An Input Tutorial: HDMI, Composite & Component

Composite inputs.
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More is better. People can dispute that fact all they want, but nobody likes sacrificing more for less. We want cars with more cup holders, computers with more memory and washing machines with more capacity. Televisions are no exception; we want more pixels, more inches across and more inputs. Inputs, ports, video jacks, and plugs: more is better right? Yes, more is better, but not all inputs are equal.


What is the difference between Video 1 and Component 1? Why does the TV keep changing to HDMI 2 when I try to put on Netflix? All while that Xbox glowing in the corner mocks you as you try to find the right channel. Our TVs are overloaded with cable boxes and video game systems. But fear not. There is a way to tame those black magic screens in our living rooms.


The first step towards fixing an issue is to understand it. Action comes later, so let us take a moment to go over everything. There are three major types of TV connections: composite, the red, yellow and white cables that have been around for decades; component, a five-cable setup that looks similar to composite but uses blue, green, red and white cables; and HDMI, a single digital cable with a flat, trapezoidal shape. There are a few others, mostly computer monitor connections, but these are the connections that everyday devices use.


Composite is the simplest, technologically and in terms of quality, and oldest of the three. It uses one yellow cable to transfer a standard-definition (VHS tape-like quality) video signal, and the red and white cables to transmit stereo sound, white for the left speaker and red for the right.


Component uses the same white and red cables for audio, but instead of one video cable, it uses three. The red and blue cables each carry separate color information, red for red colors and blue for blue colors, and the green cable determines the brightness. Splitting the video signal into separate parts gives a better picture (up to Blu-ray level quality) for two reasons. First, keeping the different video signals apart stops the signals from interfering with one another, and second, because the signal is spread across three cables it can send three times as much raw data.


HDMI is a computer-encoded digital signal with no analog video transmitted at all, just ones and zeroes representing picture and sound data. HDMI is not affected by many of the limits or variables of analog connections; as such, it allows for the most consistent and highest quality images and audio.

HDMI is totally different from the other two. It is a single digital cable that sends both high-definition video and audio. This way, you can use one cable to get the best video and sound quality. Instead of sending an analog signal of picture information, like color values and brightness, the digital signal is encoded in ones and zeroes that a digital TV can turn into a flawless broadcast.


In short, HDMI always has the best quality signal. Most cable boxes, DVD players and video game systems support HDMI, as well as HDTVs. Why not use just HDMI for everything? Well, for one, it can be expensive. Nothing catastrophic, but when TV manufacturers are trying to keep costs down, having more HDMI ports becomes a luxury. Also, because HDMI is a digital signal, there may be a short time lapse from the source to the TV. Anyone who has played Guitar Hero or Rock Band on a high-definition TV knows what that is like.


After understanding which signal is what, the next step is to know what cable is which, or simply, organization. When plugging in a TV, keep cables and wires neat and taught, but not so much that they are stressed. Tagging cables can also help. The flat colored plastic clip at the end of a bread bag will snap onto most cables easily and can be written on with any marker. In the past, I have just used a folded piece of masking tape, making a small flag at the end of cables.


Most TVs can also label inputs. Check around in the Menu or Settings options for something called “Inputs” or “Input Labels”. Here one can edit titles for each video signal. Some TV sets will allow a typed input, but most have simple labels prepared, like “Cable Box”, “DVD Player” or “Game System”. Once everything is named correctly, instead of seeing HDMI 1 or VIDEO 3 written in the corner of the screen, it will actually show the name of what is plugged in.


With just that little bit of understanding you can always be sure to have the best picture possible.



This article was originally published in The Echo.



The Echo is the student-run publication of Western Connecticut State University whose aim is to inform and enlighten the university community. The Echo’s goal is to establish and maintain an atmosphere of free and responsible journalism in an engaging and entertaining format. Anything published in The Echo in no way represents the opinion of the university or it’s faculty and administration.

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