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How do I connect a Home Theatre PC to my existing equipment?

When connecting your Home Theatre PC to the rest of your equipment, such as, an Amplifier, a TV and so on, there are many different types of connections available for you to use. With a bit of general knowledge, choosing the best connection can be simple task, and will allow you to enjoy the very best your Home Theatre PC has to offer.


In general, TV's and Projectors do not support 6 or 8 channel surround sound. In the case of Projectors, they do not output any sound at all. Sound is the job of an Amplifier. In some cases, the Amplifier is built into the speakers themselves. When connecting a Home Theatre PC to your existing equipment, this article, for simplicity, will assume your TV or Projector handles only video and your Amplifier or AV Receiver handles only sound.

There are currently two categories of connections you will run into. They are Digital connections and Analogue connections. Digital connections transports streams of 1's and 0's between equipment and Analogue connections transports whole values between equipment.

Which is better, Digital or Analogue connections?

The general rule of thumb, is that a Digital connection is far better then an Analogue connection. The main reason for this is that a Digital connection does not lose any picture or sound information as it is transmitted over your cables. On the other hand, the same is not true for your Analogue connections. An Analogue connection does lose picture and sound information as it gets transmitted over your cables and this results in a loss of picture and sound quality. The extent of the loss of quality depends on the Analogue cable and the type of Analogue connection you are using.

What are the different types of connections available?

As previously mentioned, there are many types of connections available, for both video and sound connection, between your Home Theatre PC and your Home Theatre equipment. Some standards combine the sound and video into a single cable, where others use a cable for video only or sound only.

The following list includes the types of cables that are available to connect your Home Theatre PC to your Home Theatre equipment :-

Video Sound
1. HDMI
2. DVI
3. VGA
4. Component
5. S-video
6. Composite
1. HDMI
2. Optical Fibre
3. Digital Coaxial
4. Copper Wire

HDMI HDMI

HDMI stands for High Definition Multimedia Interface. HDMI carries both uncompressed video and sound in a single cable, is fully Digital and supports all resolutions from 480i to 1080p and 8-channel sound. HDMI is a relatively new type of connection which has not been around for very long. At the time of writing only one motherboard included a HDMI connector on the back panel, Abit iL-90MV. We have yet to see any Video Cards that include a HDMI connector on them. We do expect this to change in the future, where all motherboards and video cards will include a HDMI connector as standard. Similarly, only the newer Home Theatre equipment supports HDMI connections. This will also change in the future.

HDMI Cable
HDMI to HDMI Cable

For HDMI to be truly useful, your Home Theatre PC, AV Receiver and TV or Projector should all include a HDMI connector. This way you would be able to send both Video and Sound to your AV Receiver using one HDMI cable and from your AV Receiver to your TV or Projector using another HDMI cable. Similarly, You could connect your Home Theatre PC directly to your TV with a single HDMI cable. This is all very good in theory, but in reality HDMI connectors on Home Theatre PC's are still very rare.

DVI DVI

DVI stands for Digital Visual Interface. DVI only carries video information and does not include the sound. The standard caters for both Digital and Analogue Video. There are five different Types of DVI cables :-
  1. DVI-D Dual Link - Digital connection
  2. DVI-D Single Link - Digital connection
  3. DVI-A - Analogue connection
  4. DVI-I Dual Link - Both Digital and Analogue in a single cable
  5. DVI-I Single Link - Both Digital and Analogue in a single cable
Single Link supports all resolutions up to and including 1080p. Dual Link supports higher resolutions which newer TV's are now able to display. Dual Link effectively doubles the bandwidth available for Digital video information. Dual Link does not effect the bandwidth of Analogue Video information.

The DVI-I cable is useful when you are not sure if your equipment accepts a Digital or Analogue DVI connection. Most Home Theatre PC's have a DVI-I out connector.

DVI Cable
DVI to DVI Cable

Since HDMI is backward compatible with DVI, DVI to HDMI cables are also available.
HDMI to DVI Cable
HDMI to DVI Cable

Getting the video from your Home Theatre PC that includes a DVI connector, to your TV or projector that has either a DVI connector or a HDMI connector can be simply achieved using one of the above cables.

VGA

Traditionally, a VGA cable is used to connect a PC to an LCD monitor, however, more and more TV's and Home Theatre Projectors are including a VGA connector on their back panels. A VGA connection is Analogue and can support resolutions much great than 1080p. When a Digital connection is not available, a VGA connection is a great solution, as VGA connectors are common place on Home Theatre PC's.

VGA Cable
VGA Cable

Component

In the Home Theatre world, Component has long been considered the best of the best, however, there are better standards available today, which have surpassed the quality of Component connections. Even though Component connections supports all resolutions up to and including 1080p, other cables such as DVI and HDMI produce far better results.

There are many different forms of Component connections :-
  1. RGB
  2. YUV (PAL)
  3. YIQ (NTSC)
  4. Y Pb Pr
  5. Y Cb Cr
Care should be exercised when using Component connections as they are not cross compatible, even though you can use the same cable for each connection. For example, A Home Theatre PC may support Y Cb Cr but if your TV supports Y Pb Pr, then a direct connection is not possible using Component cables.

Component Cables
Component Cables

It should be noted that Y Cb Cr is often confused as a Digital connection, because it is widely supported on todays Digital devices, however, Y Cb Cr is NOT a Digital connection, it is infact an Analogue connection.

S-Video

S-video is an Analogue video connection only, which is similar to component, but instead of the video information being sent across 3 pairs of wires, S-video sends a little less information across 2 pairs of wires. This results is a poorer quality image when compared to Component connections, however, the advantage of S-Video is that it is very common and supported by just about every piece of equipment. S-Video is not capable of producing High Definition video and has a maximum resolution of 576i. S-Video should be avoided whenever possible.

Composite

Composite is an Analogue video connection only, which sends a little less information then S-Video down a single pair of wires. This results in the poorest quality picture out of all the video connections discussed in this article. Typically, when you purchase a DVD player, it comes with composite video cables. As with S-Video, Composite should be avoided whenever possible.

TOSLink/Optic Fibre

TOSLink is a Digital connection for your sound that uses Optic Fibre which, unlike copper cables, transports light pulses between 2 pieces of equipment. If the light is present, it's a 1 and if there is no light, it's a 0. TOSLink has the advantage that it can carry all 8 channels of sound over a single optic fibre. Just about every piece of equipment (including your Home Theatre PC) supports TOSLink for your sound. Amplifiers, in general do support TOSLink. It is very common to connect your Home Theatre PC sound to an AV Receiver using an Optic Fibre cable.

Digital Coaxial

Digital Coaxial is the same as Optic Fibre, but uses Copper cables, to transport electrical pulses between 2 pieces of equipment. The presence of a voltage is a 1, otherwise it's a 0. The benefits are the same as an Optic Fibre connection.

Copper Wire

A Copper Wire Cable is an Analogue connection for your sound. Each channel of sound requires another pair of copper wires to transport the information to the next piece of equipment. Most Home Theatre PC's support 8 channel sound, which means you will need 8 pairs of copper wire cables to connect your Home Theatre PC to an Amplifier or AV Receiver. When connecting speakers to an Amplifier or AV Receiver the choice is easy, as speakers can only be connected via copper wire connections.

Unlike video information, sound does not require the same volume of information that video requires and for this reason there is very little difference, if any between Digital and Analogue sound quality. The main advantage comes in using less cables with a Digital connection.

The Home Theatre PC advantage

Since a Home Theatre PC is High Definition for both video and sound, we highly recommend using the Digital connections described above if they are available, to connect your Home Theatre PC to your existing Home Theatre equipment. This will go a long way to ensuring you get the stunning video and sound quality your Home Theatre PC is capable of delivering!

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