Setting up your home theater or your surround sound system will require a series of connections established with cables (unless using a wireless surround sound system). These must be able to support the audio and video you hope to stream. So, is an HDMI or AV cable better?
There are many differences between HDMI and AV cables – primarily that HDMI carries a digital signal while AV cables carry an analog signal. High-quality and high-definition content is best supported by HDMI cables considering the number of audio channels and content type it can support.
Still, you will find many audio enthusiasts loyal to their favorite AV cable considering the benefits of an analog signal that does not experience digital cliffing in the same way that an HDMI cable can (as the signal is rounded and some of the content ultimately lost). Depending on your situation, you can narrow down which type of cable is right for you. Let’s take a closer look.
Also read – Mini HDMI Vs. Micro HDMI Explained
What are the Differences Between HDMI and AV Cables?
Truly, you will find that most lovers of AV cables started their journey in the early 2000s as they connected one plug to another, avidly searching and connecting to the appropriate port. While some TVs and other types of receivers can support both HDMI and AV cables, you might be wondering which type of connection is best for your purposes.
HDMI and AV cables vary in the type of signal they transmit/support, quality of audio and video, supported content type, number of cables required to reach a maximum channel capacity, and other types of support like Audio Return Channel (ARC) used with HDMI to eliminate the need for additional audio connections to the TV.
Here is a quick comparison:
|Feature||HDMI Cable||AV (Audio/Video) Cable|
|Signal Type||Transmits digital audio and video signals.||Transmits analog audio and video signals.|
|Quality||Supports high-definition (HD) and ultra-high-definition (UHD) video resolutions.||Limited to standard-definition (SD) video resolutions.|
|Audio Support||Supports multi-channel audio formats, such as Dolby Digital and DTS.||Supports only stereo audio (2 channels).|
|Cable Design||Single cable carries both audio and video signals.||Separate cables are used for audio (red and white) and video (yellow).|
|Compatibility||Compatible with modern devices such as HDTVs, Blu-ray players, gaming consoles, and streaming devices.||Compatible with older devices like CRT TVs, VCRs, and DVD players, but may require adapters for newer devices.|
These differences do not necessarily make one of these types of cables inherently better than the other (as many loyalists would argue their case for their respective type of cable). Yet, there are simply some situations in which an HDMI cable is more appropriate than an AV cable or vice versa.
Knowing the differences between HDMI and AV cables can help you to come to a quick realization of which type of cable is the right one for you and your equipment.
Type of Signal
The type of signal that an HDMI vs. an AV cable transmits is the primary difference between these two types of cables. While an HDMI cable is able to support a digital signal (the latest and most commonly used type of signal in the media industry at this time), an AV cable supports an analog signal (limited to low-definition audio and video).
The type of signal has a large implication on the ways that you can use both types of signals. While an HDMI cable can be used to stream BluRay and high-definition content that streams on a digital signal, an AV cable will not be able to support this type of media unless you use a converter.
Now, you can find many different types of converters (such as HDMI to AV converters or the opposite). Still, the ultimate transmission in the type of signal that these two types of cables support makes the ultimate difference in the overall quality and usability of an HDMI vs. an AV cable for your surround sound system.
Quality of Media Transmission
When choosing between an HDMI or an AV cable (assuming your device supports the choice between these two types of cabled connections), you will want to choose the type of cable that is most appropriate for the media that you are hoping to stream.
This includes picking the type of cable that can support the video or audio that you are streaming without having to compress these signals.
With an analog signal (used by an AV cable), you will notice that the quality of audio and video transmitted is more prone to reduced quality and ultimately media degradation.
Still, many choose to use an analog signal transmission between their devices if they are streaming solely audio versus audio and video because of the reduced effect of “digital cliffing” that can occur with a digital signal.
With a digital signal (used by an HDMI cable), high definition content is supported as well as HDCP (high-definition digital content protection) meaning that the media cannot be copied and reproduced by the consumer. This promotes the integrity of media producers to provide high definition media that can be streamed from one device to another.
Ultimately, while AV cables are prone to become a little noisier (considering the manual impedance control and the number of required connections), HDMI cables are more like a one-and-done deal in that you plug in one HDMI cable and should be able to move onto the next part of setting up your media room.
Using an HDMI cable will provide you with the ability to stream higher-quality movies, especially those that have been recently released that require a digital audio and video signal for the best resolution.
Since HDMI cables can transmit audio and video signals that have not been compressed to “fit the cable”, you can rest assured that the media transmitted will be the same as it was when it was originally recorded and sent to the cable in the first place.
By default of the type of signal that an HDMI vs. AV cable can transmit (digital vs. analog, respectively), the type of content that each will be able to support will vary differently.
While an AV (analog) cable is able to transmit low-resolution video and audio, HDMI cables are able to transmit high definition content.
In fact, if you plan on streaming the latest movies and shows, you will inevitably find that an HDMI connection will fare better for your setup than an AV cable would.
Since most newly released types of media contain high definition content, you are best opting for an HDMI cable that can support it unless you plan on having distorted audio or poorly performing video streaming in your home theater.
This is another reason that many TVs and receivers offer compatibility for AV or HDMI connections considering the type of media that would be streamed on each.
If you are using lower quality productions like old movie cassettes that require a long-winded rewind time, then you can opt for an AV cable. However, if you are streaming BlueRay or anything comparable, you will want to find your HDMI port.
Number of Cables Required
One of the many advantages to using an HDMI cable is the number of cables that it cuts out of the equation for your home theater setup. This is mainly due to the increased capacity that a digital cable can support in terms of audio and video channels.
Specifically, many HDMI cables can send up to 8 channels of audio, a video signal, and a CEC signal so that your devices can communicate with one another.
Using an AV cable for this type of setup would require an individual cable for each channel of audio (plus video) that you would hope to achieve.
In this way, using an HDMI cable can eliminate the jumbled mess that can come with your audio and video connections. Along with that, you will likely find that technology built to support an HDMI connection will have fewer audio input and output ports on the back.
This is because the HDMI cable (especially those supporting ARC) is meant to streamline the number of cables required to be connected to the TV/receiver.
So, if you want to avoid the hassle of establishing several connections with your audio and video transmission, you can see if an HDMI cable is compatible with your device.
Not only do you need to take a look at the type of signal that your cable will transmit, but you can look to see the various types of data that your cable will support. For example, many HDMI cables support ARC or audio return channel. This is used to eliminate the need for additional audio connections to your receiver/TV.
With this type of data support (assuming your TV also supports ARC, etc.), you can rest assured that the number of cables required (as mentioned in more detail above) will be eliminated from your entire setup.
Along with ARC, there are many other types of technology built into your cables- especially with HDMI cables becoming so advanced.
Using a digital signal in an HDMI cable opens up many doorways that are not possible in the same capacity using an AV cable. While AV cables are adequate at their intended job, they simply do not keep up with many of the technological advances of today’s audio and video streaming devices.
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.