PCWorld's Giant Cable Guide

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PCWorld's Audio/Video Cable Guide

S-Video (aka Y/C)

Use it for: Midrange video devices

If you have a choice, select it instead of: RCA composite, coaxial

It's similar in performance and use to: Composite video

It adapts to: Composite video (but it loses its quality advantages)

Add more ports by: Connecting a splitter, repeater, or receiver

Though this kind of connection is a clear boost over a composite RCA connection, S-Video is still far from the quality of HDTV-supporting cables such as component.

Coaxial Video (aka Cable TV Connection)

Use it for: Connecting antennas; wiring a VCR to an analog TV; linking from the wall to the TV for cable broadcasts

It's similar in performance and use to: Composite video

Add more ports by: Connecting a splitter

The lowly coaxial cable supplies both analog audio and video between devices. It's also the cable of choice for TV-tuner antennas. Cable companies use this cable, although they'll typically send a digital signal that a converter box at your TV decodes. Nearly any time you attach a coaxial cable directly to a TV (except for a digital antenna), you should expect merely basic quality.

Toslink (aka Optical Cable or S/PDIF)

Use it for: Connecting DVD players, game systems, cable boxes, and other devices to audio receivers

If you have a choice, select it instead of: Analog RCA audio; all other, common audio options

It's similar in performance and use to: Digital RCA audio over a single cable

It adapts to: Mini-Toslink

Add more ports by: Connecting a splitter or receiver

A digital connection, Toslink sends optical pulses that are decoded into audio. The commonly used S/PDIF signal carries surround details. ("S/PDIF" is sometimes used interchangeably as the cable name, although "Toslink" refers to the actual connector.) Mini-Toslink is occasionally used, especially with Apple computers; such jacks are often inside of the typical 3.5mm stereo mini-jack port.

Mini-Jack (aka TRS, 3.5mm Plug, 1/8-Inch Plug, Headphone Jack)

Use it for: Nearly every portable audio device, computers, portable speakers, video cameras

If you have a choice, select it instead of: A mono mini-jack

It's similar in performance and use to: 1/4-inch plug, 2.5mm plug

It adapts to: 1/4-inch plug, 2.5mm plug, RCA plugs

Add more ports by: Connecting a splitter

This headphone connector is ubiquitous, available on nearly every audio device and offered as the basic plug on media players. You'll most often encounter a stereo connection, which has two rings around the end. (If the plug has only one ring, it sends mono audio.) The plug is also often used to send video along with audio, adapting from the mini-jack end on a device to RCA plugs. The audio-signal output on a mini-jack is louder than the signal typically carried on stereo RCA plugs, so if you use an adapter (if you plug an iPod into a receiver, for example), turn up the volume slowly.

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