TV Connectors. Everybody loves ’em.
Personally, I never even bothered thinking about them.
If you’re just interested in what connector gives you the best image quality, skip straight to the Cheat Sheet at the end of the article.
But as it turns out, there are benefits to getting the type of connector configured optimally – even on older TVs. My older TV is a good one, but it only has SCART inputs. I thought this was a drawback, but…
…SCART is pretty much the mother of all connectors. It supports COMPOSITE, S-VIDEO and COMPONENT inputs inamongst its plethora of pins. SCART to SCART cabling is probably optimal, but the connector format supports just about every type of common analog connection with an appropriate adapter.
I set about looking at options to connect my Xbox with Advanced AV Pack (does Composite and S-Video outs, plus 2x RCA and SPDIF output for sound) to my SCART telly to get better image quality than the composite to SCART adapter included with the Xbox itself.
Lowest in the food chain (we’re not going to talk about the RF option) is the venerable COMPOSITE connector – the one yellow RCA jack (hi-fi audio style) connector option, using one cable for video. This pushes all picture information down the one cable, and often has a noticeable diagonal refresh pattern associated with it. This is what you end up using if you use the Xbox’s included SCART adapter.
Next up, S-VIDEO, sometimes called SVHS. S-Video is actually comprised of two channels – in layman’s terms, a brightness and a colour channel, and uses one of those plugs that looks like a PS/2 keyboard connector. It looks better than COMPOSITE, but not as good as higher-end COMPONENT video. Because it splits the image into multiple component signals, it is considered a form of component video.
Then, there are the triple-cable COMPONENT options, which further split the picture elements into even more channels (called Y, Pb, Pr), for the ultimate analog picture experience (not counting VGA). DVD players, high-end TVs and so on use this type of connector, alternatively heading into DVI/HDMI territory (which is digital, and thus cheating for the purposes of this discussion).
The Xbox HD pack (which gets the box working in 720p or something, and provides component outputs) was withdrawn from sale in Australia due to incompatibilities with Aussie HDTV formats (I think the story went), so it’s really hard to find them here. I picked up a SCART adapter with an S-Video connector from Dick Smith’s for $15, and plugged it in alongside the composite->SCART connector. No more diagonal refresh pattern now – the image (while still interlaced) is really solid.
One thing that did have to change was that the TV (a Grundig) showed the S-Video signal as black and white, until I identified that connector as being “SVHS” in its DialogCenter(TM). Then, colour and better fidelity. Mmm. Fidelity.
In order of worst to best picture quality:
- SCART (when SCART->SCART is used, otherwise, as good as the worst connection, eg, SCART->COMPOSITE = COMPOSITE)
- VGA (aging PC monitor standard)
- DVI (digital format)
- HDMI (higher-bandwidth digital)