Making a choice

Gold stereo cablesYour home entertainment system will only look and sound as good as the cable you are connecting it up with. To maximise the quality of your home entertainment, a good quality audio and video cable is essential and there is a huge choice out there. Recent improvements in technology have introduced digital signals which are providing the best quality signal you can get and home entertainment systems have never sounded or looked so good before. But, naturally, these cables are more expensive.

If you prefer the cheaper option, then analogue still provides a decent quality and upgrading to the best quality cables around will make a substantial difference, but digital signals really are leading the way. Although all cables suffer from lost signal strength, the difference between the best and worst cables is the protection they provide to minimise the effects of outside interference, and this is reflected in price.

The better cables will employ various methods to resist this - oxygen-free copper, shielding and gold-plated connectors which corrode less easily. These features, as well as the length of the cable, decide the price you pay. Standard cables, such as scart leads and HDMI cables, can range from a couple of quid to over a hundred pounds.

Video and Audio cables

Many audio signals and video signals are combined into one lead - such as scart cables. These are commonly used in gaming systems, DVD players and TVs and are one of the most popular and common cables. However, HDMI cables, which carry both audio and video as one digital signal, are widely used in home theatre systems and are slowly replacing the analogue audio cables. They provide a better quality signal transfer and provide wider frequency bandwidth. If you have a surround sound system in your home, then S/PDIF is the most common digital connection for multichannel audio and it comes in optical and coaxial.

Digital coaxial cables are well known for being robust and are preferred for their resistance to wear and tear, although the cable is quite thick and inflexible for running round corners. The alternative choice, digital optical cables, are a lot thinner and better suited to longer cable runs and there is hardly any difference in sound quality between the two. Optical cables transmit digital signals but manage to minimise outside interference by using pulses of light rather than electric impulses.

S-Video cables increase the image quality by breaking the signal into two parts, but component video cables offer the best quality non-digital options for relaying HD video by transmitting the video signal in three separate cables - maximising the image quality.

DVI cables provide the highest video quality and support both digital and analogue signals. VGA cables are generally used in computers, but can be employed in a home entertainment system to connect projectors or HDTV decoders.

HDMI cables

High Definition Multimedia Interface ports now come as standard on High Definition televisions and are a single cable way of hooking up all the parts of your home entertainment system. HDMI cables are popular because they reduce the amount of cables needed to connect devices and can carry HD-quality video and audio signal - including 8 channel audio.

DVD players, games consoles, home laptops, computers and even digital cameras come with HDMI ports to transfer top quality audio and video.

There is a huge range of HDMI cables on the market, with added features for improving picture and sound quality. A standard HDMI cable costs around £10 rising to £100 for the top-end cables. The most expensive HDMI cables are normally gold-plated which gives them an excellent life as gold won't corrode over time. However. this won't make a huge difference to the sound or image