Tech Support

Cables and Wires: Understanding the Mess

Hello Fans, Friends, and Fellow Film Fanatics,

So, the other day I was meandering about campus doing my regular maintenance routine and preparing for my class when one of my supervisors asked me to get a teacher set up with a computer hooked up to a TV for her class.  It’s a fairly simple task–one of the easiest, and not too strenuous at all.  But, for some reason we could NOT find the necessary cords in order to produce a connection between the two foreign hardware.  I knew for a fact that we had one on our campus as I had used it merely one day ago and I frantically searched and searched to find the lost HDMI cable.  Where could it be?  We found VGA cables, XLR cables, USB connectors, DVI cables, PS/2 Mouses, Ethernet cables, Audio jacks, Firewire Cables for video capturing and A/V or RCA cables to name a few.  Now if you are the average person, that last sentence is like a jumble of Chinese to you and now you are ALL confused as to what I was even looking for in the first place.

WHAT ARE THESE THINGS!?  Why are they so important?

Well, let’s first go through a brief description of what each of these cables are.

VGA CABLES – (Video Graphics Adapter)

First, we will talk about the most commonly used, or at least it was and has been for a good deal of time.  The VGA cable.  Also known as the D-Sub cable or Analog Video Cable, this cable is primarily used for connecting a CPU to a monitor via PC Inputs and Outputs.  For those of you who are visual learners, this is what that looks like.




SVGA - PC Input


Not only does the VGA cable transfer an image from a CPU to a monitor, but it also controls and splits the channels into colors.  Here is an example of how that works and is broken down.


XLR CONNECTORS (X-tra, L-ow, R-esistance)

Many Microphones of today still utilize something called an XLR connector for their cables.  These are usually three pinned plugs that jack in to a sound board.  There do exist, XLR cables that have 4, 5, and even up to 7 pins, but those are less common as the industry standard 3-pin that is the most functional with balancing audio/sound and widely used.  The reason being that one channel or line contains a positive polarity terminal, another contains a negative polarity terminal and the last one is a chassis ground or cable shield that protects it from outside magnetic or electrical energy.

Take a look at these pictures to see what I mean.

XLR INPUT & OUTPUT (Female jack left, Male Jack right)




USB CABLES – (Universal Serial Bus)

USB cables are the most frequently used adapters in  the average consumer’s technological world if you ask me.  You use them for attaching External Hard drives to your computer, connecting a keyboard to your PC, connecting basic point and shoot cameras to your computer to look at photos or video, plugging in a thumb/flash drive to get a quick file from one computer to the next, connecting your phone cord to a charging source or even jacking straight into the wall’s electrical circuit.  USB is definitely the most useful cable style to understand.  And it is the most frequently used as well, hence the name Universal Serial Bus.


There are however a few variations of the USB connector that you may or may not be familiar with.  I can go into more detail in a later post, but here is a simple diagram of those different types.


DVI CONNECTORS – (Digital Visual Interface)

Many Samsung Monitors are accessible through this connector cord called a DVI-D, or Digital Visual Interface (Digital).  But there are also other parts of DVI cables such as the DVI-I, which is an Analog Single Link Cable.  The purpose of this cord is to connect a monitor to your Graphics Card.  This cord is primarily made for the use of flat screen LCD monitors and many standard monitors come with one or two DVI ports.  Once upon a time, DVI was the choice method for digital transfer to HDTVs and other high powered monitors until the Industry settled on HDMI.

Here is an example of what DVI cords look like.

DVI_ConnectorPS/2 CABLES (Keyboards and Mouse Connections)

The PS/2 Cable is more of just an input in most scenarios, most commonly encountered on the jack for a mouse or keyboard for PCs.  It looks a little something like this.

CABLE-MiniDin6-Male-Female-CableWholesaleBR305_PS2cable_Pin_outETHERNET CABLE (Internet, Phone Lines)

Back in the day, dial-up and house phones required an Ethernet Cable or “Hard Line Jack”  (Reference taken from the film “The Matrix”) in order to connect to the Web.  That is this connector cable’s primary objective is to connect to thee Internet with different Megabytes per second ratios.  There are different types as well that have been given the name Cat.  Here are some examples.

