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The cable jungle

The cable jungle
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First Published: Tue, Dec 13 2011. 09 18 PM IST

Tangled: Connecting LCD TVs can be a nightmare if you’re unfamiliar with terms like HDMI
Tangled: Connecting LCD TVs can be a nightmare if you’re unfamiliar with terms like HDMI
Updated: Tue, Dec 13 2011. 09 18 PM IST
Technology often complicates life. Let me explain. Life was much simpler when home theatre meant a simple television set and a VCR. That’s the way it was till about 20 years ago. Any technologically challenged adult (I say adult because children are naturally wired to handle gadgets) could hook up the system. The antenna wire went into a slot at the back of the TV set, a cable connected the VCR to the TV, the power cords went into the main supply source (the plug point on the wall), and you were set for the evening. You didn’t have to search for sockets behind the set. There weren’t that many.
Tangled: Connecting LCD TVs can be a nightmare if you’re unfamiliar with terms like HDMI
Things weren’t too complicated even when DVD players entered the scene and we came across terms like “S-video out” and “Component video out”. The cord that connected the DVD player to the TV set had colour-coded plugs or sockets—red, white and yellow—and there was no way you could go wrong. Even connecting a basic 5.1 speaker system could be done without referring to a manual.
Till very recently, our home theatre comprised a fat, 29-inch TV set (by fat I mean it hogged a lot of space and weighed many kilos—unlike today’s thin LCD sets), a DVD player, and a Creative speaker system that we had got for our desktop and would attach to the TV when we wanted to watch a music video or an action movie. All in all, the cabling was fairly effortless.
But connecting modern-day equipment is a nightmare. Take a look at the back of your new LCD television set: You’ll see a series of confusing acronyms (HDMI and DVI, for example) and labels (“Component in” and “AV in”) above sockets of various shapes and sizes. If, in addition to your DVD and your satellite dish set-top box, you also want to hook up your laptop to your TV, you might also require a “VGA” connector. These are just the basic minimum tech terms that you need to know if you want to avoid calling a person from the television company every time you vacuum behind your rudimentary home theatre system.
A high-definition television set, as the name suggests, has substantially higher resolution than the fat box you just dumped. And to display that gorgeously clear image, the set requires HDMI (for High-Definition Multimedia Interface) or DVI (Digital Visual Interface) ports. Both, I gather, have the same digital capability—except that DVI is older and does not carry sound and you require a separate audio cable. But then there are five different types of DVI cables for analogue and digital signals. As things stand, HDMI is the way to go. One cable and you’re done.
It would be simpler if all these cables had the acronyms embossed on the connectors, but they don’t. So I have a thumb-rule to distinguish HDMI from DVI: The latter has a locking connector with screws. Even a VGA connector has screws, but the way to distinguish it from DVI is it’s wider than VGA.
If you are still confused, I don’t blame you. There are some YouTube videos for “display interfaces” (one called “Linus Tech Tips” is quite interesting), but on the whole the entire cables and connectors scene is a jungle. You get irritated and wonder why the TV/computer companies can’t devise a simpler way to distinguish one cable from another, or better still, eliminate some altogether.
In the past, we used simple, colour-coded cables to connect one piece of equipment to another. You didn’t have to know its name (“RCA composite video-audio cable”). If you needed a replacement you just went to the market and asked for the “red-white-yellow cable”. But it’s quite easy to get confused between “composite” and “component” which, too, has three coloured plugs—red, blue and green. There are obviously other differences between composite and component, but don’t ask me. I am utterly, totally confused.
For my PC, I have drawn a rough sketch of which wire/cord/cable goes into which socket/plug. It comes in handy when I have to disconnect the box to vacuum the dust out of it. Perhaps I should draw a similar sketch for the TV.
Shekhar Bhatia is a former editor, Hindustan Times, a science buff and a geek at heart.
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Dec 13 2011. 09 18 PM IST
More Topics: The Smart Life | Shekhar Bhatia | Tv | Cables | LCD |