Is the RCA cable dead?

Well, not dead, but sick. Solid Signal carries a large selection of RCA cables and that includes some lower-cost options. It seems that people still want these cables, because they’re pretty much mandatory for connecting up old televisions and VCRs. RCA cables have been hot sellers for us since the day Radio Shack closed. I guess that’s where people were getting them before.

A very quick history

The RCA cable is definitely on its way out, along with the connectors it’s named for. Don’t weep for the RCA connector, though — it’s lived a long life. It was originally introduced by the Radio Corporation of America as an easy way to connect record players to AM radios. Yes, this was back in the 1930s when that was a thing. It continued to grow in popularity for home audio equipment for decades, and the humble RCA cable really found its stride in the 1980s when it was used for connecting VCRs and game systems to televisions. Back then, the RCA cable was a critical part of every home entertainment system.

Fast-forward to today

Designed as it was to be a solution for relatively low-bandwidth audio, it’s not surprising that it’s been largely abandoned today. RCA cables don’t provide enough shielding for an HD-video application and the way they are constructed makes it very expensive to create truly high-quality cables. On the other hand, the F connector is a very good solution for transferring HD digital video, which is why nearly every cable and satellite operation in the world uses it. It’s possible to get adapters to put RCA connectors on coaxial cables, but I’m not quite sure why anyone would do this. Maybe if the cable’s already run and you’re trying to make the best of it.

The component era

For a very short while, high-definition video and audio was carried over a total of five RCA cables working together. This was referred to as component video. The video was split between three cables. One carried something similar to a black-and-white video signal while the other two carried color information. The other two carried stereo audio. So, even that wasn’t sufficient for a digital signal with surround sound. Component video faded away because it was not very friendly for consumers who want a single cable that carries everything.

Is there anything left for the RCA cable to do?

There really isn’t an upgrade path for the old RCA connector and its eponymous cable.  There isn’t really a good device to convert RCA video to HDMI anymore. Many TVs no longer have any sort of RCA connection. It’s all about adding value and cutting cost. Your average person probably doesn’t miss the connections anymore. If you do want to connect your old VCR to a new TV, you’ll probably have to scour eBay or other sites for something that “might” work.

If you’re like me and you literally have a bag of RCA cables sitting in the garage, this is the time to responsibly recycle most of them. Keep a couple because you may need them, but otherwise, let the copper within them be used for something else. They’re just taking up space out there so why not give them a second life?

But, you’ll always need cables

When you’re ready for the next generation of cables, check out the great selection you’ll get when you shop at Solid Signal!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.