Whether you’re installing your own home theatre system or hiring someone to do it for you, you may be curious about the types of Ethernet cabling used and the capabilities of each. This handy guide gives you what you need to — or want to — know when it comes to audio video signal cable, its capabilities, benefits, drawbacks and best uses.

What Is Ethernet Cable?

Ethernet cable is made up of twisted pairs of copper wire used to transmit an analog audio or video signal from, for instance, a microphone to a mixing board to a router and, finally, to a speaker, where you hear the signal as a voice, instrument or other sound effect. The configuration of the copper wire and its capabilities determines the “category” of the cable, which is how it gets its name. Here’s a look at some of the more common types.

Cat-5 Cable:Up until a few years ago, this was the most common cable used for transmitting analog audio and video signals over distances of up to [fill in] feet, Category 5 cable comes in two varieties, solid or stranded. Here in the U.S., we rely on Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) cables, although another variety (Screened Twisted Pair, or SCTP) also exists. Solid Cat 5 is better for longer cable runs, while Stranded Cat 5 is an easy, cost-effective solution as patch cable.

Cat 5e Cat 5e cable, or Category 5, enhanced, transfers data at 1000 Mbps, making it more suitable for today’s digital applications. In short, it provides more bandwidth for today’s data intensive applications. For home theatre applications where data is transmitted across relatively short distances, Cat 5e is probably the most cost-effective choice.

Cat 6The growing choice for audiovisual contractors in commercial installations, Cat-6 cable offers better signal quality, meaning clearer sound and a better picture, even across longer distances. A longitudinal separator isolates the pairs of twisted wire to reduce crosstalk. Cat 6 offers twice the bandwidth of cat 5 cable, enabling it to support 10 Gb Ethernet with no problems. If you’re talking about future-proofing your audiovisual systems, this is the way to go.