There are several networking cables. But most of them are obscure or rarely used, which gives the impression that there are only a handful of wires to connect TVs to a satellite dish or a computer to a router.
Ethernet is a commonly used cable. Similarly, fiber-optic cables are gaining quite a bit of traction. But the two cables that have been around for quite some time and possibly household networking cables are from the HDMI and coaxial stables.
These cables are so omnipresent that you would have certainly heard of them. But the question is, do you “know” them beyond their names? What purposes do they serve, after all? For answers to the questions and more, keep reading.
- What is an HDMI Cable?
- What is a Coaxial Cable?
- HDMI and Coaxial Cables: Comparison Table
- Should I Run an HDMI or Coaxial Cable?
What is an HDMI Cable?
HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is an A/V interface that helps send audio and video information across devices, such as TVs, computer monitors, soundbars, game consoles, AV receivers, projectors, etc., using a single HDMI cable.
Before HDMI, digital audio and video interfaces were discrete, with DVI as the video interface and optical cables (and others) handling audio duties.
DVI cables are not obsolete. But due to their inability to transmit audio signals, they’re no more the standard like HDMI cables.
HDMI cables transmit digital signals, which means less electromagnetic interference. The digital nature also means signals don’t attenuate as much as analog signals over a stretch.
HDMI Cable Structure and Technology
An HDMI cable is basically four twisted pairs of shielded copper wires. It employs TMDS (transition-minimized differential signaling) to transmit high-speed serial information.
Digitally transmitted signals are low-voltage and low-current, making them vulnerable to externalities. TMDS encoding helps decrease electromagnetic emissions, hits DC balance, and facilitates reliable clock recovery.
HDMI Versions and Cable Compatibility
Multiple HDMI versions have come out since its initial release on April 16, 2022, ushering in greater speeds and performance upgrades. Those enhancements, however, haven’t brought about any changes to the HDMI cable design.
HDMI 1.4 was released in May 2009. HDMI 2.1 was launched in November 2017. Despite the eight-year gap, the two use identical HDMI cords. HDMI 2.1 cables are backward-compatible with HDMI 1.4. But there are HDMI connector types—more on them later.
Although an Ultra High-Speed HDMI cable (such as this Anker Ultra High-Speed HDMI Cable ) will complement HDMI 2.1 the best, a High-Speed HDMI Cable like the SatelliteSale Digital High-Speed 1.4 HDMI Cable will work fine with a 2.1 port—more on HDMI cables below.
HDMI Cable Types
Although all HDMI cables look the same, they aren’t identical in all aspects. The major differentiation is in the bandwidth or the signal transfer speed they support. Below are the types starting from the latest.
- Ultra High-Speed HDMI Cable (HDMI 2.1, 2.1a): The cable supports uncompressed a bandwidth of up to 48 Gbps and uncompressed 4K at 120 Hz and 8K at 60 Hz. It can support video resolutions of up to 10K and clock a refresh rate of up to 240 Hz on HDR televisions.
- Premium High-Speed HDMI Cable (HDMI 2.0, 2.0a, 2.0b): Premium High-Speed HDMI cables offer up to 18 Gbps of bandwidth and support 4K HDR at 60 Hz, expanded color spaces (such as BT:2020), and 4:4:4 chroma sampling. The cable has relatively low EMI (electromagnetic interference) and comes in both HDMI Type A (standard) and Type D (micro) connectors. The right ones come certified, like this Monoprice 115428 Certified Premium HDMI Cable .
- High-Speed HDMI Cable (HDMI 1.3 to 1.4a): High-Speed HDMI cables can transmit FHD signals at 60 Hz or greater and also do 4K at 30 Hz. The cable supports bandwidths of up to 10.2 Gbps, besides Deep Color and 3D technologies. High-Speed HDMI cables pair well with 4K capable Blu-ray Disc players and video consoles.
- High-Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet: This HDMI cable type is identical to High-Speed HDMI, except for the HDMI Ethernet dedicated data channel feature for supporting Ethernet streaming channels.
