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Interconnecting Gadgets

In this post, I will discuss in detail about the different ways to interconnect the gadgets and get the best out of it. I will also give an idea about different kind of cables and connectors.

If you own a decent AVR you will be familiar with the following picture. It is the rear side of a typical AVR showing the connectors to interface with other devices. Some of you may find it a nightmare to go through the manual and find out how to connect it. Since AVR acts as a switching HUB for all the media, almost all the equipments at your home will have atleast one connection which goes to AVR.

This article is aimed at helping them in understanding various interfaces and the quality of video / audio expected out of each interface.

You come across the following interfaces / cables while interconnecting home gear

Digital Video
  1. HDMI (Digital, Both Audio and Video)
  2. DVI
Analog Video
  1. Component Video
  2. SVideo
  3. Composite Video (AV input)
  4. RF (IEC connector / F connector, modulated signal for both Audio and Video)
  5. RF using BNC connector
  6. VGA
  7. SCART
Digital Audio
  1. HDMI
  2. Optical (S/PDIF signal)/ TOSLink
  3. Optical Mini Toslink
  4. Co-Axial (S/PDIF signal)
Analog Audio
  1. Analog Stereo Audio using RCA cable
  2. Analog Stereo Audio using EP Cable (Philips) / Phone Plug
  3. 5.1 Surround Sound Audio using RCAB cables
  4. Subwoofer Cable
  5. Banana Plugs for Speaker cables
Digital Data interfaces
  1. USB (2.0/ 3.0)
  2. FireWire
  3. Ethernet
  4. Wi-Fi
  5. Bluetooth
  6. MIDI
The following picture gives the order of preference in terms of performance when you have multiple options available for interconnecting the gadgets. HDMI being the best and RF coaxial is the worst.


Digital Video

HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) 

HDMI is a compact audio video interface of the highest standard. Currently it is the most popular way to carry HD signals. Most of the consumer electronic equipments provides HD signal through HDMI only. It uses a 19pin connector which replaced many cables and carries video up to 4096X2160 24FPS P and the best uncompressed lossless audio formats DTS HD Master and Dolby True HD. HDMI started in 2002 and HDMI 1.4 is the current version. In addition to all signal formats supported by the earlier version 1.3a, 1.4 supports 3D video, 4096X2160 resolution, Audio return Channel and Ethernet. So practically it eliminates lots of cables. The most popular version currently is 1.3a which is found in most of CE devices.

The following picture gives the demand for increase in bandwidth over years and HDMI stepped in to support all this high speed data transmission.

An HDMI cable comes in different prices, the length and reliability varies between them. If the length is less than 1m it may be ok to use a cheaper cable but you may get into lots of reliability issues when the length increases. So it is advisable to go for better cable from a reputed manufacturer (ex: Panasonic / or cheaper Logitech). HDMI Cables from Monster Cables may cost your Rs 5000 to Rs 15000 and the benefits are debatable to justify the higher cost.

Some of the equipments (ex: Sony HD camcorders) use mini HDMI connectors. You need to get mini HDMI to HDMI cable to connect this to a TV.

Since HDMI carries HD video and audio it is mandated to use HDCP protocols as a security measure. HDCP (HD content Protection) implementation by most of the manufactures is shaky so it is better to update the firmware of your AVR to latest version which may solve some of the issues you may face.
Competing standards are Display port and recent advancement of wireless video transmission. Recently it is proved that same data rate can be carried by new Ethernet cables, so we cannot be very optimistic about the future of HDMI.

Component video

Component video is the best analog video you can get. The video is split into 3 as follows
  1. Y - carries luma (brightness) and sync information.
  2. Pb - carries the difference between blue and luma (B − Y).
  3. Pr - carries the difference between red and luma (R − Y).
You need 3 RCA color coded (G, B, R) cables to carry the video itself and the audio equipment comes with female connectors as shown below.


This is the one of the most misunderstood video format. SVideo or Super video is introduced by JVC for its S-VHS format VCRs for a better audio. This uses a 4 PIN DIN connector and carries separate video signal for luminance and Chrominance (Y/C). Wikipedia wrongly refers Svideo as separate video and many of the shop keepers refers it as serial video, both are incorrect.

Since this uses separate Y and C signals, it gives a better picture quality compared to composite video where both color and brightness are mixed in to the same signal. This needs a separate audio cable, usually RCA cables needs to be used along with S video cables.

Composite Video (AV)

This is the easiest connection where video signal is mixed with both chrominance and luminance and is connected via single RCA cable for video (yellow). The following picture shows an AV cable where yellow carries video, Red and white carries stereo audio.

Digital Audio 

Digital audio can be connected through HDMI cable, Optical cable or Co-Axial cable. The pinnacle of Audio Nirvana, the Uncompressed Audio formats DTS HD Master Audio or Dolby True HD is transmitted using HDMI only. So use HDMI for audio where ever it is possible (exceptions are there as taught by Tata SKY HD+ ) for the best Audio. If HDMI cable cannot be used think of optical and Co-Axial in the same order.

