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HDTV Connectors 101

August 22, 2014 | Comments

The decade-old High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) digital connector is the highest quality and most versatile AV connection available today; one mulitpin HDMI cable can carry up to eight audio channels plus high-definition video and control data, eliminating the need for separate cables and making it possible to use the TV's remote to control connected components. Most TVs have two or more HDMI jacks for connecting an AV receiver and other AV gear.

An HDMI port can also be used for plug-in "dongles" such as Roku's Streaming Stick, which adds Internet connectivity so you can stream movies and other programs from services such as Netflix.

Some newer HDTVs include an MHL-enabled HDMI jack for connecting a compatible smartphone or tablet to the TV. MHL, which stands for Mobile High-Definition Link, lets you view photos and HD-quality video (with multichannel sound) on the TV while the device charges.

Yet another variant of the HDMI connector is labeled "ARC" for Audio Return Channel, which allows audio to be sent back from the TV to an ARC-compatible component plugged into that jack without having to run a separate cable. This makes it easier to route the audio to a soundbar or AV receiver/surround setup.

Component Video

Before HDMI gained widespread acceptance, component-video was the highest quality analog video connection. In stark contrast to the one-cable-carries-all convenience of HDMI, a single connection uses three RCA cables - color-coded green, blue, and red - to carry the color (Pb and Pr ) and luminance (Y) parts of an analog video signal, while audio is sent over a separate cable(s). Component-video jacks are handy for getting the best possible picture quality from an old DVD player or camcorder.

Composite Video

This basic connection is provided so you can continue to use older gear - like that ancient VHS VCR. It uses a single RCA jack (color-coded yellow) and delivers the lowest level of picture quality.

Antenna/RF

This threaded "coaxial" connection is used to attach an external antenna so you can receive TV broadcasts over the air; it can also be used to connect a cable TV box, although you should use an HDMI cable for the best picture quality.

Optical Audio (a.k.a. Toslink)

A fiber-optic connection for sending high-quality audio from the TV to an AV receiver or soundbar.

Audio Output

The ubiquitous pair of red and white RCA jacks is handy for hooking up old gear or if you need to make a quick analog audio hook-up.

USB

The same jack used to connect a variety of devices to a computer, the USB port on a TV offers a convenient way to access photos or videos stored on a USB thumb (flash) drive.

Ethernet/LAN

This squarish connector resembles a traditional phone jack and is used to make a hard-wire connection to the Internet when a wireless Wi-Fi connection isn't possible.

Wi-Fi

There is no physical connector in this case, but so-called "smart TVs" have built-in wireless capability for connecting to the Internet.

To learn more about home entertainment options and professional installation, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.