Getting a new projector can be a tricky process, especially because you need to wrap your head around the ways it works as well as some tech terms & complicated acronyms. As technology progressed, so did the variations of cables & connections.
A projector supports quite a few different types of connections ranging among many devices, from your personal computer to your gaming console.
Knowing which cable to use for a specific purpose can get difficult. To help you with this, in this article, I will walk you through the different types of projector cables you can find in the marketplace, their uses, and their limitations. Let’s dive into it!
Projector Cable Types and Connections
There are two broad ranges you can divide into the types of connections or cables a projector supports, which are – digital cables and analog cables. HDMI, DisplayPort, Ethernet, DVI, Optical are digital cables. Analog cables include VGA, Component Video, S-Video, Composite Audio & Video, 3.5mm input, 3.5mm output, etcetera.
USB connector and 12V trigger work with both analog and digital connections, and therefore, does not fall under the two categories. In the next section, I will talk about the most relevant ones of these cable types and their uses in thorough detail.
HDMI ( High Definition Media Input )
High Definition Media Input (HDMI), although proprietary, is a wildly successful digital video and audio transfer interface. Uncompressed digital video & audio is transmitted by HDMI cables with only one single cable.
A group of electronics manufacturers including Toshiba, Sony, and Sanyo has created HDMI for transferring uncompressed video and either eight-channel compressed or uncompressed audio into digital TVs, computers, Blu-ray or DVD players, and more.
HDMI 1.4 can support up to 4096 x 2160 high-resolution videos and 192 kiloHertz 24-bit uncompressed audio; you can also use it for transmitting 3D videos. The newer version, HDMI 2.1, was announced earlier this year, which can support 48 GB per second.
This type of cable features Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) connection, which enables the user to operate several devices with a single remote control; it also permits HDMI devices, if necessary, to control each other.
And HDMI cables have backward compatibility with older HDMI versions and DVI devices for videos. The conversion type is pin-to-pin, so ideally, there should not be any detectable signal loss. However, because DVI devices do not support audio, DVI-to-HDMI conversions can not carry the 8-channel audio data.
Uses of HDMI
Standard uses of HDMI include Blu-Ray DVD players, 4K ultra HD gaming, SKY HD boxes, SKY Q boxes, etcetera. It supports any video format from PC or TV, including the standard format, the enhanced format, and the high-definition video format. The types of HDMI cables needed for different uses are explained below –
1. Standard Blu-Ray and HD Content
We are starting off with the most basic use of projectors – home cinema. Say, the projector you have bought is a Full HD one, and you wish to view HD content as well as Blu-Ray discs on it.
For viewing standard Blu-Ray or HD content on a standard high definition (HD) resolution projector, you do not need to fret over cable types too much as most typical HDMI cables are compatible with home theatre projector setups. I recommend looking at SlimWire, Techconnect, and ActiveWire cables for HD tech.
Be aware of the cable length when getting HDMI cables because the length is a factor that affects the efficiency of the traffic flow from the input device to the projector.
Out of the ones recommended, ActiveWire and SlimWire cables support up to 10.2 GB per second data transferring speed, which is more than enough for HD content viewing. Usually, the fastest HD requires 54 MB per second.
Lower speed 4K contents can also be viewed by these wires, but it’s best to suppose that a 4K projector will need cables with higher speed support than these.
2. 4K and High Dynamic Range (HDR) Content
Stepping up on another level from the standard HD viewings, our next topic is watching 4K content using a 4K projector. A 4K projector is quite an investment, and it is crucial to have the right cables so that you get the best possible outcomes from your projector.
Getting the right amount of data transfer speed is a bit trickier with 4K content as opposed to standard HD. The cables have to deal with not only the high-resolution images projected but also the HDR content.
Basic 4K projectors will work with at least 10.2 GB per second cables, but to make these cables work, your projector should have lower than 10-bit color and should not be HDR-enabled.
However, most 4K projectors use some combination of the mentioned technologies, so it is more likely that you will require a heavier duty cable.
For example, 4K projectors with no HDR capability and 10-bit color needs at least 11.1 GB per second data transfer rate, while 4K projectors with HDR-enabled and more than 10-bit color requires a cable with at least 18 GB per second data transfer rate and Of course, always you need to clean up your projector lens from dust for better performance.