- High-Speed Automotive HDMI Cable: Again, this cable is the same as the above High-Speed HDMI cable but is specifically made for the automotive space, with the ability to bear the extreme temperatures and vibrations associated with a moving vehicle.
- Standard HDMI Cable (HDMI 1.0 to 1.2a): The cable has a 5 Gbps bandwidth that supports 720p or 1080i resolution. They cannot transmit 4K resolution signals. The cord supports a 30 Hz refresh rate and is ideal for use with DVD players, satellite televisions, and screen projectors.
- Standard HDMI Cable with Ethernet: This cable is almost identical to the standard line—except that it has built-in Ethernet capabilities.
- Standard Automotive HDMI Cable: As the name suggests, this standard HDMI cable is meant for in-vehicle use. The cable helps connect in-car or portable DVD players to in-vehicle video displays. The cable’s designed to withstand car movements and vibrations while transmitting signals.
HDMI Cable Connector Types
HDMI cables are backward and forward-compatible, provided the connectors match. HDMI cables use different connectors, which vary in size and according to devices.
For instance, digital cameras primarily use mini-HDMI ports that do not work with standard HDMI connectors. Here are the various HDMI connector types:
- Type A (Standard): The Type A connector is the most common and largest HDMI connector, using a 19-pin arrangement. These connectors are commonly employed on laptops, Blu-ray players, video game consoles, etc.
- Type B (Dual-Link): Designed for high-resolution displays, Dual-Link connectors were introduced alongside type A. But the connector is no longer in use. It was never popular as the subsequent HDMI 1.3 standard ushered in speeds surpassing what the Dual-Link connector promised.
- Type C (Mini): Like type A, mini-HDMI also uses 19 pins and is as function-rich as standard HDMI. But it’s slimmer, smaller, and commonly used on DSLR cameras, tablet PCs, and also some laptops. Laptops mostly incorporate standard HDMI ports.
- Type D (Micro): Micro-HDMI is smaller than mini-HDMI. Despite its size, it keeps the 19-pin arrangement and doesn’t skimp on the features or functions of its larger siblings. But it’s not as ubiquitous and was found only on a handful of smartphones and some small cameras. New smartphones are devoid of micro-HDMI.
- Type E (Automotive): The standard and high-speed automotive HDMI cables mentioned earlier use the type E connector. This particular connector has a locking tab mechanism to prevent the cable from falling off when the vehicle moves or vibrates.
What is a Coaxial Cable?
Coaxial cables, also called “coax,” help transmit high-frequency signals with minimal signal losses, thanks to their high signal interference resistance. “Coaxial” denotes two concentric conductors (inner and outer) arranged coaxially.
Coaxial cables are commonly used in broadband internet, telephone systems, cable TV, Ethernet, etc. It’s particularly suitable for TV transmission, computer system operations, short-distance connections, etc.
Coaxial Cable Physical Structure
A coaxial cable is four primary components built into one seamless cord.
The outermost or fourth layer is called “sheath,” which is basically made of fire-resistant plastic or PVC.
Right beneath the sheath is a braided metal shielding to tackle EMI. Underneath that protection is a Teflon or PVC insulator, referred to as a “dielectric plastic insulator.”
The core is a copper conductor wire or primary channel transmitting the signals.
The shielding design of a coax lets the cable’s copper core transmit information at high speeds without damage or interference from the external environment.
Also, the multi-layered design protects signals and helps transmit weak signals over greater distances.
Coaxial Cable Types
Coaxial cables can be “hardline,” “flexible,” “semi-rigid,” “formable,” “twinaxial,” “triaxial,” and “rigid.”
Hardline coaxes have a copper or silver-made center conductor. The conducting wire is the thickest of them all. A flexible coaxial cord has a flexible polymer surrounding the inner conductor; therefore, it’s called “flexible.”
Semi-rigid cables have a solid copper external sheath, and formable coax cables are alternatives to the semi-rigid wires. They employ a flexible metal outer sheath instead of solid copper.
