Cables are a ubiquitous feature of this age and like most people, you may have accumulated a drawer full of them. But if you’re not a tech-head, figuring out which type to use can be a dilemma. And a common question asked is whether a coaxial cable can substitute RCA.
You cannot use a coaxial cable instead of RCA. RCA is merely a connector and is not itself a cable. The RCA connector makes use of coaxial cables to transmit audio and video analog signals, whereas coaxial cables have other uses and can work with a variety of different connectors.
In this article, we’ll dive deeper into what coaxial cables and RCA connectors are. You’ll get a better understanding of the relationship between the two and when you should use each one.
Also read: Subwoofer High Level Inputs vs RCA Inputs (Explanation)
Why You Can’t Substitute RCA With a Coaxial Cable
The short answer to the question posed in this article is that you can’t substitute RCA with coaxial because they’re not even different types of cables.
RCA is a connector for coaxial cables. For the layman, it could be considered a type of coaxial cable. If you have a device with RCA inputs or outputs, you’ll need coaxial cables with RCA connectors to use them. You can’t connect a non-RCA coaxial cable to an RCA port, and vice versa.
What Is a Coaxial Cable?
A coaxial cable is one of the most commonly employed cables in networking and carries high-frequency signals with low losses. It was previously used to connect devices to TVs. It’s still used for transmitting broadband internet, and connecting telephone.
Among its advantages is its durability, which contributes to its outdoor rating. This can be credited to the cable’s structure.
At the center of a coaxial cable is a copper conductor along which the signal travels. This copper conductor is surrounded by an insulator that is made of either polyurethane or polyethylene and is known as the dielectric.
Moving further outward, you’ll find the shielding—braided copper mesh around the dielectric that serves as a barrier against electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI).
To round it all off is a protective outer covering of PVC, PE, FEP, or PTFE that is referred to as the sheath. It safeguards the internal layers from the environment and also provides added insulation.
With this protection, a coaxial cable is typically used in the telephone system, broadband internet, and cable TV, to name a few.
Other than these ordinary everyday functions, it also has a wide range of other uses, including military and aerospace applications.
What Is RCA?
RCA is a type of connector for coaxial cables. Its white, red, and yellow plugs were commonly used for transmitting analog or non-digital audio and video signals from a component device to an output device.
The Radio Corporation of America designed this type of connector and lent its name to it.
In this color coding scheme, the white plug is for left audio, the red plug is for right audio, and the yellow plug is for composite video.
These plugs are inserted into correspondingly colored jacks built into the backs of audio and video equipment.
If you’re a millennial or older, RCA may be familiar to you. Cables tipped with RCA connectors were the link between electronic devices such as TVs and DVD players, so they were a common sight in most homes.
However, the younger generations may no longer see RCA often as the task of transmitting audio and video signals now falls singly to the HDMI cable.
While RCA is now neither the only nor the first option, it’s not entirely obsolete and still remains in use today.
Is Digital Coaxial the Same as RCA?
The digital coaxial connector is not the same as the RCA connector. The RCA connector transmits analog signals while the digital coaxial connector, as its name suggests, transmits digital data.
Analog Signals vs. Digital Signals
Both analog signals and digital signals carry information between two systems or networks, but there are distinct differences in the way each of them does so. These can be observed in their respective waves.
Analog signals are continuous in value and time. An example of such a signal is the human voice.
On the other hand, digital signals, such as computers and other digital electronics, are discrete in value and time.
Sine waves represent the continuous analog signals, while the discrete digital signals are reflected as square waves.
How to Convert From RCA Analog to Digital Coaxial
Analog RCA was once the standard for audio and video signal transmission. But while there is no future for it as technology advances, there are many who are happy to linger in the past.
Gaming consoles and older camcorder models are some examples of RCA devices still often revisited. But these antiques require a special gadget to connect them to present-day electronics.
The conversion of an RCA device’s analog audio signals to a digital format can be done with an analog-to-digital (ADC) converter. This process can likewise be reversed with a digital-to-analog (DAC) converter.
The ADC converter changes the analog audio signal and outputs it as a digital coaxial signal. There are two steps to this conversion process.
- Sampling. In sampling, the ADC converter takes samples of the analog signal soundwave. A higher sampling rate (number of samples per second) is ideal as this means that the resultant digital file will more closely resemble the original analog data.
- Quantization. In quantization, the continuous analog signals are divided into the discrete overlapping and non-overlapping signals of digital audio.
The two types of signals, analog and digital, created a need for a variety of cables and connectors to transmit this information between systems and networks.
RCA was once the primary means of transmitting information from component devices to output devices. But as the world moves deeper into the digital age, it is fast becoming obsolete.
However, the signals themselves can be converted from one format to the other and vice versa with the use of analog-to-digital (ADC) converters or digital-to-analog (DAC) converters.
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.