HDMI Vs. Optical Cable
By Jack Powell
As home theater systems get more and more complex, so does the wiring required. In the past, all you needed was a coaxial cable to get the audio and video signals to your television set. Nowadays, with surround sound, Blu-ray players and high-definition programming, the setup requirements are much more complex, not to mention more costly. When transmitting high-quality audio signals, there are two main choices: optical link or HDMI. Each type of cable has its pros and cons.
HDMI cables are constructed from copper, which is a fairly cheap material, but interference can occur. Optical cables are constructed from fiber optics, or bundles of tiny glass strands. While optical cables are more expensive, they transmit light signals, not electricity, and are less susceptible to interference. The dark sheath wrapped around the optical cable prevents any other light from entering the cable.
The limitation on the length of the cable may not be important to everyone, but it could be for someone with a custom-designed media room requiring extended lengths of cable. Signal quality is lost over longer cables, so when selecting the best cable for your needs, choose the shortest one possible. The recommended maximum length for optical cables is 10 meters, although some people have successfully used cables as long as 30 meters. There is no recommended maximum length for HDMI; however, you should stick with 5 meters or less if you want the best sound quality. For longer distances, optical cable is normally recommended.
Optical cables support surround sound with up to 5.1 channels, while HDMI supports Dolby Digital Plus, DTS HD and TrueHD formats. While most television programming is broadcast in surround sound, many Blu-ray discs offer enhanced sound quality. If you're an avid Blu-ray watcher and want the best possible sound, HDMI is the best choice for you.
Another benefit HDMI cables have over optical cables is that HDMI can carry both audio and video, which eliminates the need for another cable. If you opt for optical cable, you'll need a second type of cable to transmit your video signal. The cost of the two cables combined may end up being more than buying one HDMI cable, so make sure you do your research on prices before making your decision.
Jack Powell has been writing professionally since 2008. He graduated from Red River College with a degree in creative communications and currently writes for a variety of local publications.