Twinaxial cables, as the name alludes, comprise a couple of core conductors and one dielectric and outer core. The cord is best-suited for low-frequency video and digital transmission.
Also called “Triax,” triaxial cables have an extra copper braid, which safeguards from noise. They provide more bandwidth than regular coaxial cables.
Rigid coax lines are composed of two copper tubes. They employ disk insulators or PTFE supports at their ends and critical junctures across their length.
True to their name, rigid coaxes do not bend. They are primarily used in FM and TV broadcasting applications.
Coaxial Cable Specifications
Coaxial cords come in various specifications, with each description serving different purposes. The abbreviation “RG” (radio guide) and a number tag along to denote specifications and characteristics.
The RG-6 specification, for instance, is associated with cable TV or internet connections. It has a 75-Ohm impedance.
RG-59 cables and RG-6 coax lines are used in CCTV applications. RG-59 is a 75-Ohm cable that ensures lossless video signal transmission.
RG-8 cables are similar to RG-6; however, they cannot transport pure video signals. With a 50-Ohm impedance rating, the line is mostly set up in radio stations, audio control rooms, etc.
HD televisions and TV antennas use RG-11 cables as the cable offers increased space for signal transfer. It’s a higher gauge, 3 GHz, 75-Ohm cord. Based on the RG numbers, the lines vary in diameter and pliability.
Signal loss is not a significant issue with coaxial cables. But depending on the cable’s specifications and length, performance may vary.
Connectors and adapters, however, can come to the rescue and help prevent signal loss beyond a certain length.
Coaxial cables with varied specifications don’t look very different from each other on the outside. But the cable’s girth usually gives it away if you know what to look for. If that doesn’t help or to confirm, check the text markings on them or their boxes.
Here is a table listing the key attributes of the common coaxial cables:
|Specification||Impedance (Ohms)||Outer diameter (in inches)||Capacitance (pF/ft)|
Note: Capacitance denotes the two conductors’ ability to store charge. An insulating material separates the two conductors in a coaxial cable.
Coaxial Cable Connectors
Besides the varied specifications, coaxial cables have different RF (radio frequency) connectors—namely BNC, N, SMA, SMB, and F.
BNC, which stands for “Bayonet Neill-Concelman” or “British Naval Connector,” is a miniature RF connector with a quick connect/disconnect feature.
BNC connectors can pair with different types of coaxial cables. The connector helps maintain a cable’s characteristic impedance.
The connector is commonly used in video, audio, and networking applications—for instance, nuclear instrumentation, radio antennas, aerospace electronics, etc. Recording studios use BNC connectors for synchronizing different digital recording equipment components.
The N connector, also called type-N connector, is a medium-sized, threaded, weatherproof RF connector that helps link or join coaxial cables. Type-N connectors transport microwave frequency signals.
SMA (SubMiniature Version A) connector is a minimal coax connector interface with a coupling mechanism resembling a screw.
It is commonly employed in high-frequency Wi-Fi and microwave systems. Applications include handheld radios, microwave systems, etc.
SMB (SubMiniature Version B) are smaller than SMAs, not as robust, and come with a snap-on coupling mechanism. They are ideal for use in/with antennas, base stations, computer systems, and GPS.
F-type or F connectors are mid-size variants commonly fitted onto RG-59/U or RG-6/U coaxial cables. The connector is widely used for residential wiring purposes, which include cable TV, satellite TV, and cable modem applications.
An FME (For Mobile Equipment) is a 50-Ohm, miniature RF connector. It’s used mainly with RG-58 coaxial cables or equivalents for mobile communication devices.
A TNC (Threaded Neill-Concelman) connector is a BNC connector’s threaded version. It’s weatherproof and boasts up to 11 GHz. The connector is primarily used in RF antenna and mobile phone connections.
Also called “Amphenol coax connector,” a UHF connector is a 50-Ohm linking device suitable for low-frequency radio frequency applications, such as marine VHF radio, citizens’ band radio, and amateur radio (ham radio).
