What to Consider When Buying a Composite Video Cable

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What to Consider When Buying a Composite Video Cable

Quality cables can make a big impact in video connection quality. Upgrading in-box leads with a more sophisticated product is a relatively affordable way to improve picture quality. Composite video cable is a way of sending analogue video signals between two visual components, such as a VHS player and a television. Although technology has developed superior video signal transmissions, composite video remains a reliable, quality connection for standard-resolution signals. And in some cases, it is the only viable connection for one or both components.

Because composite video cables can come in a wide range of prices, from very cheap to very expensive, consumers should understand what features are most important in a cable. These include conductor materials, shielding, and connector quality. They should also consider factors like connector type and cable length. Informed consumers can better choose a composite video cable that meets their needs, while still keeping within their budget.

What is a Composite Video Cable?

A composite video cable sends composite video signals from one component to another. Composite video was the first analogue baseband video standard in home cinema equipment. A video signal contains both chrominance (colour) and luminance (brightness). Composite video sends both chrominance and luminance along the same path, which makes it slightly lower in quality than S-video and component video, as they divide chrominance and luminance for improved picture quality. Still, composite video signal provides a good, clear, standard-resolution image up to 480i, and is the best way to connect a VHS component to a television.

A composite video signal carries only video, not audio. Some composite video cables are grouped with audio connectors; these can be identified as having three phono (or RCA) plugs at either end, instead of just one.

Impedance

One of the most important specifications to note when purchasing a composite video cable is its impedance, which is its resistance to the electrical current that passes through it. Impedance is measured in ohms (Ω), with a lower impedance indicating less resistance. Coaxial cables are tested to have 75-ohm impedance, and are the standard for high-quality composite video cables.

Understanding the Basic Composite Cable Structure

When shopping for a composite video cable, it helps to have an understanding of how a cable is constructed. There are five parts of the cable that affect how well it transmits a signal.

Part of Cable

Function

Jacket

The outermost sheath of the cable; it protects the inner materials

Shielding

Under the jacket, composed of different layers, such as braided or foil; shielding protects conductor from electromagnetic and radio-frequency interference (EMI and RFI) from other devices, and also reduces cable signal interference with other devices

Dielectric

An insulating layer between shielding and conductor which protects the signal

Conductor

The wire part of the cable that transmits the electric signal

Connector

At either end of the cable, the connector joins the cable with other devices; many different kinds of connectors available, depending on type and quality of component

Once consumers understand the function of each part, the next step is to assess different options in cable design. These affect the cable's performance and durability.

Composite Video Cable Design Options

A cable's materials and construction are highly important. Quality cables provide optimal signal transmission with the least amount of interference or loss.

Conductor Materials

Copper is the standard in electrical wiring, and the vast majority of composite video cables have copper wire conductors. Copper is highly conductive; however, it is prone to oxidation, a process by which oxygen slowly corrodes the metal. Corrosion reduces conductivity and increases the cable's resistance. For that reason, higher-end cables may feature oxygen-free copper (commonly labeled simply OFC), which has an oxygen content of 0.001 percent and at least 99.95-percent purity. The reduced oxygen level prevents oxidation, making for a tougher, better-performing cable.

Shielding

Some manufacturers add double or triple shielding for increased protection against interference. A dense coverage (e.g., 95-percent) gives a high level of protection.

This is not one of the most vital specifications of a cable. In fact, some experts caution against too much (e.g., triple or quadruple) shielding, which reduces the flexibility of the cable, and against using mixed metals, which could create problems. So, it may not be worthwhile to spend more money on shielding alone. Connector construction and materials, for example, are more important.

Connectors

As the part that secures the connection between a cable and other devices, a quality connector is critical to transmission integrity. There are a few different elements to consider when assessing a connector.

First, look at the materials. The highest-quality connectors are gold-plated. Gold is conductive and resists oxidation, providing a strong, clear connection.

Another consideration is the joinery. The best connectors are crimped to the cable. Crimping is a process that welds the two parts together for an extremely strong, durable connection that has the same resistance as the wiring itself. Soldering is another common practice, in which a metal alloy is poured between the cable and connector, securing the connector into place. Quality soldering is also an excellent method, creating strong and reliable connections.

In short, the connector should ideally have the same impedance as the cable, and fit precisely and securely into the component's plug. When investing in a cable, the connector should be one of the primary considerations.

Jacket

The cable jacket should be flexible and strong, without being overly stiff. The cable should be able to bend around corners, but the jacket should protect it from crimping, as that can affect the cable's efficiency. The most common kind of jacket material for composite video cables is PVC, which generally fulfills those criteria, and also has good abrasion resistance.

Connector Types

While standard composite video cables feature phono plugs (or RCA jacks), today there is a broader range of choices enabling connection between a composite video device and components with different connection portals.

Phono (RCA) Connectors

The phono connector, also known as an RCA plug or cinch connector, has been the standard connector for composite video cables. Composite video signal is video-only, and does not carry audio. Composite video cables with only one phono plug on either end are for video alone; others have an additional two phono plugs that carry audio signals.

Other Connector Options

To connect a device that does not have a composite video jack with one that does requires a different kind of connector at one end. Fortunately, there are many options available to accommodate an array of components. Buyers should be aware that these cables can only carry composite video signals, and are generally directional, meaning that the signal can only move in one direction; for example, from an iPod to a television, but not the reverse. Some of the commonly available connectors include: iPod, Euro Connector or SCART (Syndicat des Constructeurs d'Appareils Radiorécepteurs et Téléviseurs), BNC (Bayonet Neill–Concelman), USB (Universal Serial Bus), and VGA (video graphics array).

Cable Length

Before buying a composite video cable, consumers should measure the distance between the plugs of the two components to be connected, keeping in mind that a cable may need a little more length to round corners. They should also consider whether they wish the cable to run along the floor for aesthetic purposes. It is advisable to choose the shortest possible cable, since the longer the cable, the greater the chance for errors in transmission.

How to Buy a Composite Video Cable

Once consumers have determined the length, connector type, and price range that is right for them, they are ready to compare cable models. They can browse electronic supply shops and consult sales personnel, or compare product reviews online. Composite video cables are available from electronic supply shops and online through Internet merchants and auction websites like eBay.

Buying a Composite Video Cable on eBay

There is a wide selection of composite video cables available on eBay's online auction site. To begin browsing, go to eBay's homepage and enter keywords like "composite video cable 3m" into the search bar. You can also add other keywords if you are looking for a specific material or feature, such as "USB", or "gold-plated". You can then further refine your results according to a price range, seller location, and other factors.

When you find a product that you are interested in, take a few moments to read more about the item and its seller. Look carefully at the product description for specifications, quantity, and the seller's return policy. You can contact the seller if you need more information. Do not forget to check postage fees as well.

You should take note of the seller's feedback rating, and read comments left by previous customers, especially those who bought cables. Buying from a reliable and knowledgeable seller helps ensure a positive transaction.

Conclusion

Composite video cables transmit a video signal between two home cinema components, such as a VCR and television. Composite video sends chrominance (colour) and luminance (brightness) along the same cable, making it slightly lower in picture quality than S-video and component video, respectively; still, it is a quality way to send standard-resolution signals between components when the other options are not available. Selecting a good composite video cable can make a significant difference in connection quality.

It helps to understand how different parts function in a cable, and to know what to look for in a quality cable. Important design features include conductor material, shielding structure, and connector material and construction. Buyers should also decide what kind of connectors they require, depending on the equipment they are using. Finally, it is good to opt for the shortest cable necessary.

By informing themselves about composite video cable features and options, buyers can find one that is both affordable and quality.

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