Whether you call it Cat5, Cat-5, Cat5e, or even the newfangled Cat6, it remains the best cable in modern history. Never has the humble element Cu (copper) been so adaptable, flexible, and amazingly helpful in so many areas.
This article explains how you can utilize Category 5 cabling to route just about any kind of multimedia or network signal over short, medium or long distances, and many tidbits of extremely helpful information and links to products to help make your life much easier.
A few examples:
- The Archdiocese of St. Louis uses Cat5e cabling to run balanced mic and line-level audio signals through it's massive Cathedral.
- They also use Cat5e cable to send high definition (480p/720p/1080p) video and digital audio throughout the Cathedral.
Cat5 cable is not just for networking. It's not your father's cable. It's amazing, and it's right here, now. Expand your horizons and run a few extra Cat5 cables around your building—you never know when you'll need them!
For a basic primer on Cat 5 wiring (standards, connectors, pinouts), at least, with regard to networking and RJ-45 connections, please check out the Cat-5 wiring page, hosted elsewhere.
Audio over Cat5 Cable
XLR Microphone-Level Audio Over Cat5
One of the largest Cathedrals in the United States, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, uses Cat5 cable inside to run XLR mic-level signals to and from different parts of the cathedral. These cables were used for broadcast-quality audio for different events. There's a detailed writeup of how Cat5 was used for XLR audio over on Life is a Prayer.com.
Using Cat5 Cable for Speaker Wire
Another word for shielded Cat5 cable is "8-pair 24 AWG speaker wire." For the past two years, I've used Cat5 cable to run about 100' of speaker wire in a wall from my family room to my bedroom, for two speakers in there. I simply terminate the Cat5 wires into standard RCA jacks, and then put them into the backs of my bedroom speakers. Since these speakers are rated at 10W RMS, and I don't have rock concerts in my room, I don't worry about the wire not holding up to the signal. It sounds great, and there's no interference at all!
I wouldn't recommend using Cat5 for any kind of high-end or high-power sound system, though... the wire isn't meant to handle tons of power. But it's great in a pinch!
Video Over Cat5 Cable
HDMI Over Cat5
HDMI is a relatively high-bandwidth video standard, meaning it requires more than one Cat5 cable to send a full 1080p signal... but you can still send HDMI for relatively long distances over Cat5! Here are a few adapters you could use to do it:
- Sabrent HDMI Extension over Cat5/6 - $41 from Amazon.com
- Atlona Powerless HDMI Extender - $76 from Amazon.com
VGA Over Cat5
VGA might be the older standard for computer and HD video display, but it works with practically any device—no matter how new or old—and is the standard for things like projection, PC inputs on HDTVs, etc. You can send VGA (and SVGA, XVGA, etc. resolutions) over Cat5 for very long distances with little or no signal quality loss, if you use an extender like the one below:
- Cables Unlimited VGA over UTP Extender 300M with Audio - $80 from Amazon.com
Component or Analog HD Video Over Cat5
I posted a writeup elsewhere on this site concerning the best way to get an analog Composite signal (RBG) over Cat5 cable.
S-Video or Composite Video Over Cat5
Standard video signals (analog) can be sent over the twisted pairs of a Cat5 cable for very long distances, and if you use Cat5e or shielded twisted pair cabling, you can go even further! In many churches and auditoriums, our cable of choice for video distribution is always Cat5. Run a wire to each TV, and then distribute a video signal over the Cat5 network using a set of 'baluns' (which stands for 'balanced / unbalanced' - they make an analog a/v signal run long distances over data cable.
Here are some of the baluns we recommend:
- Generic A/V Baluns (Passive, shorter distances) - $40 from Amazon.com
- Knoll Systems A/V Baluns (Active, 300m+):
USB over Cat5e
You can run USB cables (most things, especially if they don't use power—like infrared receivers, printers, etc.) over very long distances with Cat5e. All you need is a USB -> Cat5 adapter kit. Something like one of the following: