Projectors come with a gazillion ports (at least most) that make connecting them to your devices smooth and easy.
But as welcome as the connections are, looking at all the ports and cables you may need to use can be intimidating for an unseasoned projector user.
If this describes you, this article is for you.
Below, we list all the cables you can use on your projector and show you how to connect them. We cover everything, from video and audio cables to data, analog, and digital cables.
1. Video Cables
Most projectors come with two or more video connectors. And these can be analog and digital interfaces.
Portable mini-projectors, however, usually only come with digital video ports.
Some projectors have RCA ports, which may support composite video or component video.
The composite interface is the older technology and is no longer widely used. Most modern projectors have component video technology instead.
But if you have an old projector, it may have a composite interface.
Both component and composite connectors transmit analog video. And to use the ports, you need RCA cables.
Check your user manual to confirm whether your projector has one of these interfaces.
Can’t locate your manual? It’s still easy to tell which interface the projector supports by looking at the color coding on the ports.
Composite video cables
Composite connectors carry video signals in one cable, and this is the yellow one in the set of three RCA-connector cables. The remaining two transmit audio signals.
So the projector will have three RCA ports coded yellow, red, and white. Each connector in your composite RCA cable goes into the port of the corresponding color. For example, the yellow video connector plugs into the yellow port.
Component video cables
Component cables are noticeably different from composite cables.
Instead of one video connector, they have three in three distinct colors: red, green, and blue.
Each color represents the three components of the RGB signal, which you may know of or have heard of before.
Not familiar with RGB color video signals? Hang on tight as we explain what it is. We don’t want to lose you in the sea of terminology at play here.
RGB is short for Red, Green, and Blue. It is a component analog video standard that stores and transmits video files in three separate signals.
Why red, green, and blue?
The color model has its basis on the standard primary colors. And it’s used because the color combinations in any video image are stored in these colors.
It’s also referred to as YPBPR component video in the industry.
The Y in this abbreviated reference (YPBPR) represents the green cable. It’s responsible for transmitting the image’s brightness information.
PB represents the blue cable. It handles transmitting the blue components of the image’s color.
PR represents the red cable and transmits the red components of the image’s color.
You’re probably wondering, “H, but what about the green color components in RGB?”
The green cable would have been the ideal cable to transport green components. But it has to transmit information about the file’s brightness.
So all three cables share the responsibility of carrying the green components.
Since the color components are separated, the video is not compressed during transmission. And so, the quality of the displayed image is higher than what you get from composite video cables.
So good is the quality that the component video interface carries high-definition signals. The highest resolution it supports is 1080.
Because of this, most digital devices support component video.
That’s why you may have recognized RGB when we first mentioned it. It’s probably written on your TV, Blu-ray, or game console packaging box!
Many projectors still come with a VGA port.
Does your projector come with one of these? If it does, it gives you a stress-free way of connecting your computers to the projector.
You only need to connect one end of a VGA cable to the computer or laptop.
By connecting the other VGA cable end to the projector you’ll be able to project the video files on your computer to the screen.
Note that VGA carries video files only. So you’ll need to connect a separate audio cable from the source to the projector to get sound.
We’ve entered the realm of digital video cables for projectors now. And our first item on the list is the crown leader of digital signals: HDMI.
Every modern projector comes with an HDMI port. Actually, most units have several HDMI ports. And with these, you can connect many HDMI-enabled sources to the projector at a go.
- To use an HDMI cable with your projector, plug one end of the cable into the HDMI OUT port of the projector.
- Plug the other end into an HDMI-enabled source device.
- Turn on the projector and source device.
Because of space limitations, some smaller projectors have micro-HDMI ports instead of full HDMI Type A ones. In this case, you’ll connect to an HDMI source using an HDMI to micro-HDMI cable .
Micro-HDMI (Type D) works just like HDMI, with the only difference being in size.
The regular HDMI connector can’t fit into the micro-HDMI port. This is where the HDMI to micro-HDMI cable comes in.
HDMI is an audio-video interface. So it carries both. You won’t need to connect a separate audio cable for this connection.
If your projector has a DisplayPort input, use a DisplayPort cable to connect it with devices like computers and laptops, cameras, and more.
To use the cable:
- Plug one end of the DisplayPort cable into your source device.
- Plug the other end into the projector DisplayPort IN.
- Turn on the devices and enjoy your content.
Like HDMI, DisplayPort transports both video and audio. So you won’t need a separate audio connection for sound.
Some projectors come with a DVI port. Mostly, this will be DVI-D, which is the digital version of DVI.
DVI-D carries video and audio, so you only need one DVI-D cable to transmit both. Use the cable to link the projector to DVI-enabled devices like computers and cameras.
You’ll need to connect one end of the DisplayPort cable to the DP OUT port on the source device to use them efficiently.
Turn on the devices and enjoy the content cast on the screen.
2. Audio Cables
Projector audio ports allow you to connect the unit to external speakers. The specific audio cables to use depend on the type of audio interface built into the projector.
Here are the most common audio cables for modern projectors:
Auxiliary/3.5 mm audio cables
Nearly every projector has a 3.5 mm mini OUT port. The 3.5 mm auxiliary connector has been the choice interface for transmitting analog audio signals from as far back as the 1950s.
It remains one of the most reliable audio technologies. That explains why you’ll see the connector built into many digital devices.
To connect the aux interface on the projector to a speaker, use an auxiliary or 3.5 mm TRS/TRRS cable .
Plug one cable end into the projector aux port and the other into your speaker and turn on both devices.
Does your projector have an RCA port? Use RCA cables to connect the projector to stereo speakers.
Like auxiliary cables, RCA cables transmit analog audio signals.
RCA cables are easily recognizable because of their red, white (or black), and yellow connectors. The red cable supports the right audio channels, while the white or black cable supports the left audio channels.
Connect the red plug to the red OUT port to send audio from your projector to stereo speakers using RCA cables. Then connect the white plug to the white OUT port.
If your cables come in red and black, you’ll plug the black connector into the white OUT port.
Some projectors come with an optical audio or TOSLINK interface. Optical audio technology was developed by Toshiba back in 1983.
Here is how optical audio works:
The interface converts digital electrical signals to digital light signals. Then it transports them through an optical fiber.
At the end of the transmission, chain is a light reception module.
This receptor changes the signal back to an electrical one. And the electric signal is recognizable as an audio waveform.
Have a projector with optical audio? Use an optical cable to connect it to an A/V receiver, soundbar, or home theater with an Optical IN port.
3. Data Cables
You can also transfer data to a projector using data cables. The most common projector data cables are:
USB data cables
USB data cables connect smartphones, or external hard drives to your projector. Once you’ve made the connection, you can then send files from these devices to the projector.
Not all USB cables can transfer data. Some are only for charging devices. Ensure that the USB cable you use for this is data-transfer compatible.
Networking cables allow you to connect the projector to your network. You can then beam files from the connected computers to the projector screen.
When shopping for a networking cable, you’ll likely come across Ethernet and LAN or Category 5 or 6 cables. They broadly refer to the same thing, so any one of them will serve you well.
The most important thing is that the cable ends should have matching RJ45 connectors. This is what makes the connection possible.
4. Power Cables
Except for battery-powered projectors, all projectors come with a power cord.
The power cable allows you to connect the projector to an electrical outlet for power.
Some mini-projectors can also draw power from a power bank. Where this is the case, the unit will usually come with a USB power cord.
Connect one end of the cable to the power bank and the other to the projector to ensure a constant power supply.
Do You Need an HDMI Cable for a Projector?
Yes, you do. Here’s why:
HDMI has been the go-to connection interface for about 20 years. Therefore, it’s available on a diverse range of devices.
With an HDMI cable, you can directly connect all manner of devices to the projector. We’re talking about:
- Media gadgets like DVD and Blu-ray Disc players, smartphones, tablets, laptops, and computers.
- Recording devices like cameras.
- Gaming consoles like PlayStation and Xbox.
- Streaming devices, for example, Roku, Fire TV Stick, Chromecast, and Apple TV.
Unless your projector is very old, it has the connector you need to use HDMI. You only need an HDMI cable to link it to your preferred device.
If you have an older projector that uses VGA instead of HDMI, you can use an adapter or converter to connect it to HDMI devices.
Secondly, HDMI bandwidth ranges from 10.2 Gbps to 48 Gbps depending on the version of HDMI you’re running.
Newer HDMI specifications have high bandwidth and transfer speeds. With these, you can transfer large files quickly without losing quality.
Thirdly, if you have a 4K projector, an HDMI cable is the only product that will deliver 4K features. If your source device and projector support HDMI 2.1, get an >Ultra High-Speed HDMI 2.1 cable to unlock all 4K capabilities.
You can connect a variety of devices to your projector using different cables.
Many projectors have digital and analog interfaces for video and audio.
When using analog connectors, you’ll need separate cables for video and audio. Depending on the ports you use, you may need composite cables, component cables, or a VGA cable.
But for the digital connectors, you only need one cable for video and audio. You can use an HDMI, DisplayPort, or DVI cable.
Sometimes the ports on your source device do not match those on the projector. In this case, use an adapter or converter, along with the respective cables, to connect the two.
Vance is a dad, former software engineer, and tech lover. Knowing how a computer works becomes handy when he builds Pointer Clicker. His quest is to make tech more accessible for non-techie users. When not working with his team, you can find him caring for his son and gaming.