Composite vs S-video vs Component

I’ve heard that component cables provide higher picture quality than s-video and composite cables but I wanted to find out if this was true and if so, to what extent.  I tried all 3 cable types on a DVD player, Wii, and PS2.  The cables fed into a 32″ Sharp LCD HDTV (LC-32SH12U) with a screen resolution of 1366×768 720p.  I played the same test image on all 3 devices.  The image was burned as a DVD movie and played back on the DVD player and Play Station 2 (PS2) and the raw jpg was loaded in the Photo Channel on the Wii.  Unfortunately, the Wii would not play the DVD.  I photographed the TV screen with a digital camera (Canon SD1100 IS, 8.0 MP) on a tripod with a timer so that there would be no shake.

Test Pattern (click for full size)
Test Pattern (click for full size)

Before I discuss the results, here is a brief review of the 3 types of cables.  Composite video cables are RCA type connectors colored yellow.  Often you find them attached to a red and a white RCA connector.  Only the yellow cable carries the video signal.  The red and white cables carry the stereo audio signal.  S-video video cables consist of 4 pins inside a circular metal shield.  Two pins are grounds, 1 pin carries the intensity signal and the other carries the color signal.  Component video cables have 3 RCA type connectors; 1 carries  the red signal, 1 carries the blue signal, and 1 carries the green signal 1 carries the luminance (Y), 1 carries the blue difference (Cb), and 1 carries the red difference (Cr) (more info here, thanks Mick for pointing out my mistake).  S-video and component also need an audio feed which is often the red/white RCA cables like pictured below with the composite cable.

3 video cable types
The 3 video cable types compared here. The red and white RCA cables next to the yellow composite cable only carry the audio signal.

With the DVD player, there are noticeable differences among the 3 cables in the quality of the displayed test image.  The pinkish circles in the images below are artifacts of taking a photo of an LCD screen and do not appear in real life.  The component is clearly the best followed by the s-video, which is pretty good, followed by the composite.  You can see clear color bleed in the test image using the composite cable, some color bleed using the s-video cable, and virtually no color bleed using the component cable.  While watching an actual movie, component and s-video are far superior to composite.  Component and s-video are actually pretty close in quality except for 2 differences.  Component seems to provide slightly brighter colors but the biggest difference between the 2 is in their abilities to display text, or any other hard edge.  The component cable really excels in these situations and text looks really nice with the component cable.

DVD test images
Test images from the DVD player.
DVD close-ups
Close-ups of the test images from the DVD player.  Notice the color bleed between the red and blue.

The Wii would not play the DVD so I loaded the test image into the Photo Channel on the Wii.  Again, there are noticeable differences in the picture quality of he 3 cables.  Component is the best, followed by s-video, then composite.  You can see the biggest difference in the alternating black and white concentric circles in the test image.

Wii test image
Test images from the Wii.
Wii close-up images
Close-ups of the test images from the Wii.  Notice the contrast in the black and white circles.

The difference between component and s-video is more noticeable with the Wii than the DVD player especially when playing a game.  The picture just looks crisper and more defined with the component cable and you can display in 480p.  I have not checked to see if you can display in 480p with s-video but I know you can only display in 480i with composite. whereas you can only display in 480i with composite and s-video.  When playing Wii Sports Resort I noticed a dramatic improvement in picture quality going from composite to s-video and then an equally large increase, if not more, going from s-video to component.  I don’t think these photos really do a good job showing the differences but I’ll post them anyway.

Wii Sports Resort images.
Images will playing Wii Sports Resort Golf. The differences in quality among the 3 cables is quite large in real life.
Wii Sports Resort close-up
Close-ups of Wii Sports Resort Golf. These images do a poor job of illustrating the large difference in picture quality among the 3 cables.

