Coaxial vs RCA vs Optical – What’s the Difference?

If you’re not a particularly techy person, then cables can be extremely confusing. They all look extremely similar to one another, and although this is true, they often have very different uses. Three of the most commonly talked about cables in the past couple of decades are coaxial cables, optical cables and RCA cables, which have been the staples of many households for a long time.

However, they’re all used for different things and they have different uses. So, let’s take a look at coaxial, optical and RCA cables and learn a bit more about them.

Coaxial vs RCA vs Optical

RCA Cables

If you’re over the age of 21, then the likelihood is that you’ll have seen RCA cables luring around in your childhood. Younger kids people might not have seen RCA cables, but in the past they were used for things like VHS recorders (which means that pretty much every house had them with their television).


Are RCA Cables still used?

Although RCA cables have largely been disregarded in favour of HDMI cables, that doesn’t mean they’re completely obsolete. Actually, they’re still used in a variety of different environments, with their main use probably being with a camcorder. The reason for this is that the this way, you have separate cables for audio and for video (2 for the audio and 1 for the video connection). With cheaper camcorders, you will see that they don’t use the typical RCA cable, which allows for three separate channels and a higher quality recording. With cheap camcorders, they’ll typically have lower quality transfers, and this is down to a lack of a 3 channel jack.

Although we refer to RCAs as RCA cables, they’re actually referring to the connector, not the cable itself. I said, the RCA cables transmit different information to each other. Whilst the red and white cables are focussed on transmitting sound, the yellow cable carries the video data. You also have to consider the difference between the two types of RCA connect. Typically, I’ve been referring to a composite RCA, which is the most common (the red, yellow and white one). However, you also get a component RCA connector too.

Coaxial Cables

Unlike RCA cables which may have had their period of prime usage, we still use coaxial cables heavily today – they’re used for things like cable modems and satellite receivers. It’s important to have a good coaxial cable in your house.

Why Coaxial Cables are still used now

As I said, coaxial cable are still used nowadays. There are a few reasons why coaxial cables are so heavily used, which include;

  • Price – Coaxial cables are very cheap to produce, which makes them a great choice (especially seeing as there’s often a lot of distance needed with a coaxial cable).
  • Easy installation – Coaxial cables are extremely easy to install, which we can easily see from how easy it is to wire a tv aerial. Not only are they easy to install, but they’re also great very easy to extend the length of too, which is another important factor to consider.
  • Capacity – Coaxial cables are capable of transferring good amounts of data, which makes them a good choice for a basic cable.

These are all good parts of a coaxial, however they do have one main drawback. This is that they’re use an electrical connection, which can cause buzzing – this is a pretty common problem with coaxial cables.

Optical Cables

Optical cables can transfer both audio data and video data, which makes them a little different to the majority of other cable types out there. Typically, they are more expensive than your standard coaxial cable, which might make some people prefer opting for a coaxial cable. Optical cables work with much wider frequencies than coaxial cables, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a better choice than other forms of cable.

If you’re trying to get the best sound possible, then there’s really not much difference between optical and coaxial cables. However, optical cables are being less and less used for transmitting video data, being replaced largely by HDMI cables.


This is just a basic rundown of both RCA cables and coaxial cables. They are different to each other, so it’s important to know the distance between the two. If you want a general run down of the different types of cables available, then this is currently one of the better more informative articles available online;

So, it’s clear to see that whilst RCA’s are generally being phased out, coaxial cables are still as useful as they were ten years ago, and they’ll likely be that way for a while. So, it’s worth picking up a cheap priced coaxial cable if you’re looking for something to replace your older coax.

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