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

If you’re not a particularly tech-minded 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).

rca-cable

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. Many big brands used optical cables, like Logitech and Razer.

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.

Best Coaxial Cable for Modem

Amazon Basics Coaxial Cable

AmazonBasics CL2-Rated Coaxial TV Antenna Cable - 15 feet
  • 75 OHM RG6 coaxial A/V cable with 2 nickel-plated F-type male connectors; safe for use indoors or out; UL-rated for in-wall use
  • Connects TVs, VCRs, cable modems, satellite receivers, off-air antennas, and other devices with F-type ports
  • Clear audio/visual without background noise from electromagnetic (EM) and radio frequency (RF) interference

Although some people might tell you to avoid the Amazon Basics range, personally I’ve never had any issues with anything they’ve produced. They generally make some of the cheapest options for pretty much any product, and it’s the same when it comes to coaxial cables too.

What’s the best thing about Amazon Basics? Well, they have a really wide variety of different options available. This means that you have a wide variety of different lengths of coax cable to buy. This means that you can get any cable length you want pretty easily without having to worry about having excess on the cable, as they make it in a ton of different lengths.

As with most coax cables, this one has aluminium shielding. As you might have expected, this is designed to shield your cable from damage. This can help improve your experience when watching your HDTV, as you won’t continually have to check the signal as long as you’ve setup everything properly.

Another good thing about these cables is that they’re very easy to connect as well, and you won’t need any tools to connect them. If you’re looking for something simple to use, then these cheap cables would be a good choice.

Postta Digital Coaxial Cable

Postta Digital Coaxial Cable(10 Feet) Quad Shielded Black RG6 Cable with F-Male Connectors
  • High quality Quad-shielding Coaxial cable can connects Satellite Receivers, cable modem, Antennas, cable TV,digital router and other devices.
  • Quad-shielding (aluminum foil and braid shielding) can minimize crosstalk,suppress noise,and protect against electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI).
  • 99.99% Oxygen Free Copper conductor can provides excellent conductivity and ensure optimum signal transfer.

If you’re considering another cheap Coaxial cable option, then it’s worth looking at this Postta Coax. It’s very similar in design to the Amazon Basics coaxial, but it provides another decent cheap option. You can pick this one up in a variety on lengths between 4m up to 100m, so you can get whatever size you want depending on your needs. And for a cheap price, you’re getting a decent coaxial cable.

This coaxial cable is quad shielded. What exactly does this mean? Well, essentially this just means that the cable has four layers of shielding, hence the quad aspect. Typically, a cable might only have dual shielding. This is usually enough, and in the majority of circumstances quad shielding is actually overkill for what you’re going to use it for. However, some people do still prefer to have piece of mind, which is why quad shielded cables are popular. So, this is another positive that this coax cable has too.

Although there isn’t too much of a difference between coaxial cables, this is another decent option if you’re looking for something cheap and easy to use.

KabelDirekt Coaxial Cable

KabelDirekt Digital Coaxial Audio Video Cable (20 feet) Satellite Cable Connectors - Coax Male F Connector Pin - Coax Cables for Satellite Television - Pro Series
  • AUDIO VIDEO COAXIAL CABLE: Double shielded coax cable with thick aluminum braiding insulation and alu mylar foil for a reliable AV connection
  • OXYGEN FREE COPPER: Provides maximum signal power and efficiency, and reduces strain to extend the lifetime of the cable
  • F TYPE CONNECTOR PINS: Perfect for Male to Male cable televisions (CATV), satellite television receivers, VCRs, cable boxes, cable modems, digital router and antenna connectors

Finally, another option worth considering if you’re looking for a good coax cable is this KabelDirekt option. The good thing about this brand is that they’re so confident in their products that they come with an 18 month warranty, which protects you from anything going wrong within a few months of setting the coax up.

You’ll probably notice that these coax cables use gold plated connectors, which is one of the big selling points that a lot of brands use nowadays. Is gold plated actually that much better? Well, not really in my opinion. The only thing that gold plating will do is protect you against corrosion, which is unlikely with coaxial cables anyway. But, it can be a good choice for those that want this kind of protection.

So although this coaxial cable doesn’t really bring anything new to the equation, they definitely provide another alternative to the others already mentioned.

The Cimple Co Extra Long Coaxial Cable

150 Feet Direct Burial Coaxial Cable- Proudly Made in The USA RG6 Coax Cable Rubber Boot - Outdoor Connectors - (Orange) - Designed for Waterproof and to Be Burried
  • CLASSIFICATION - Solid conductor 18awg RG6 10ft coaxial (direct burial) cable with orange, high visible PVC jacket and two foil shield for soil acidity protection plus rubber weather boots for moisture tolerance
  • USAGE - Perfect for f-connector coax connections including High Def TV/ CATV Dish/ DirecTV satellite installations/ cable internet modem/ outdoor video security camera/ long range WIFI antennas/ video signal transmission/ cellular signal booster and other high frequency digital audio
  • ANTI-CORROSION CONNECTORS - Features weather grommets and a self collapsing design with anti rust high quality metal plated shells with an 18mm stroke length

If you need a really long coaxial cable that you can bury easily underground without worrying about it getting damaged, then this is a great option. Other coaxial cables won’t be durable enough to be used for this kind of purpose, so it’s really important that you get the right cable for the job. It enables a high quality connection, and it’s ideal for using with things like satellites and tv aerials. Just because it’s design to ensure any weather, doesn’t mean you have to use it outdoors – it would do just as well indoors, too. This is the best pick of the bunch if you’re looking for a durable coaxial cable.

What to Consider Before Buying a Coaxial Cable

When you’re buying a coaxial cable, there are a few things you’ll want to know beforehand. This can make it a little easier to know what coaxial cable you should end up opting for.

The Length of the Cable

One of the most important things about any sort of cable is the length. Depending on what length is is that you need, you’ll find a lot of different lengths available, from a few feet to a hundred feet. So, it depends if you need a short coaxial cable or you’re just looking for something small to connect something within the same room.

Connector Type

Depending on what you’re needing, coaxial cables will have different connectors depending on what exactly it is you need. For most people (and for TVs), an F-type cable will be the connector that you need. For anything like TVs and satellite receivers, you’re going to need an F type connector for your coaxial cable.

Cable Quality

Generally when you’re buying cables, you want to ensure that they’re of a decent enough quality. Although most people will tell you you must buy gold plated connector, this isn’t always the case and for most people, nickel plating will be fine. Generally, I’m more concerned about the quality of the cable itself as opposed to the cable connector.

HDTV

When you choose which coax cables to use with your HDTV, then it makes sense that you get the best coax cables that you can. Typically, these cables are one of the most overlooked parts of the full antenna installation and they’re great for shielding you from signal loss and interference, and overall improving your experience. You can easily connect your coax to your HDTV just as you would with a regular TV.

Types of Coaxial Cable

When we’re talking about coaxial cables, it’s important to know the correct type of coaxial cable we want. There are a few different types, so it’s worth knowing the difference so that you get the correct type for you.

  • RG6 – An RG6 coaxial cable refers to everything on this list, and it’s what we refer to as a coax most of the time. They’re mainly used for cable TV and are the most common kind of coaxial cable.
  • Another type of coaxial cable is known as a hard line coax, which is used for things like radio transmitters, due to high strength of the signal you can get from this type of cable.
  • You also get both tri-axial and twin-axial coaxial cables, which offer something different from your standard coax.

Conclusion

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.

Last update on 2020-10-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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