11 Cable Types Every Homeowner Should Know
Find out how to identify and use these common cables in your home.
Cables are used to connect one device to another, whether the device is a television, router, or computer. However, not every device uses the same kind of cable, and some devices have different types of cables for various peripheral outputs or to draw power from the electrical outlet.
Due to the range of cable types, it’s important to have an understanding of the differences between cables for computers and types of audio cables. It’s also helpful to know how to differentiate a micro USB vs. USB-C cable, and so on. Become better acquainted with common types of cables that are used around the home by reading about the following 11 cable types.
1. HDMI Cable
HDMI cables are one of the most commonly used and well-known cables for connecting computers, televisions, game systems, and other electronic devices. They were released in 2004 as a replacement for VGA cables because HDMI could carry and transmit both sound and video in high definition, while VGA cables needed multiple ports to connect sound and video.
These cables can range in length from less than 1 foot to more than 20 feet, allowing users to set up comprehensive entertainment systems in their homes or simply plug a computer into a monitor. Due to popular demand for high-definition entertainment, HDMI cables are commonly included with video game systems, home projectors, and other peripheral devices, so it’s likely that you have one or more of these cables in your home.
Best For: Use HDMI cables to get high-definition sound and video from your television or computer monitor.
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These HDMI cables extend more than 6 feet in length and can transmit data at an impressive speed of just under 50 gigabits per second (Gbps).
2. USB Type-A
If you have ever struggled to find the correct cable orientation when plugging a USB cord into your computer then you are well acquainted with USB type-A cables. These USB cables are one of the most common types of computer cables, though there are also USB-C, micro USB, and even lightning cables. However, the main difference between the USB-A cable and other USB cables is the size and purpose.
While other USB cables are primarily used to connect small devices, like tablets or phones, USB-A cables are essential for almost every computer peripheral device including keyboards, mice, headsets, flash drives, wireless adapters, and external hard drives. They have a flat, rectangular shape and must be inserted in the correct orientation or the cable will not fit into the USB port.
Best For: USB-A cables are necessary for wired connections between computer peripheral devices and are also used with video game consoles and televisions.
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Connect to the computer, television, or video game console from up to 10 feet away with this USB-A extension cable.
3. USB-C Cable
As one of the newest types of USB cables available, USB-C cables are capable of transferring audio, video, and text data. These cables with small rectangular shape with rounded ends are typically used with tablets, smartphones, and other mobile devices. USB-C cables aren’t just for connecting the device to a computer to transfer data, they can also be used for device charging, making USB-C cables an impressive step forward from older cable types that were limited in their functionality.
In fact, these USB cables are now beginning to be used with laptops and video game consoles, replacing traditional controller cables with this innovative new design. Before using, check the ports on your computer, smartphone, or other device for a USB-C port. Some Apple products have lightning cable ports while other products are now using USB-C ports.
Best For: Connect smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices with the new USB-C cables.
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Anker’s USB-C cables extend up to 6 feet and are intended for connecting mobile devices from the USB-C port to USB-A power adapters for charging.
The micro-USB type of USB cable is an older style of cable that was a standard for smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices until it was mostly replaced by USB-C cables. Despite being an older style of cable, some newer products will still have micro-USB ports, like digital cameras, external hard drives, or keyboards. USB-C cables currently have a narrower range of applications.
If you have an older tablet or smartphone then it’s likely that the device is equipped with a micro-USB port. These cables have a trapezoidal shape with a short flat top and a long flat bottom. Like USB-C cables, micro-USB cables can be used for both data transfer and for recharging compatible mobile devices.
Best For: Charge or connect older mobile devices and some new peripheral devices with micro-USB cables.
Our Recommendation: RAMPOW Micro USB Cable – Get at Amazon for $8.49
The nylon-braided micro-USB cord is resistant to twisting, bending, and kinking that may damage less durable cables.
5. Lightning Cable
While lightning cables are not actually USB cables, they are often grouped with them because they perform the same basic functions like connecting smartphones, tablets, and computer peripheral devices. However, the difference is that lightning cables are a brand-specific product made by Apple for Apple devices. These cables can be used for both transferring data and charging devices.
Lightning cables have a similar size to USB-C cables, but instead of a rectangular or even trapezoidal shape, lightning cable connectors are simply made up of a thin piece of metal with several contact points at the tip of the metal connector. The obvious limitation of lightning cables is that they aren’t useful for any product except Apple devices and given the ongoing popularity of Samsung, Microsoft, and other electronics brands, this brand-specific use detracts from the overall ability of the lightning cable.
Best For: Apple users rely on lightning cables to recharge mobile devices, connect MacBook peripherals, and transfer data from or to Apple devices.
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The reinforced construction of this six-foot lightning cable helps to prevent damage to the connector from overuse.