Cat 3 – used for voice cabling and 10Mb Ethernet

Cat 5 – used for 10/100Mb Ethernet and works for voice as well

Cat 5E – Enhanced Cat 5 cabling that helps to prevent cross-talk, works for 10/100Mb and 1000Mb (or Gigabit Ethernet)

Cat 6 – Like Cat 5E but with larger gauge wires, works for 10/100/1000Mb. This cable is better than Cat 5e for Gigabit Ethernet.

Cat 7 – Also called Class F, this is fully-shielded cabling and supports up to 600Mhz. This is a relatively new type of cabling and isn’t used much.

(Cat Data acquired from

This is what Ethernet looks like.

ethernet-cableAnd here is an inside look.


AUDIO JACKS (iPods, Headphone Jacks, Input/Output)

This particular cable is very simply understood and recognizable, but can often require some explanation.  The headphone jack is a simplistic cable that is very similar to the A/V or RCA cable, but only connects your music output device, to speakers, or a listening device.  There are other uses, but we can talk about those later.  Here is a breakdown.

audioCable headphoneJack

FIREWIRE CABLE (Upgraded Transferring)

The Firewire is a standard name for these cables we will be talking about next, but there are also other terms such as the Sony i.Link or the IEEE 1394.  These cords were originally created by Apple of course, and became the standard for improved transferring along with many different options as well.  Digital Devices need to transfer information, usually audio/visual data from device to computer or device to device and Firewire is the way to go.  The latest version of Firewire or IEEE 1394 runs at around 800 Mbps and can connect up to 63 devices.  There are many details to the Firewire world and how it connects to Media logging and capturing in Final Cut/Adobe Premiere Pro and other film editing software, but for now I will just introduce you to the idea of these cables.  These cables are ranked on a Pin scale as well–for example: 4 PIN, 6 PIN, 8 PIN, etc (and they go from one pin scale to another as well, Example: 4 to 6 PIN, or 6-8 PIN.)  Here are some photos of these cables.


4-pin (left) and 6-pin (right) IEEE 1394 (FireWire) cables.



Last but not least are these fun guys that are hidden behind your TV screen.  Designed in the early 1940s, Radio Corporation of America devised a cable used for splitting a signal into Audio, Video, and Inputs and Outputs.  They are most recognizable as the Red, Yellow and White Cords that plug in to the back of your TV and stream information from a Device, such as a DVD player, etc.  Here is what they look like.

SONY DSCHDMI CABLES – (High Definition Multimedia Interface)

Hitachi, Panasonic, Philips, Sony, Thomson (RCA), Toshiba, and Silicon Image all came together to find a common place and develop a connectivity standard and thus the HDMI cable was born.  As time progressed, over 800 companies adopted the connection option.  This single cable transfers both audio and video in supremely high quality from input to output devices.  HDMI is a two way platform that can allow information to be transferred both ways and can allow users to talk, exchange editable files and much more in great quality.  And all information that is transferred is uncompressed raw data as well, which is a very nice touch and difficult to contain and move as smoothly as this standard transfer cable does.  Check out what this beast of a cable looks like!

hdmi_001hdmi_002CABLES SUMMARY

Overall, cables and all the different varieties of them out there are complicated to understand and with adapters and multiple functioned cables, understanding them and putting them to good use can be a daunting task.  These are just a few of the main stream cables that are used on a daily basis and sometimes you don’t even know it.  Hopefully this brief introduction to some of the major cables was helpful and makes more sense of that tangled mess of cords behind your computer, or tracking across the studio or living room floor.  Don’t let the mess intimidate you.  Master and control it and you will find cable control to be a very useful addition to your technical prowess.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask!

And if any of my information is wrong or needs altering, please let me know.

If you made it this far, then Thanks for reading this post and I will see you on the next one.

-Signing Out

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