HDMI vs. Component Video

Ericuse165 asked the HDTV & Home Theater forum if Component Video will give the same image quality as HDMI.

It depends on the source--the device whose signal you're sending via the cable to your HDTV.

You definitely want HDMI for your Blu-ray player. Nothing else will give you the 1080p image and lossless surround sound that makes Blu-ray so exceptional.

But if you're talking about a DVR or set-top box, the only advantage HDMI gives you is convenience--because one moderately thin cable carries both sound and picture, you don't have to mess with as many plugs. I'm not saying that convenience isn't important, I'm just pointing out that if there's a practical reason not to use HDMI, you don't have to worry about it.

A Component Video connection--which is comprised of three color-coded RCA jacks--is perfectly capable of transmitting 720p and 1080i video streams. That's all you're going to get from broadcast, cable, or satellite sources, anyway.

Things get a little more complicated with audio. The Component standard doesn't support audio, and is usually paired with two analog connections that limit you to two-track stereo. No true surround is possible.

However, every device I've ever seen with Component and HDMI outputs also has an Optical Audio output. Optical, which is digital, can carry Dolby and DTS compressed 5.1 audio--the best sound you're going to get off of these sources, anyway. I recommend connecting the analog audio to the TV, for when you don't want surround sound, and the Optical to the receiver, for when you do.

Eric's question, and the ensuing discussion, appear about half way down this forum discussion.

Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema. Email your tech questions to him at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum.

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