Optical vs. RCA: Which Is the Right Connection for You?

Last Updated: November 26, 2021By

Black optical audio cable plugged in

Have you ever been confused about which type of cable to use for your audio or video needs?

Well, don’t worry! In this blog post, we will tell you all about the difference between Optical and RCA cables. One is “digital,” while the latter is “analog,” so it’s important to know what these terms mean to make a decision on which one to use.

Before we go any further, let’s take a moment to define what each of these terms means, so there isn’t any confusion!

What Is an Optical Cable?

An optical audio connection is a digital device that transmits sound without any significant degradation.

It can be used to transmit any type of audio signal, including stereo or surround sound. The most popular use for this technology is in home theater systems with Blu-ray players, TVs, DVD players, etc.

These types of connections are usually labeled “Digital Audio Out” on the back panel of your devices.

What Is an RCA Cable?

RCA cables are typically used to connect audio-visual equipment like television sets, DVD players, and AV receivers. They carry both the picture and sound of video components, making them a popular choice for home theatre systems.

The color coding on the plugs helps to identify the corresponding RCA inputs on the TV or other device. The plugs are usually color-coded with red, white, and yellow markings.

The cable carries a left audio channel signal through the first pin (white), right audio channel to second pin (red) and video signal in the third wire which is typically yellow.

Pros and Cons of Optical vs. RCA


What devices do you want your cable to connect? Many new systems have digital connections that use optical while older systems may only need an analog connection (RCA).

Audio Format

The audio format is a large factor in choosing the right type of cable. If you want to get surround sound from your television, then an optical connection will be necessary.

However, if all you need is stereo sound for music or video games, then either option should work just fine.

Optical Cables Better Against EMI or RFI

RCA cable is more prone to interference from other electrical devices. This can cause a humming noise or poor audio quality.

Optical cables are better at handling EMI and RFI because they only need the light signal, rather than carrying both video and sound signals through one wire like with analog connections.

Additionally, optical cables are not affected by signal loss over long distances, making them ideal for connecting devices across large areas.

Optical Cables Are Fragile

Optical cables can also be easily physically damaged if bent too tightly or if they are stepped on.

Because the cable only contains light, it is less sturdy than RCA cables which can sustain heavy usage and damage more easily without breaking or losing sound quality.


Optical connections are capable of carrying more bandwidth than RCA cables, which is important for high-resolution audio formats like Dolby Digital or DTS Surround System.

Camcorder Recording

For camcorders, RCA cables are used to connect the audio and video input jacks on your camera with A/V inputs on a TV or VCR.


An Optical cable will cost more than an RCA connection.

Video Signal

A downside of using an optical cable is the need for a separate connection to transmit digital video signals. This means that you need to run two cables to your TV as opposed to just one for an RCA connection.

Which Type of Connection Should I Use?

As mentioned before, many new systems have digital connections that use optical while older systems may only need an analog connection (RCA). RCA cables deliver both picture and sound in a single cable, additionally, RCA cables are typically cheaper.

Ultimately, the decision of which type of connection to use is up to you. Your needs will vary depending on what devices are in your home theater system and whether or not you want surround sound.

If cost is a concern, then RCA may be the right option for you but if compatibility with newer systems that require digital connections is important then optical would be better suited.