LMR coax cables are new-gen, more flexible RF coaxial cords. They are relatively low-cost and easy to install. LMR cables are commonly used as antenna transmission lines on airplanes, satellites, missiles, etc.
Like RG coaxial cables, LMR has number-based specifications, too: LMR-100A, 195, 200, 240, 300, 400, 600, 900, 1200, and 1700. LMR-195, for instance, is considered an upgrade over the standard RG-58 coaxial cable.
LMR cables are similar in design to regular coaxial cables, with only a few attributes setting them apart.
For example, the aluminum foil tape is directly bonded to the insulator, providing excellent shielding and functioning as a moisture and weather shield.
Also, the outer polyethylene jacket is more heavy-duty to offer better protection from the weather and UV rays and a longer lifespan.
HDMI and Coaxial Cables: Comparison Table
Below is a table listing out the basic differences between HDMI and coaxial cables:
|Supports||Audio and video||Audio and video|
|Maximum Speed||48 Gbps||100+ Mbps|
|Range||20 meters (65 feet)||500 ters (1640 feet)|
Note: HDMI 2.1’s maximum data transfer rates of 48 Gbps are among the highest in the industry.
Should I Run an HDMI or Coaxial Cable?
HDMI cables are more mainstream than coaxial cables, primarily because the former is a lot more advanced features and performance-wise. On both the audio and video front, HDMI supersedes coaxial cables.
The biggest drawback with coaxial cables is their lack of support or bandwidth for Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS:X, and other advanced surround sound formats.
No doubt, modern home cinema lovers will find a coax quite limiting. HDMI allows lossless audio format playback. But a coaxial cable could be the better choice if you need a cable purely for audio or music listening.
Because coaxial cables handle audio signals so well, you can still find them behind some integrated amplifiers, AV receivers, and TVs.
Although optical connections excel at audio transmission too, coaxial connections usually fare better, thanks to their increased bandwidth or higher quality audio support (24-bit/192 kHz). Optical cables max out at 96 kHz.
Are Coaxial Cables Cheaper Than HDMI Cables?
Yes, coaxial cables are more affordable than HDMI by length or foot. However, HDMI makes up for the high cost by offering much greater bandwidth than a coax.
Which HDMI Cable Should You Buy?
Since HDMI cables are backward-compatible, it’s recommended to buy HDMI cables with the latest specifications or the highest bandwidth support.
The Anker Ultra High-Speed HDMI Cable , Monoprice 8K Certified Braided Ultra High Speed HDMI 2.1 Cable , and Belkin Ultra High-Speed HDMI 2.1 Cable are the ones we recommend.
Buy new cables only if you have none. If there’s already one lying in the drawer and it is working fine, you don’t need a new cable, even if the existing cable is built to HDMI 2.0 or 1.4 standards and not HDMI 2.1.
Buy an HDMI 2.1 cable only if you are sure the old cord is not up to speed with the new HDMI standard.
The biggest talking point of HDMI is its ability to transmit both audio and video data at the highest quality. Coaxial cables can do video and audio too, but not at the level of HDMI. For instance, 4K video transmission is not plausible with coaxial cables.
Also, because one HDMI cable can do it all, it is more practical and a regular fixture on TVs, AV receivers, Blu-ray players, soundbars, etc. If you have used RCA cables, you will be able to relate to the convenience factor.
The other good thing about HDMI is that it’s constantly evolving. HDMI 2.2 is on the horizon, which will usher in much greater capabilities and performance.
Introduced during the mid-1900s, coaxial cables are relatively old. But the biggest knock against them is that they have had no significant improvements over the years in terms of technology and performance.
Because HDMI is more modern, capable, and multi-faceted, it wins this battle. But if you think otherwise or prefer coaxial cables over HDMI, that’s fine too.
Catherine Tramell has been covering technology as a freelance writer for over a decade. She has been writing for Pointer Clicker for over a year, further expanding her expertise as a tech columnist. Catherine likes spending time with her family and friends and her pastimes are reading books and news articles.