6. 3.5 mm Audio Cable
Used as one of the most common audio cables for more than a decade, 3.5-millimeter audio cables can also be known as auxiliary or aux cables. They are best recognized when you want to listen to music to drown out the neighbors, get some studying done, or pay attention to an important video call. Just grab your headphones and use the 3.5-millimeter aux cable to connect them to the headphone port on your device.
While this port is commonly referred to as the headphone port, it is technically a 3.5-millimeter audio cable port. It just so happens that the devices that most frequently use this connection are headphones, so computer, tablet, and smartphone manufacturers began to label the port with a headphone symbol, leading most people to refer to it as the headphone jack or headphone port. Some computer speakers also use 3.5-millimeter audio cables, though larger speakers typically have more robust audio cables for better audio data transmission.
Best For: Plug in headphones or connect compatible speakers using 3.5-millimeter audio cables.
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This tangle-free braided audio cable is a great choice for listening to music on iPods, tablets, laptops, and smartphones with compatible audio ports.
7. Ethernet Cable
Despite being invented more than 40 years ago, ethernet cables have never been in high demand by residential consumers when compared to USB, HDMI, or even old VGA cables. The reason for this is that ethernet cables are used specifically for connecting several devices on a local area network (LAN) or wide area network (WAN).
These networks are commonly seen in workplaces, but at home, ethernet cables are really only used to connect the computer directly to the modem or router. Ethernet cables can also be used for connecting security camera networks, allowing the user to control the cameras from one device, instead of each camera working on its own independent network.
Best For: Use an ethernet cable to set up an interconnected home security system or get reliable internet access when the Wi-Fi is being difficult.
Our Recommendation: Vabogu Cat 8 Ethernet Cable – Get at Amazon for $8.99
Available from 1.5- to 100-feet long, this ethernet cable is shielded to prevent signal disruption due to electromagnetic interference.
8. Coaxial Cable
More than 20 years ago coaxial cables were primarily used to connect home satellites and local cable networks to the home in order to enjoy television with the family. At the time, internet access was only available with a dial-up modem through the local phone network. When cable internet was first introduced, coaxial cables quickly became a necessity for many residential homes.
Currently, coaxial cables are still used to connect home modems and routers to the incoming cable system. They are also useful for home satellite connections and are very easy to recognize due to the perfectly circular connector with a thin wire protruding from the center of the cable.
Best For: Ensure that the home has fast internet access, a reliable satellite connection, and a consistent cable television transmission with a coaxial cable.
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Minimize interference and get smooth internet connectivity with the gold-plated coaxial cable connectors.
9. Fiber Optic Cable
Fiber optic cables are not limited to a specific connector or port, like USB or HDMI cables. This style of cable replaces the traditional cable transmission design with a light-based transmission. Instead of relying on electrical pulses, these cables can have hundreds of optical fibers running through them that send data with rapid pulses of light,. As most people know, light travels faster than any other type of energy, so the fiber optic cable’s rate of transmission is significantly higher than a standard copper cable.
However, fiber optic cables are limited in flexibility and these cables are relatively new, so they are not currently widely used in a residential setting. However, many internet providers have begun replacing old copper cables with fiber optic cables to increase the potential of their network.
Best For: Rapid and precise data transmission is possible using a high-grade fiber optic cable for audio, video, and test transfers.
Our Recommendation: WARRKY 6ft Fiber Optic Cable – Get at Amazon for $9.99
Get incredibly clear sound when this fiber optic cable is used to connect video game consoles, soundbars, and home theater systems to a television.
10. DVI Cable
DVI cables were intended to replace VGA cables when the majority of entertainment programs made the transition from analog to digital content. These cables improved transmission speed and data quality, making it possible for users to watch television, play video games, or work on the computer with a higher definition output than previously possible.
The use of DVI cables was quickly replaced by HDMI cables before DVI cables could fully replace VGA cables, making HDMI the more popular successor to VGA cables. Some businesses and home offices may still have DVI cables to connect the computer to an older monitor, simultaneously connect multiple monitors to a single computer, or connect to an older television. However, this style of cable has mostly fallen out of use.
Best For: Users that have older monitors and televisions can use DVI cables to connect desktop computers, projectors, and laptops.
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Ideal for video projection, this 6-foot DVI cable has finger-tightened screws and molded strain relief connectors for enhanced durability.
11. AC Power Cord
Almost every electronic device in a home has an alternating current (AC) power cord to connect the device to an available electric outlet. Without an AC cable, most computers cannot be charged, televisions cannot be turned on, and even appliances like microwaves, coffee makers, and alarm clocks can become useless without this type of cord.
Some users may not need an HDMI cable or a USB cable, but the same can’t be said for AC power cords. If you use any type of electronic device that plugs into a standard power outlet, then you also need an AC power cord. Some devices have this cord attached, while other devices, like a laptop, may have a removable AC power cord.
Best For: Ensure electronic devices around the home have power with an AC power cable.
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A figure-eight AC power cord port can restore power to any devices including playstations, televisions, printers, and computer monitors.