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A Simplified Approach To Cables and Cabling Terminology

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

We often take it for granted but the thing that makes ours an efficient electronic world is cable. The devices that we use everyday, the ones we have learned to rely on for information, entertainment and convenience, are all run through various cabling technologies. It is therefore important to know the different kinds of cable that connects these devices.

By definition, a cable is a set of two or more wires that are held together and assembled to act as a single unit. Since wires are made of various metals, they conduct electric current. Keeping this in mind, they have 2 general functions – first is to power electrical devices, and the second is to conduct an electric signal.

General Cable Classifications

Power cables are straightforward enough; they connect your electrical or electronic devices to a main power supply in order for your device to operate. Every electrical appliance needs one; otherwise you would not even be able to turn the device on.

Connecting cables that link your various devices to each other are the ones that carry a signal. For instance, your computer monitor is connected to your computer via its own connector. Signal-carrying cables can be differentiated into the type of signal that they carry. In general, these would either be analog or digital. They may also be defined further by the nature of the signal – audio, video or data.

Different Types of Cables and Connectors

There are many kinds of cabling used for consumer electronics. You can recognize them mostly by their various connectors. The following are some of the more common cabling technologies used in modern appliances and devices.

Analog Audio. Most audio devices are multi-conductor shielded cables. The tell-tale sign is the “jack plug” connector or TRS (short for Tip-Ring-Sleeve). This is used commonly for such devices as microphones and headphones. TRS is typically a 3-conductor cabling technology but there are variations that use 2-conductor, 4-conductor and even 5-conductor connections.

Apart from TRS, other connectors are used for analog audio. RCA connectors, typically colored in red and white, are very common and are usually included with most radios, DVD players and television sets. Then there are XLR connectors, which are used for professional microphones and high-end audio equipment.

Digital Audio. The most common standard for this is S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interconnect Format). The signal can travel through optical fiber technology terminated by TOSLINK connectors. Otherwise, coaxial or coax – similar to the type used by Cable TV companies – can also be used. These can then be terminated by either BNC connectors or RCA connectors.

Analog Video. Most video connectors come as RCA colored in yellow. This is referred to as composite format and is a consumer standard for such video-output devices as Betamax, VHS, Laserdisc, VCD and DVD players.

For computer monitors, the standard was the VGA connector or the DE-15 subminiature. It is still in use today but there are monitors nowadays that are starting to use the DVI format. DE-15 is also known as HD-15 because some early HDTV units also use the connector.

Others in this set include S-video and component video. The S-video terminal plug looks like the PS/2 plug used previously on pre-USB models of computer mice and keyboards. On the other hand, component video use RCA connectors for terminals but differ from standard RCA video connectors in that it integrates three connectors (typically coded in red, blue and green) in one unit.

Digital Video. There are currently two standards used in the industry. The first is DVI or Digital Visual Interface and it is set to replace the VGA standard in computer monitors. The DVI-I version of this connector are compatible with VGA as well as with HDMI cable connections (using a special adapter).

HDMI is the second type of connector in this category. It stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface. HDMI cable is actually used for both audio and video signals. This is the latest cabling technology to support the most high-end electronics in the market today.

Two other cable technologies are worth mentioning; these are Firewire and USB cables. They are digital connectors and are used mainly to capture and output audio-video as well as data between a wide range of peripheral devices and a computer.

This Article is written by John C Arkin, contributor of PrintCountry News Articles.

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