What is the Difference Between Composite and Component Video?

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Composite and component video cables are far too often confused with one-another due in part to their slightly similar name and purpose. LockerGnome’s Brandon Wirtz sat down with me recently too break through the confusion and explain exactly how different they really are.

Composite cables typically have a yellow RCA connector on either end that carries a video signal from source to destination with a single connection. Unlike component, the composite cable carries a single line-level signal that contains all of the video information in one go. You can often see composite cables paired with audio cables as they don’t carry an audio signal.

The signal composite cables carry is a combination of three source signals that are commonly referred to as YUV (or Y’UV). Y stands for luminance which carries the brightness settings as well as the information needed to synchronize the picture. For monochrome displays, this is all that’s really required. The U and V carry hue and saturation information which defines the color of the image displayed on the screen. The maximum resolution on a composite cable is 480i NTSC, which is commonly referred to as a standard definition image.

Component cables carry a significantly higher resolution image allowing for 1080p signals to run across them without issues. The types of signals they carry can vary depending on the scheme used by the equipment. For example, RGB connections refer to red, green, and blue signals being sent through the three associated wires that make up the component cable. In some cases, the green wire carries brightness information (Y) while the red and blue wires share the responsibilities of transferring the color information. This scheme is known as YPbPr and is commonly used in consumer electronics today.

To simplify things, one yellow connection is composite and three colored connections is component. Neither of them carry audio signals and you may see an audio cable attached in some cases for the purpose of saving you from having to run an extra cable from point A to point B. Component is capable of higher resolutions, and is used more widely today as most televisions sold are HD capable.