon.
DVI, or Digital Visual Interface, cables transmit video signals for computers. Computer monitors have already moved beyond the 1080p resolution cap of televisions, so DVI cables can support resolutions up to 3,840 x 2,400, which is actually higher than the upcoming 4K standard.
DVI signals degrade over long distances, so users should turn their display resolutions down when using cables over 20 feet in length. However, DVI boosters can allow home theater enthusiasts to use DVI cables several hundred feet in length.
Ethernet and USB
Cable subscribers who enjoy watching TV on their computers will want to pick up Ethernet or USB HDTV cables. Many tuners can use Ethernet cables to directly connect to wireless routers, so users can watch TV on any computer in the house.
Other TV subscribers simply want to watch programming on a single device. They can purchase inexpensive USB 2.0 or 3.0 cables to connect their TV tuners. Some tuners also use DVI cables.
The best sound quality requires something more than what television speakers can deliver. Home theater enthusiasts have been installing optical audio cables for years now, and the results are impressive.
Optical audio cables support every modern audio standard on the market. Even though the cable was first invented in 1963, it’s been upgraded to support a bitrate of 125 Mbps. Unfortunately, it’s limited by signal degradation, so cables cap out at just 5 to 10 feet in length.
Future Cable Technologies
Current HDTV cables allow home theater owners to connect all of their electronics, but cable technology is advancing rapidly. Cable manufacturers have to update specifications just to keep pace with new video standards that emerge every few years.
By the end of the decade, HDMI cables will support much higher resolutions and audio quality, and 3D will be a standard feature in every new television. DVI and component cables will slowly disappear while universal cables like USB and HDMI will become more popular.