Using CAT-5e/CAT-6 Long-Run Cabling Systems

By Danny Briere, Pat Hurley

Category 5e (CAT-5e) or Category 6 (CAT-6) is the cable used to carry audio and video signals for computer networks and a whole-home theater network. CAT-5e or CAT-6 cables are often generically called Ethernet cables.

Here are some details on CAT-5e and CAT-6 cabling systems:

  • CAT-6 is the current top-of-the-line UTP cabling, suitable for very fast computer networks, but CAT-5e cable is the most common for home use and is more than adequate for your home’s wiring.

  • CAT-5e is a type of UTP (unshielded twisted pair) copper cabling and can be used for phones, computer networks, home automation networks, and audio/video distribution systems.

  • CAT-5e cables typically consist of four pairs of wire (eight total conductors) wrapped in a single jacket. The ends of CAT-5e cables are terminated in connectors known as RJ-45 jacks, which look exactly like the common RJ-11 phone jack, only wider.

  • CAT-5e cabling can be used to connect your home theater to your computer LAN and through this LAN to the Internet. For example, CAT-5e connectors are commonly found on MP3 servers, PVRs, and increasingly on audio source devices that are designed to play back Internet radio stations or MP3 files located on a computer in your house.

    CAT-5e cabling may also be used to connect the A/V source components in your home theater to other rooms in the house.

Each piece of a CAT-5e system (the cables themselves, the RJ-45 jacks, and so on) is subject to the CAT-5e rating system. If you use CAT-5e, make sure all the pieces and parts are rated CAT-5e. The “weakest link in the chain” rule applies here. Any piece that’s rated below CAT-5e brings the whole system down to that lower rating. Many A/V-over-UTP systems require CAT-5e and don’t work well on identical-looking but lower-rated cables. All CAT-5e cables and connectors will be clearly marked with a label of some sort, so just read the fine print (on the cable itself) to be sure.