Guide to Cables Part I: Video

March 13, 2010

On your DVD player, cable box or any other video component, there’s usually a choice of connections and cables you can use to connect to your TV.  Not all types of cables were created equal.  What’s the best type of cable to use?  Below is a ranking of what cables you should use from worst to best.

Composite video cables use the standard RCA phono connector which has been around for a long time.  Carrying an analog signal, all of the video information is combined into one cable and this results in the poorest video quality of the group.

S-Video came into popular use with DVD players.  This cable improved picture quality by splitting the composite video signal into two components.  At one point, this was the best option with CRT TVs and progressive scan DVD players.

SCART is a combined audio and video connector/cable that is widely used in Europe.  The quality was similar to s-video.  It had some other neat features that found their way into HDMI. 

Component Video cables also use the RCA connector.  For component connections, you run three cables that each carry a different component of the video signal.  Component cables can transmit high definition video.

DVI is short for digital video interface.  With an oversized connector and bulky cable, it can transmit a high def digital signal to your TV.  Its popularity was short lived and the cables were expensive.

HDMI is short for high definiton multi-media interface.  It is backwards compatible with DVI ( only a simple adapter is needed).   While there are several different types of HDMI connectors, they are all smaller and easier to plug in than DVI.  It combines both audio, video and control information into one cable.  This allows compatible devices to communicate information with each other.  For example, when I turn on my blu-ray player, it sends a signal to my TV to turn on (annoying when I just want to hear a CD but I could disable it)

The real advantage of HDMI is that you can send both high quality audio and video over just one cable.  With analog cables, you needed at least nine cables to be run for 5.1 channel surround sound with HD quality video (6 RCA audio and 3 component video).   Multiply this by the number of devices you have and the result is a real rat’s nest behind your home theater.

You should think twice about buying cheap analog cables (composite, s-video and component).  Analog signals can easily be affected by interference resulting in a poor picture.  

To recap the order from best to worst:  HDMI, DVI, Component, S-Video and RCA (Composite).  Enjoy!

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