These cables travel various routes, to and from the TV, cable or satellite box, receiver, DVD player and speakers. The cables create a rat's nest of connections many people don't really understand.
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These include "expensive is better," "heavier is better" and "bigger is better." That works for some products but not necessarily for audio and video cables.
Here's a good rule: go for digital over analog when deciding among types of cables. But among brands of cables, feel free to cheap out. That could mean buying a $5 high-definition multimedia interface cable, the best connection for a high-definition TV, instead of a $150 HDMI cable.
Why? Because there's no difference in the quality of sound and picture you get from pricey cables, some experts say. It's true that high-priced cables are high quality, made of good materials with good connections, and they look nice too.
They're probably even more durable. But experts say top-quality cables won't make your TV's picture or sound any better than cheap cables of the same type and gauge.
Buying high-priced digital cables for picture and sound is like buying a $100 printer cord in hopes your computer printouts will be sharper, said Don Lindich, a syndicated technology columnist and creator of Don Lindich's Sound Advice Blog (soundadviceblog.com).
For a non-technical example: Buying expensive cables is like using Evian bottled water to flush your toilet. It might be top-quality purified water, but it doesn't flush the bowl any better than tap water, Lindich said. And it's wildly expensive by comparison. Will a top-quality lamp cord finally bring out your bulb's brightness? Will a better cord on your microwave oven cook food faster? No.
Lindich cites his own video system.
"I have a $13,000 television hooked up to a $5,000 video processor with a $5 HDMI cable," he said. "That should say a lot about where my priorities are. If I thought a $200 HDMI cable would make a difference, I would have no trouble spending the money."
Consumer Reports has written such things as, "Cable prices vary greatly. We've found that expensive premium-brand cables don't offer much advantage over lower-priced cables" and "shielded generic cables ... should be fine and will cost much less."
Monster Cable Products, a leading brand of pricey cables, says it has a high rate of satisfaction among customers.
Ketch Rogers, a product manger for Monster Cable, said premium cables "absolutely" provide a noticeable difference.
He did say, however, that over a short distance people might not notice an improvement with many of today's relatively low-bandwidth signals, even for high-definition television. "Short lengths are relatively easy to have a good connection," he said.
He also touted Monster's customer service and some Monster cables' ability to handle future high-bandwidth video signals as reasons to buy the premium cables.
Arguments about high-priced cables have been long-running ones. Here are some things to think about. -- Connection types.
For best performance, go with the best "type" of connection your components can handle. The lowest quality is connecting components with coaxial cable, the ubiquitous cable or satellite TV wire that probably comes out of your wall. It carries both audio and video. The highest-quality cable, HDMI, also carries audio and video, although your cable box or audio-video receiver might not be equipped to handle HDMI.
Between the extremes of coaxial and HDMI are connections that separate audio and video with different cords. Video-connection options include component, S-video and composite. Component uses three connectors and is the best quality of the three. S-video and composite use a single cord, and S-video is the better of the two.