Audio Video Connectors

  What are All Those Audio/Video Connectors?


Home entertainment systems are getting more and more complicated all the time. I remember wowing everybody in our neighborhood as a kid, when I connected our TV to the stereo system. We might have had the world's first stereo TV. Nowadays, if you don't have a large-screen plasma TV, with blue-ray, at least 5.1 sound, internet and at least one 3D gaming console connected to it, you're considered to be living in the stone ages.

Connecting all that stuff together can be a bit daunting.
There are so many types of connectors used for audio and video connections today, that just understanding what they are, let alone where they go, can be a bit of a challenge. Well, we're going to try and debunk some of the myth behind all those connectors, letting you know what they really are and what they really do.

What makes it worse is that most manufacturers try and keep their equipment backwards compatible. So, even though they don't think you'll need to connect your vintage VCR to your brand-new 56" plasma TV, they still put the connectors there for you. You never know, there might be some crazies out there who have held on to their collection of 650 VCR tapes. A wise manufacturer always takes those people into consideration, before eliminating connections from their equipment. Besides, connectors aren't really all that expensive anyway.

Audio Connectors


Okay, let's start with the easy stuff, audio. With a simple stereo setup, you'll only have two connectors, one for the right channel and one for the left. If you have more than that, you don't have a simple setup.

stereo audio

Stereo Audio Connectors

This is the standard stereo connection, made with RCA connectors. Red is always used for right and white is always used for left. Just because you have a fancy system, doesn't mean that you won't find this type of connector. If you're just connecting two speakers, this is what you'd use.

You'll also find this sort of connection used for the audio channel on your CD player, DVD player, and even your Blue-Ray.

5.1 audio connectors

5.1 Multi-Channel Audio Connectors

5.1 Stereo
used to be known as "surround sound." It allows you to place five
tweeter/midrange speakers around the seating area, with one sub-woofer.

This is the audio connector panel off of the back of a DVD player that is 5.1 capable. That doesn't actually mean that all of the audio that comes out of it will have been recorded in 5.1, but it can handle it if it has been. On the left,
are the two standard stereo jacks shown above. On the right are the six jacks for the 5.1 sound. They consist of:

 •   Front Right - red

 •   Front Left - white

 •   Back Right - red (placed to the right and slightly behind the listener)

 •   Back Left - white (placed to the left and slightly behind the listener)

 •   Center - black (placed above or below your TV screen)

 •   Subwoofer - black (placed where your wife forces you to place it even though it's the wrong place!)

The actual connectors used for 5.1 sound are the same as used for stereo; RCA connectors.


Digital Audio - Coaxial

A single RCA connector is all that's needed for 6 channels of Multichannel audio. Supports PCM or Bitstream Dolby 5.1 or DTS 5.1.


Digital Audio - Toslink

A single Optical Toslink connector is all that's needed for 6 channels of Multichannel audio. Supports PCM or Bitstream Dolby 5.1 or DTS 5.1.


Stereo Headphone Connector

As the name
so clearly implies, these connectors are used for audio headphones and
earbuds. Once upon a time, they were all 1/4" diameter, but now they are
often 3.5mm, which is the same as 1/8".

You can tell they are stereo by the two black insulating bands on the connector (the bands on the silver part). If they only had one band, they would not be stereo, but mono. Those connectors are used for microphones and some other technical applications. Don't try connecting a mono cable to your stereo headphone outlet, it'll short out the circuitry and can damage things.


Apple Dock Connector

The Apple Docking connector is a connector system developed by our friends at Apple, for use in connecting iPod, iPad, and iPhone and quite possible whatever iP____ devices they come up with, to the rest of the analog world. Adapter cables are available, which connect the world of Apple to the world of the rest of us.


MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital

You won't find a MIDI connector on the back of your television, although
you might on the back of a computer audio interface. This connector and the supporting architecture was developed to allow electronic instruments to connect together through digital signal. By doing this, one instrument, say a keyboard, can control several "MIDI devices" producing a different sound through each of them. If you have an electronic keyboard, it is almost
guaranteed to have a MIDI connector on it. Today, this is being replaced by

Video Connectors

As video has changed and developed, so has the need for new connector types, which carry more data and split the data into separate channels. Today's television typically comes with an extensive connector panel, allowing the connection of a wide variety of equipment to it.


Composite Video

Composite Video Connector

Composite video is the simplest video connection you can find. Its
name comes from having all three colors sent together over the same wire.
This has been used effectively with video for quite some time with the old
broadcast standard, but is not compatible with HDTV.


S-Video Connector

S-Video is another older format, used with the old broadcast standard. The difference between this and composite is that the video signal has been divided into two distinct signals, one for luminance (brightness) and the other for chroma (or color). Each of these signals is passed over a wire pair, with its own ground, or two coax cables. Splitting the signal provides for better video quality. This was originally developed to go with the SVHS
(Super VHS) video tape recording format.


VGA (Video Graphics Array)

This is the format created for providing 640 x 480 pixel resolution on computers; and replacing CGA, which only had 320 x 200 pixel resolution. VGA is not compatible with other video formats, because it uses a RGB color scheme, instead of Y-Pr-Pb like component video. To connect RGB with most video equipment requires running it through a converter. However, some televisions and almost all video projectors will have a VGA input on them, for connecting computers.

component video

Component Video

Component video derives its name from the fact that the three video colors are divided into separate channels and transmitted over separate lines. This is the original HDTV format; as the amount of information to be transmitted couldn't be done over a single composite line. The connectors are still RCA connectors, but color coded to match the three component colors.



This is another video format primarily used for computers. It was created to allow digital connection as opposed to analog to the larger resolution monitors of today. The developers were seeking a replacement for the venerable VGA interface, which has been in use since the 1980s.

There are several versions of the DVI interface, with different numbers of pins, but all fitting into the same general pattern. Although a computer interface connection, some television sets will still have DVI connectors. It has largely been replaced by HDMI.

Mini DVI

Mini DVI

This is an Apple exclusive, allowing connection of Apple computers to other video equipment. It works under the DVI standard architecture, but with its own physical connector.

Audio/Video Connectors

Believe it or not, manufacturers have actually been getting smarter, at least from the consumer point of view. Instead of expecting everyone to live with a snake's nest of wires behind their entertainment centers, they've been creating combination connectors and cables that carry both the audio and video signals. That means that while it may still look like a snake's nest behind your entertainment center, there will only be a third of the snakes.


HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface)

HDMI has become the new standard for digital audio/video signals. HDMI picks up where DVI leaves off, by adding the audio to the same connector. Other than that, it works by the same system as DVI. See our article on HDMI for more information about this connector series.

mini Displayport Connector

Mini Displayport

Mini Displayport was another Apple exclusive until it was adopted as a standard. It can carry both Digital Video and Audio, but various computers and devices have varying levels of audio support.

mini video

Mini Video Connector

This connector type is used exclusively for connecting to analog video cameras. It is usually found on a cable, whose other end holds three RCA plugs, for audio Right & Left and video. You can differentiate this from headphone connectors in that it has three black insulating bands, instead of two.

RF connector.jpg

RF Connector (type F)

This is the good old coaxial antenna connection for a television. It can either be threaded or push-on, although the part mounted to the device is almost always threaded, allowing the connection of either threaded or push-on cables.

So, there you have it. You are now officially declared an expert on all those crazy connectors you see on the back of your entertainment system. You can wow one and all, by identifying what all that stuff is for and making them think that you really have something connected to all those connectors.



Rich Murphy