So, in summary, if your projector is a 4K one, it is safe to assume it will require a higher speed HDMI cable rather than the basic ones. Also, keep in mind that HDR is getting more advanced and improved every year, so its best to be prepared for the upgrades. Lastly, also keep cable length into consideration when shopping for one.
3. 4K Gaming
The horizons of 4K games are still quite narrow as we are fairly new in using this kind of technology for gaming; even so, it is making waves in the industry and will grow a lot in the coming years. If you are interested in using your projector for 4K games, make sure you have the HDMI cables with the highest data transfer rates.
More and more gaming consoles such as Xbox and PlayStation are delivering HDR enables 4K content. To play these 4K games using your projector, you will need HDMI cables with a minimum of 18 GB per second transfer rate. I recommend the Nuetec and Pixelgen cables for 4K gaming.
Understanding HDR (High Dynamic Range)
In this section, I will briefly explain the different terms of types of HDR you may come across and their characteristics so that you know which cable to get for your needs.
HDR 10 is the standard HDR that uses ‘static metadata’, which basically means that the color palette will have an established boundary set at the beginning of showing the content. This type of HDR has a color depth of 10-bit.
The HDR 10+ is a step up from the basic one and uses ‘dynamic metadata’, which means for each scene, a new color palette can be set and adjusted across scenes. This means there is an allocation for greater depth and range of color as well as 10-bit color.
Hybrid Log Gamma or HLG combines HDR and SDR signals to make a single signal that is compatible with standard as well as high dynamic screens. This one also features a 10-bit color depth.
Lastly, Dolby Vision features a 12-bit color depth and uses ‘dynamic metadata’ just like the HDR 10+.
Using Multiple Sources
If you have multiple sources, splitters, or cables connected to your projector, remember to enable each ‘link’ to the least data transfer speed needed for the technology you are working with.
Otherwise, if one part of the setup fails to cope with the data traffic, then the entire setup will be restricted to whatever maximum amount the narrowest point can cope with, which is a loss of efficiency. You do not want that, do you?
This cable and connection type is very comparable to our previous topic of discussion, HDMI. One difference is DisplayPort is license-free, unlike HDMI. It was designed in 2006 by the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA).
Previously made to connect display devices to video sources, DisplayPort can transmit both audio and digital images now.
Functions of DisplayPort
DisplayPort offers the advantages of older DVI or VGA cables; while also allowing a larger data transfer rate and featuring a smaller connector for compatibility with smaller devices such as computers, notebooks, or laptops.
The 1.3 version of DisplayPort can already transmit 5K quality data. More impressive is the latest version 1.4, which can support data transfer rate up to 34 GB per second; it is also capable of supporting up to 8K resolution pictures with a maximum of 7680 x 4320 pixels dimension, surpassing even the HDMI 1.4.
Just like HDMI, DisplayPort connections transmit video, audio, and data in a single cable, which can also work with 4K if needed. They are equipped with auxiliary channels to process additional kinds of information apart from audio and video data. For example, you can transmit webcam or USB information data with it.
Uses of DisplayPort
DisplayPort is designed to support most devices starting from monitors, TVs, computers to DVD players, cameras, and more. It is also equipped to work with older technology and can have backward compatibility with DVI, VGA, and HDMI with the help of adapters.
Interestingly enough, the intended market for HDMI and DisplayPort is different. While HDMI is made mainly for home entertainment, DisplayPort is made to connect monitors to computing devices. Because of their similarity, HDMI and DisplayPort can be connected with a dual-model DisplayPort adapter.
And DisplayPort transmits data using a packet data transmission system, which is generally used in USB and Ethernet connections. This is why it is ideal for use in computing rather than home entertainment.
Nevertheless, due to its excellent quality and a broad range of device compatibility & data transfer rate, DisplayPort is also ideal for projectors. It comes with a snap-in connection in the plug to ensure that the connection does not get removed unintentionally.
The tech company Apple designed its own versions of DisplayPort, known as Mini DisplayPort (MDP), in order to replace their previous mini-DVI connections on iMacs and Macbooks. Though Apple is the original creator, MDP was included in VESA’s DisplayPort in the 1.2 version in 2009.
