There are many types of Audio and Video Cables available for use with Digital Video Recorders, DVD Recorders and PC products. Below is an overview of audio and video cables and some common cables you will see when hooking up a DVR, DVD Recorder or connecting a peripheral to a computer.
The Insides of a cable
There are three main parts of a cable which affect signal quality: the conductor, the shielding, and the connector. The conductor is the part of the cable through which the signal actually passes. Since the conductor is basically a wire which can act as an antenna to receive radio frequency interference (RFI) and electromagnetic interference (EMI), a good cable also includes some kind of shielding, to filter out these potential sources of noise. The connector is the part of the cable that actually comes into contact with your equipment.
Analog Audio cables
RCA connections are the standard means of passing analog line-level audio signals between components. RCA jacks are commonly found on virtually every type of A/V component, including DVD recorders, DVRs and TVs. RCA audio cables are grouped in stereo pairs, with one connection for the left audio channel and one for the right.
Digital Audio cables
A special group of audio cables is digital audio cables. There are two types: optical and coaxial.
Optical cables transmit digital audio signals as pulses of light. Also called toslink or SPDIF connectors they are often found on DVD players and recorders, as well as home theater receivers and DVRs.
Coaxial digital cables look like standard analog RCA cables, but instead transfer digital audio signals. They are typically a single cable, whereas analog RCA cables are usually double plugs, for stereo audio.
Analog Video cables
Video signals can travel over many different types of cabling, but the majority of video components are equipped with at least one of the following jacks:
Coaxial RF, also known as F-type
Composite video, also known as RCA
Coaxial RF can be used to connect antennas, cable boxes, VCRs, TVs, DVD players, DVD recorders and DVRs. Coaxial RF cable carries video and stereo audio signals on one cable. It is the lowest quality cable for carrying audio and video signals and should only be used when connecting to a TV that has no other inputs.
Composite cables plug into the composite video jacks found on many kinds of A/V components, including DVD players, VCRs, DVD recorders, A/V receivers, and DVRs. They are better to use than RF cable, but are still the 2nd lowest quality. These jacks are often yellow, and are attached to red and white stereo audio jacks. These connectors are found on virtually every component in a home TV set up, and the audio jacks are commonly used with other video cables (read on).
S-Video cables feature round, 4-pin connectors, and transmit the chrominance (color) and luminance (brightness) of a video signal seperately. As a result, they provide better color accuracy and detail than either RF or composite connections do. Most new TVs and many DVD recorders and DVRs include S-Video. A common home set up is to use S-Video and RCA audio to connect a DVD Recorder or DVR to a TV or A/V Receiver that only accepts S-Video.
Component video, found on most DVD players and recorders and some DVRs, deliver better detail and color accuracy than you get with RF, composite, or S-video. They do this by splitting the video signal into three parts, with each part transmitted via its own cable. Unlike the other three types of connections, component video is capable of passing high-definition and progressive-scan video signals. In order to use this cable with a DVD Recorder or DVR you must have component inputs on your TV.