The test images from the PS2 were very similar for all 3 video cables.  One of the only differences I could see was that there is some color bleed around some of the text.  Playing a game however, I notice a very big difference.  The PS2 looks pretty awful on an HDTV with the composite cable.  Everything is blurry and I can’t play in full screen mode, at least not the game I tried (College Hoops 2K7).  The component cable provides a whole new experience! The picture quality is borderline too good when playing an older game.  I could play in full screen mode, which is nice, but it is very obvious that the graphics quality of the game is not up to modern standards.  You don’t really notice this with the composite cable because everything is blurry.  With the component cable, there are nice crisp edges and it is very obvious that this game handles anti-aliasing poorly.  I am sure this is less of an issue with newer games.

PS2 test images
Test images from the PS2
PS2 close-up of test images
Close-ups of the test images from the PS2. Notice the color bleed around the “e.”

Overall, component cables provide much better picture quality than s-video (which isn’t bad) and composite (which is bad).  My advice is to ditch your composite cable and upgrade to at least s-video if not component.  The difference in quality is real and significant.  This is especially true for on-screen text and video games.  I found that component video has very little color bleed and has much better contrast compared to s-video and composite.

13 thoughts on “Composite vs S-video vs Component”

  1. Found some info on this article of yours. I’d like to point out some things though.
    One is that over and over again, I’ve read that the three different cable of the component cable set do not transmit the three different base colors. They transmit Y, Cb, and Cr. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ycbcr)
    Two is that I don’t think, though I am not sure, if the PS2 hardware really has anti-aliasing capabilities.
    I’m curious as to from where you got that reference picture found on all three test platforms.
    Well, I just wanted to share those. I’m not sure if I’ll get an e-mail if someone responds or posts here as well, but whatever. Thanks for the article and it looks like you’ve got a small thing going on here and I was honestly glad to see that you’ve still been making articles up to now or recently. Good luck to you and your site, and I’ll be reading some of them I guess since they seem interesting.

  2. Thanks Mick for point out my mistake with component cables and YCbCr. I’ve fixed that in the original article. I had a link to the test pattern in the article but it is easy to miss so, I added a picture that you can click on to get the full resolution image. It’s at the top of the article. Also, PS2 can do anti-aliasing but not all games implement it because, apparently, it isn’t that easy to do with that hardware (here is a great summary: http://uk.ps2.ign.com/articles/081/081661p1.html). I don’t know if the game I used for the test (College Hoops 2k7) has anti-aliasing or not. Most of the time, these college basketball games were just quickly thrown together using the basic components of the NBA equivalent instead of being developed independently and so, often had some quality problems.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to write this up. What I have discovered doing research today is that component cable can carry 1080p signal quality or less! I never knew that. I have an olded Sony DVD player with component output so I’ll look it up online and see if it outputs 480p – it should or there’d be no good reaseon for the YPbPr output. Thanks again!

  4. I have read though this information before in other places, but it’s a good refresher for comparing differences in quality. I’m looking to get an analog video converter for my retro consoles and for those that support Component this article only reaffirm the type of converter I buy.

    Thanks for a good article!

  5. Hi. You sound like you really know your stuff. My tv’s HDMI ports have recently stopped working. I can use component cables from my blu ray to my tv, but I was wondering if I would get a better picture if I ran an HDMI cable from the blu ray to a converter, and then component cables from the converter to the tv. Another question, I notice with component cables I hear a low buzzing sound. Is this normal or can it be eliminated?

  6. Definitely believe that which yoou said. Your favorite justification seemed
    to be on the net the easziest thinbg to be aware of.

    I say to you, I certainly get irked while people consider wories that they just don’t know about.
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  7. Did you remember to go into the Wii system settings and change the resolution from 240p to 480p when you used the composite cable? It doesn’t do this by itself.

  8. Got to say thats the clearest explanation of the different conections that ive read. Many thanks

  9. This is a fantastic article! Thank you! My question is if I am watching on a tv that accepts hdmi, component, s video and coaxial; but the VCR only outputs coaxial and composite – which is the better cable? (For viewing) Then I want to transfer them all to digital before my VCR kicks the bucket.

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