Video Graphics Array (VGA)
VGA is one of the oldest connectors among the ones discussed in this article. It was developed in 1987 by International Business Machines (IBM). Essentially, VGA is a 15-pin connection made to transmit images; it only works with analog signals.
Compared to other analog connectors, VGI can give you a higher quality image. It supports image resolutions at a maximum of 640 x 480 pixels in 16 colors. There is another mode called 13h, which uses 256 colors at a lower resolution of 320 x 200 pixels. You may use whichever version you prefer.
RGBHA video signals (R stands for Red, G for Green, and similarly the rest stands for Blue, Horizontal Sync, Vertical Sync) can be carried by VGA cables. A VGA socket is usually colored blue and has 15 pins in total with 3 rows having 5 pins in each. There are two screws attached to the cable for a secure connection.
And VGA is very rarely used now; the 13h mode was used in computer gaming in the late 80s and early 90s. You will only see it in older hardware because it has been replaced by DVI and HDMI in the later years, both of which are backward compatible with VGA to prevent obsolesce.
Digital Video Interface (DVI)
DVI was designed by the Digital Display Working Group as the digital successor of VGA in 1999. It is specifically made for video sources as it connects them to a display device such as projectors or monitors. This cable can transmit uncompressed videos from a source device to the display device.
These cables are equipped with small screws that you have to use for a more secure attachment to the device.
Types of DVA Cables
Based on the type of signal it supports, DVI cables are categorized into three types – DVI-D, DVI-A, and DVI-I.
DVI-D cables support only digital signals as the D in the name stands for ‘digital’. Similarly, DVI-A, where A means ‘analog’, supports only analog signals. DVI-I, on the other hand, is ‘integrated’ and supports both analog and digital signals as it is essentially both the DVI-A and DVI-D cables combined in one.
Moreover, DVI-A is very rare to find, as VGA is a cheaper substitute for it. You are more likely to come across DVI-I and DVI-D. These two come in two varieties – single-link and dual-link.
The former supports transmission up to 1920 x 1200 px at 60 Hertz frequency, and the latter supports a higher resolution of 2560 x 1600 px at 60 Hertz.
To prevent the older VGA devices from going obsolete, DVI-A has been made to support analog connections, which means DVI is backward compatible with VGA.
Uses of DVI
You can use these cables when you need to transmit videos only to your projector. They fall short of HDMI as they can not carry audio data, as HDMI does. Moreover, DVI connectors will struggle with 4K resolution images and are only used for static images, or HD resolution video, or data content.
Ethernet cable is used for connecting to a home or a corporate network; it basically connects devices under the same Local Area Network (LAN). Usually, Ethernet links computers, smart TVs, Macs, NAS Drivers, and even projectors, to switches and routers. You could also use this to connect two devices.
Generally, Ethernet cables support data transfer rates up to the industry standard, which is called Category 6 (CAT6). This means that you can use an ethernet cable to transmit data, audio, and video up to 4K resolution.
Uses of Ethernet and LAN Network
When your projector is connected to a network via Ethernet, you could transfer video and audio from a source device under the same network to your projector for viewing without having to directly connect the device to the projector.
This could be very convenient and useful, especially in an office or a classroom where the same projector might be used by several people. By using ethernet, managerial and administrative costs can be reduced. This also reduces the projector’s physical limitations in terms of spaces & locations.
Ethernet can be useful in a home setting too if you frequently use more than one device as a data source for your projector and would rather not go through the hassle of connecting & disconnecting the different sources each time you use them.
Considerations before Getting Ethernet
There are some factors you need to keep in mind if you are planning to get ethernet cables, they are explained below –
Normally, there are two types of ethernet cables you can find – solid and stranded. Out of the two, solid ethernet cables offer greater performance but at the cost of less durability, restricting their use more suited to circumstances where the cable is less likely to be moved around.
On the contrary, stranded cables are more durable and can be moved around more without harm if needed, but this comes at the cost of their performance being inferior to the solid cables.
Another thing to consider is the compatibility of your projector and the devices in the network you plan to connect to the projector. Check your devices to see if they are equipped to support LAN connections.
Composite Video & Audio Cables
Also known as RCA, the composite audio cables commonly used to connect standard stereo and VCR equipment. The video cables are meant to transmit analog video signals to display devices from game consoles or DVD players. Generally, the image quality for video transmission is pretty low (480i or 576i standard definition).
