When connecting various media devices (e.g. digital cameras, video cameras, and DVD players), it is usually necessary to have some sort of cable to interface between the device and the television or monitor. There are often several connection options on both the devices and the viewers, which can make connecting the devices confusing for those who do not understand the connection types and their uses.
Composite video is a common option both for media devices and televisions. Composite video cables are readily available, which makes them a great choice for nearly all viewing needs. Before buying a composite video cable, consumers should make sure there are composite video connectors on each device they want to connect. They need to consider several other factors, as well, such as the advantages and disadvantages of using composite video, and how to identify a composite video cable. Buyers also need to know how and where to buy high quality composite video cables at affordable prices.
A Brief History of Composite Video Cables
The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) invented RCA cables in the 1940s. The RCA cable was originally created for professional audio use, and was used when servicing phonograph consoles. It was quickly adapted for consumer audio use, and was later used to carry composite video signals, as well.
The composite video cable came about in the 1950s, when the National Television Standards Committee (NTSC) was looking for a way to transmit all video data using one cable. Because it was an effective way to transmit video signals in one convenient cable, it soon became the standard for home use, and remained so for decades.
Composite video cables became a popular connection option in the 1980s when video cassette recorders (VCRs) were all the rage. At the time, connections were limited to coaxial cable and composite video. Composite video provides a superior viewing experience, so it was the preferred connection choice for individuals seeking better picture quality. Even though S-Video was introduced before the introduction of the DVD player, composite video and its corresponding RCA audio cables remained the most popular method of connecting media players, including the DVD player, with the television.
Now that digital high-definition television has it the market, composite video cables are beginning to decline in popularity; they only display analogue video, and their output is not high definition. Despite these limitations, composite video is still the go-to cable for many individuals because they are readily available, and because so many devices offer composite video inputs and outputs.
How Composite Video Works
Video or images that are produced on a camera, VCR, or DVD player are broken down into three colours: red, green, and blue (RGB). By combining these three colours, all other colours can be simulated. Transmitting the RGB information without compressing it requires a lot of bandwidth, which requires more expensive cables. To reduce the amount of bandwidth needed to transfer the video, the signal must be compressed. To do this, composite video cables break the video imaging into three different pieces of information. The brightness component determines how bright or dim the picture is, while the colour component tells the television or computer screen how much of which colours to put into the picture. The final component indicates the horizontal and vertical position of each portion of the image, so that an accurate picture can be displayed.
Advantages of Composite Video
Composite video transmits video along low bandwidth cables. It requires the use of just one cable for video transmission, and the cables can be purchased fairly inexpensively. Another benefit of composite video is that most devices, including DVD players, video cameras, Blu-ray players, and most television sets support the technology, which makes it easy to connect various devices quickly and easily.
Disadvantages of Composite Video
Television screen resolution is measured in terms of vertical scan lines. The more vertical scan lines a screen has, the higher its resolution. Common screen resolutions range from 240 scan lines to 1080 scan lines. Composite video cables accurately display resolutions of up to 480 vertical scan lines. Any resolutions higher than that must be downsampled to 480 scan lines. This means that connecting an HD device (e.g. a Blu-ray player) to a television via composite video cable results in a non-HD viewing experience.
Composite video cables are only capable of transmitting analogue signals, which means if they are used to connect a digital device (e.g. a DVD player) to a television, the signal must be downgraded to analogue before transmission to the television. This results in an inferior viewing experience. Moreover, since the video is compressed, the original video quality can never be truly recovered. Although the composite video cable can transmit the video, the image quality and colour are not as bright or clear as in the original video.
Identifying a Composite Video Cable
The industry has developed standard colours for all cables; this makes it easier to identify what the cable is used for. Composite video cables feature yellow connectors; audio cables feature two RCA connectors: a red one to connect the right channel and a white one to connect the left channel. Other colours, such as grey and lavender, are used for additional audio channels, when needed. Since composite video cables always have yellow connectors, this is the first step in identifying them. If the cable's connectors are not yellow, then it is not a composite video cable. The connector itself is approximately 13 millimetres in diameter, with a single pin extending from the connector.
Composite video cables are typically stand-alone cables; however, they can be combined with two audio cables, so that all three cables are bundled into one slightly thicker cable with three connectors, a yellow, a red, and a white. While this does not affect the performance of any of the cables themselves, it makes it easier for consumers to connect the cables and organise them so they do not get tangled up.
Some cables offer two different types of connections, so users can connect devices that do not support composite video to those that do. These specialty cables have a composite video connector on one end and a specialised connector on the other, such as a USB connector for iPhones and iPads.
To identify the input or output port on a device, look for a round port that is similar in size to the composite video cable. The inside of the port should have yellow plastic around the hole where the pin fits in. Some televisions and media devices have more than one type of port, so make sure the cable is plugged into a yellow one for composite video outputs and "video in" for inputs.
Shopping for Composite Video Cables
Many devices, such as digital cameras and DVD players come with both composite video cables and audio cables, so buyers purchasing a new item should determine whether composite video cables are included. If it is not, or if a longer composite video cable is required, buyers can find them at most electronics stores and at some department stores.
Another option, especially for those who need odd lengths of cable, is to shop online. There are a variety of online stores from which to choose. For the greatest selection and convenience, visit eBay. eBay typically has many listings for all types of video cables, including composite video cables. Shopping online typically yields better prices, even after factoring in the cost of shipping.
Buying Composite Video Cables eBay
If you are ready to take a look at the listings available on eBay, go to eBay's homepage and type "composite video cables" into the search box. If you need a specific length or a specialty cable, try typing that information into the keyword box. For example, to find USB-to-composite video cables, search for "USB to RCA".
Before making a purchasing decision, prospective buyers should read through the listings carefully to determine which type of connector is on either end of the cable, as well as whether audio cables are included. If shopping for a specific length cable, prospective buyers should also confirm the length of the cable. Buyers should read through the seller's return policy to determine whether they can return the cable if it turns out to be the wrong type or length.
While it is true that composite video cables cannot do justice to modern high-definition digital video, they are nevertheless handy cables to have on hand, for everything from connecting DVD players to televisions, to connecting a video camera to a TV to review the footage. When buying electronics that come with composite video cables, consumers should stash a cable or two in a drawer somewhere so that they have the cables on hand when they are needed at a later date.
When buying composite video cables, consumers should consider the distance between the two devices they plan to connect and purchase cables that are long enough to reach between them. It may be tempting to purchase extra-long cables so that there is never an issue with length; however, buyers should realise that longer cables may result in a loss of video quality. Therefore, users should purchase cables that are just long enough to suit their purposes.