Digital Audio through Optical Cable

Optical cable can be connected for Dolby / DTS surround digital audio and is also known as TosLink (Toshiba Link). It supports 5.1/ 7.1 "AC3" Dolby Digital (5.1, etc.), DTS, S/PDIF. But it will not support the latest uncompressed formats like Dolby True HD or Master DTS-HD.

Following picture shows Optical mini plug which is used by some systems. So do not confuse between normal optical cable and optical cable with mini plug
Digital Audio through Co-Axial cable

Co-Axial Digital Audio uses Orange Colored RCA cable

It supports 5.1/ 7.1 "AC3" Dolby Digital (5.1, etc.), DTS, S/PDIF, Sony / Philips Digital Interface Format. But it will not support the latest uncompressed formats like Dolby True HD or Master DTS-HD.


SCART is a European standard which is used for both audio and video of different formats in a single cable. This is not common in India TVs. Read more on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCART

Stereo Analog Audio

Analog stereo Audio using RCA connectors are quite common across all audio video equipment. It comes with Red and White Stereo analog RCA (Radio Corporation America) female connectors. The good thing about this is it is very simple to connect and is very cheap. But it will not support surround sound audio. Some cheap systems give audio through phone jack / Philips EP. This needs a different cable which is shown above.

Analog 5.1 Audio

Some of the equipment like DVD players with built in Dolby / DTS decoders give 5.1 / 7.1 analog audio output to connect the Audio amplifiers. This requires the following cable which is color coded. This is getting extinct now.

Speaker Cables and connectors

Normally speakers are connected using banana plug which is shown below. The same connectors allow you to connect the cables without the banana plug too. You should take atmost care to use quality cables for connecting the speakers.

Subwoofer Cable

Subwoofer cables needs to carry high current so for better performance you need to use special RCA gold plated cables meant for subwoofers. Do not use normal RCA cables used for audio.

How to connect Bluray player to your Home Theater System?

Case 1. No AVR 

This case is very simple, directly connect HDMI output of AVR to HDMI input of TV. It supports both audio and video, so you need only one HDMI cable, nothing else. In this connection you get only stereo sound and miss the surround sound since the TV may not support this. This connection does not support Dolby / DTS and the various uncompressed audio formats Dolby TRUE HD or Master DTS-HD.

Case 2: AVR included

Connect HDMI output of Blu-Ray player to HDMI input of AVR and AVR HDMI output to HDMI output of TV. The DTS/ Dolby decoding happens in AVR and you will get surround sound too. Use the audio decoders in AVR for audio decoding even if you have built in decoders in Blu-Ray player. For best quality of audio select Master DTS HD which is an uncompressed audio format and you will get the original sound.

How to Hookup HD Satellite receiver to TV using AVR?

This is a very special case since we have less than 10 HD channels with Dolby Surround Audio in India and the rest are SD channels with analog stereo audio. So you may prefer to watch the SD channels without putting ON AVR saving some power and use AVR for HD channels to take full advantage of the Dolby Surround sound. Fortunately there is an easy solution without changing your connection each time while switching from HD to SD channels.
As you know AVR act as an HDMI switch and most of the AVR supports HDMI pass through while in standby mode, but the implementation may differ.
  1. HDMI pass through is fixed on standby, ex: HDMI 2 (entry level AVRs)
  2. HDMI pass through is the last HDMI channel you were watching before going on standby
  3. HDMI pass through in standby mode can be configured to any HDMI channel you wish (best scenario)
All the latest AVRs from reputed brands support the 3rd option where you can configure your standby HDMI pass through channel. So configure the setup to enable the HDMI pass through channel on standby to the HDMI channel where your Satellite receiver is connected. So when you watch SD channels you can put off the AVR and still your TV receives both video and audio through pass through connection and you will save good amount of power. But most of the entry level AVRs comes with a single power supply control to the entire board so when you set this standby pass through feature the power is not cut off to most part of the board. Recent AVRs come with dual power supply control where you have separate power control to HDMI switching board. This saves considerable power, ex: Denon 2312. All these configurations can be controlled easily by using an activity based Universal remote control like Logitech Harmony.

You should keep in mind that all Satellite receivers are not created equal. Tata Sky HD delivers Dolby 5.1 / 7.1 only through optical / coaxial ports; through HDMI it gives only stereo sound. So you need to connect the AVR through an optical cable to really enjoy the HD channels. But SUN HD gives Dolby surround 5.1 through HDMI cable so you can save one more cable.

How to Hookup Laptop to your TV?

Laptop comes with one of the following connectors and it is given in the order of preference.
  1. HDMI (best)
  2. DVI (need DVI to HDMI convertor)
  3. VGA (TV needs a PC input option)
  4. S-Video (not so good video for larger screen TVs)
  5. AV (RCA cable, worst scenario, better do not connect this to TV)

Best way to connect a laptop to TV is using HDMI direct cable which gives the best result if both supports 1080P. Older MAC mini comes with DVI connectors, you need a small DVI to HDMI convertor and for sound you can use either optical cable (MAC mini use the audio output port for digital audio too which needs a special optical cable). For others use stereo EP to EP cable (Phone Plug) to get audio in TV.