Usually, the three parts of the cable are colored red, white, yellow. The red one transmits audio for the right channel; the white one transmits audio for the left channel, and the yellow one transmits video.
All image data such as clarity and image are transmitted via one cable only, therefore delivering a lower quality video compared to component cables.
The most important use of composite cables is to connect older video cameras to a projector. For video transmission, composite cables are the lowest quality connectors out of all the available ones, but they are also the most common ones. Because of their widespread use, most devices have jacks supported for these.
But overall, the video cables are getting obsolete as they are replaced by S-Video cables or even higher-tech ones such as DVI and HDMI.
The component video cable is split into three colored parts and is also known as RGB cables. Just like composite video, these cables are also used to connect game consoles or DVD players to display devices such as monitors and projectors. Their main function is to transmit video signals that are analog.
And the entire video is transmitted by one single cable that has three sperate channels & connectors – red, green, and blue, each transmitting a primary color. Sometimes the green cable may be partially or completely yellow, in which case the cable can substitute for composite connections.
Component cables can support up to full HD resolution images, which is 1920 x 1080 pixels. But keep in mind that the signal type is analog, and therefore, is subject to potential interference and image degradation.
Due to being analog and having less reliable connections compared to the digital ones, component video cables are slowly becoming rare and less used in newer models of technology. But you can use them to transmit analog video if needed, provided that your device supports it.
Yet another cable meant to transmit analog video, S-Video cables are also called S-VHS or Hoseiden cables. Before the birth of high definition resolution digital cables, S-Video cables were the standard of quality when it comes to transmitting video. They transmit analog videos only, without any audio.
S-Video cables operate by splitting the signals into chroma (white and black) and luminance (colorful) & transmitting them separately via different pins. This makes their transmission a higher quality over the older analog ones.
Initially, these cables gained popularity by being superior to composite cables for analog video transmission; however, they quickly got replaced by other better types of cables such as the component cables. S-video cables are still worth knowing about because a lot of slightly older technologies still support and use this connection type.
Universal Serial Bus (USB) Connections
Out of this entire list, USB cables are probably the most used by you in your everyday life as they are quite common. There are multiple types of USB connections and cable types you may have heard of. The most common one is USB C, most frequently used for phones and laptops as chargers and file transfer cables.
Because of their widespread use, projectors also support them for the sake of convenience. You can use USB drives or hard drives with USB cables to directly view stored data from an external storage media. Moreover, you can also connect your smartphone or laptop to your projector using USB cables.
1. USB-A Type Cable
USB-A plugs are rectangular in shape and enable your projector to read and show data from external storage. However, most projectors are only able to do this with files in JPEG format. Some projectors also support Microsoft office file formats or even video files, but they are very rare.
2. USB-B Type Cable
These plugs are squarer in shape compared to the A-type. They are most commonly used to control presentations remotely using the projector’s remote control system. Additionally, they also connect the signal from the projector to the computer.
3. USB-C Type Cable
Also known as Thunderbolt 3, USB-C is a standard connection type for many modern devices. It combines image, data, and power in one single port. USB-C can transmit data up to 10 GB per second, which makes it way faster than a traditional USB 3.0.
3.5 mm Input and Output
Projectors usually do not come with a good quality speaker of their own. This is where these cables come in. Very important to have a quality speaker cable for the external speakers. They are used to receive audio signals from an outside source or to loop audio signals from the projector to an external speaker.
However, transmission quality with these cables is worse compared to composite audio cables.
New technology keeps hitting the market, and the manufacturers adapt their products to keep up. Keeping that in mind, you are better off getting the latest technology digital cables instead of analog ones because they are more likely to support the newer tech.
With that being said, if you have some old piece of technology that you would really like to use, perhaps a beloved camera from your childhood, feel free to get the older analog cables that support the tech. Don’t forget that many analog-to-digital adapters exist, so by all means, take advantage of them if needed.
Another thing to note is that the reason so many different projector cable types that do the same job exists is because of the proprietorship and manufacturer’s tendency to make their own versions. However, we are moving towards a more standardized approach as USB-C and HDMIs are some of the most common ones nowadays.
And that’s a wrap! I hope this article has been helpful to you in explaining the difference and use of these cables. Thanks for reading.