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Which is better - HDMI, Component, or Composite?

written by: Daniel Barros•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 9/5/2009

This article finally puts to rest the eternal turmoil between man and television. Inside, you'll find the definitive answer to which of these three cables is the best one to use in your HDTV setup.

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    The Sales Floor

    Which is best between composite, component, or HDMI? As you enter the HDTV aisle and start to ponder how you’ll be hooking up your new TV, this is a question that will come up every time. The answer is less simple than you might think. Of course the salesman is going to push you on HDMI, that’s the newest technology – but is it really necessary?

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    What’s so great about composite?

    Simply put, there’s nothing good about the old-fashioned, red, yellow and white composite cable anymore. The only reason you’ll be hooking something up using the old standard is because you have an old-school, non-digital TV or because it’s convenient when moving things around, such as an Xbox or PS3 from house to house.

    Given that most HDTVs today come with front-panel inputs for people who enjoy moving their components around, the only excuse for using a yellow cable to connect your video is because the TV won’t accept anything else. And if your TV won’t accept anything else, it’s time to upgrade.

    The composite cable was a golden standard for a time long past – a time when 480i was an acceptable resolution for a TV, a time when broadcasts in color were an astounding feat, and when man was first landing on the moon. Today, a 480i resolution is the lowest of the low – even mobile phones are starting to get close to this standard on a much smaller screen and in 480p, which provides a much clearer picture.

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    What’s so great about component?

    The component cable became the successor to the composite cable because of the resolutions it could offer up. But even this can be problematic depending on your equipment, for example:

    If you have a Wii, it can output up to 480p, but that’s with a component cable, not a composite one – meaning that you’re only getting a marginally better picture than with a standard resolution cable.

    If you have an Xbox and a compatible HDTV, component can go all the way up to 1080p.

    The component cable is technically capable of 1080p, but I would only recommend it if you don’t have any other options available. While the component cable is a capable piece of equipment, the cable itself still is analog and not digital. This means that you’ll have a split in the cable for each color that the individual wires handle, and then two extra wires for stereo sound.

    Analog also has another problem. While it may look very good upon first inspection, it’s not truly loss-less the same way that HDMI is. Play Blu-ray on an HDMI connection and a Component and you’ll notice a difference if you look closely enough. Furthermore, the stereo connection for the sound provides a much less nuanced and deep sound than the HDMI connection.
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    What’s so great about HDMI?

    HDMI tops the list here as the best way to connect your equipment up to your HDTV or HD Projection system.

    HDMI provides loss-less video and sound provided you use a Blu-ray disc or other high-definition device. This is important to those that consider themselves audiophiles and have an incredible home theater setup they’re always telling you about. However, even a layman can tell the difference between the HDMI enabled sound and the one run through the standard stereo cable that comes with the component cable.

    The fact of the matter is simple – if your TV has HDMI and your equipment has HDMI, there’s no reason the two shouldn’t be meeting through a cable. HDMI provides digital quality and amazing sound, so if your setup has the ability to go HDMI, the cable online is only about $10, and the difference in quality is palpable.

    If you’re looking into buying new equipment, you have to make sure that the TV you’re buying has at least one, if not two or three HDMI sockets as this is about a year shy of becoming the standard for HD in your home.

    To make matters simpler for you, just follow this guide:

    If you have HDMI on both sides of the system, use an HDMI cable

    If you don’t have HDMI, but have component connections, use a component cable

    If you don’t have either of those two, or just a yellow composite connector, use a composite cable.