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Home Theater Connections Guide

Understanding home theater connections and cables can sometimes be the most difficult part of setting up your system.

There are a number of decisions to make regarding the audio and video cables you are going to use in your setup - and it is an important part of the home theater and surround sound installation process.

The wide variety of ports and cables available to you can prove extremely confusing if you have little experience of this area - and it can still be difficult if you have!

So let us break down the subject of home theater connections a little to help us understand everything better.

Home Theater Receiver Rear Connections

Identifying the connections

The first place to start is to learn to identify the connection types you will find when you are installing your system.

You will find a range of cable connections on the back of your HDTV, Blu-ray player and AV receiver etc - and it is important to know what they are, as some will be better to use than others.

We can break down the connection types into three broad areas - audio + video, video only and audio only.

Therefore, some connectors can be used to send the picture and the sound between your devices, while others are purely for the picture or just for the sound.

This is important, because if you are using a connection that only sends the picture, then you know that you are going to have to use another cable to send the sound.

Here is a list of the major home theater cable connections and what they are used for. Click the link for each type if you need more detailed information.

So the first thing you need to do is to understand which connections you have on your devices, and then you will have a better idea of which ones you can use.

For instance, if your DVD player has an HDMI output, but your TV doesn't have an HDMI input, then you won't be able to connect via HDMI. So you will have to see which connection types they have in common and use those instead.

Having said that, if you are really stuck, then there are a wide range of adaptors available that may enable you to connect from one connection type to another. However, there are limitations to this approach, and so this may not always be possible.

For example, you cannot connect directly from an analog connector to a digital one as the two signal types are incompatible. There are ways of doing this, but it can sometimes prove to be an expensive option.

Which are the best connections to use?

It may be that you have a number of different home theater connections in common between your devices. So which ones do you use?

There isn't an exact answer to this question, and it may be that you could use any number of these to connect your system together, but let's make a rough order of preference to give you a start.

For video connections, the order of preference is related to the quality of the video signal that each type produces. The better the quality of the signal, then the sharper and clearer the picture should be.

Also, because many products are now digital rather than analog, we would usually favour a digital connection over an analog connection.

Bear in mind, your choice may well be limited by the connection types you have available on your equipment.

Therefore, for the picture, I would use the video connections in the following order of preference:

  1. HDMI
  2. DVI
  3. Component
  4. VGA
  5. SCART
  6. S-Video
  7. Composite

HDMI Connection HDMI Connection
Component Connection Component Connection
DVI Connection DVI Connection
Composite Connection Composite Connection

For the audio connections, the order is more based on the capabilities of the connection type. For example, a connector that allowed the transfer of surround sound audio as well as stereo audio would be placed above one that only allowed stereo signals.

Again, we would normally favour a digital connection over an analog connection, although you may be limited by the actual connections present on your devices.

Therefore, for the sound, I would use the audio connections in the following order of preference:

  1. HDMI
  2. Optical
  3. Coaxial
  4. Stereo/Multi RCA
  5. Mini Stereo Jack

Optical and Coaxial Audio Connections Optical and Coaxial Audio Connections
Stereo RCA Connection Stereo RCA Connection

This isn't an exact science. For example, the optical and coaxial connections are fairly similar in their benefits and limitations. There may be specific reasons for choosing one type over another, but if you use this as a guideline then you won't be far off.

Notice that the HDMI connection appears at the top of each list. This reflects the fact that HDMI is probably the first connection you should try and use for connecting your audio-visual devices. HDMI has the advantage of being digital, it supports all the latest types of video/audio and we only need one cable to send both the sound and picture.

Home Theater Connections Summary

Many people find the process of connecting their system together to be the most difficult.

After going through the process of choosing the right equipment and finding the best place to buy everything, it may seem that the hard bit has been done - but your problems can sometimes begin when you open up all the boxes!

However, it doesn't have to be that difficult and the important thing is to have a clear idea of what connections you are going to use to connect your devices - and why. Don't just connect everything with the cables that come in the box, because there may be a better way to do it.

If you don't pick the best home theater connections for your equipment then you can end up not getting the best out of your expensive purchases.


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