“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” The old saying applies to many different systems and scenarios, including video cabling and components. Perhaps you just purchased a new HDTV and it doesn’t quite look like it did in the store. This month’s article will help you ensure you have the proper cables, connections and components to get all that you can from your new HDTV.
Components: In your video system, whether it is a dedicated home theatre or a basic HDTV setup, you have sources and you have a display. Sources can include your IPTV receiver, a cable or satellite box, Blu-Ray players, etc. The sources ‘feed’ video to your display. The display can be a projector shooting light on a screen, or a television.
Sources: The highest level of source video content currently available is 1080p. This is often marketed as Full HD. It is a step up from 720p/1080i, which is the highest resolution typically offered in standard HD broadcasts (some pay-per-view offerings may provide higher resolution). To get full HD material to your TV, you need a Blu-Ray player playing a Blu-Ray disc, or a gaming console capable of 1080p output (i.e. PS3 and Xbox 360). DVD players that are ‘upconverting’ may improve the picture quality of a standard DVD, but they do not offer the fantastic images capable with a Blu-Ray player and disc. Not all Blu-Ray players are created equal, but they will send 1080p video to your display.
If the sources you are using are a VCR, standard DVD player, cable or satellite box you will not be viewing 1080p high definition, despite your new HD television capabilities. This is an important point to remember.
Cables: There is a hierarchy of performance with video interconnect cables. Today’s high bandwidth applications like 1080p movies and games and 3D TV require greater signal transfer capabilities than older cables can provide. Below is some information on each cable, explained in order of performance:
HDMI – At the top of the chain is HDMI. The High Definition Multimedia Interface cable can transmit both audio and video, allowing for fewer connections between sources and display. There are revisions of HDMI cables; each successive revision offers improvements and features over its predecessors. The current HDMI 1.4 cables offer 3D TV support, Ethernet over HDMI and an audio return channel, among other features. HDMI carries a digital signal. HDMI cables work very well, but can be problematic as the digital ‘handshake’ between source and display can be difficult to troubleshoot if there are issues.
DVI– This digital cable is not as common as HDMI and is seen on only a few video sources. Most DVI source connections need an adapter to have an HDMI connection at the other end of the cable.
Component carries an analog signal and has the common red, green and blue connectors (may also be labelled Y Pb Pr). Component cables can carry HD video resolutions up to 720p/1080i (some sources and displays are capable of 1080p component connections). Older HDTVs had only component connections for HD sources. Current HDTVs may have three or more HDMI connections and only one component connection.
S-Video – After component, we have S-Video cable, which when you look at the end of the connector, has 4 pin holes and two slots. It carries standard definition video but not audio.
Composite – More common than S-Video is a Composite video connection. This is the familiar yellow jack. It is usually accompanied by a red connector and a white connector which are used to carry the left and right stereo audio signal. The combined cable of yellow, red and white is often called an A/V cable.
When connecting your TV, stick with HDMI as much as possible. The single cable can carry full HD video and audio from your sources to your display. Using component cables to accomplish this same task would take from 4 to 5 different connections. There is a broad range of prices and advertised features available for HDMI cables. There is a great deal of debate as to the accuracy of the marketing claims. Third-party labs, such as DPL Labs offer independent testing of HDMI cables and can be a good source of information. Many HDMI cables can be overpriced with little or no appreciable benefit over more moderately-priced cables.
Your HDTV investment is a significant one so be sure to consider the sources and cables you are planning to use with your new set. If you never use videogames, nor watch Blu-Rays, or sit some distance from your TV, a 720p TV may be fine for your needs. However, in today’s competitive market, a good recommendation would be to get the most recent technology that your budget allows.
Since Christmas is only a few weeks away, TV purchases will soar. As you make your decisions, consider the information presented regarding types of TVs last month and cables/components this month and seek advice from a knowledgeable sales consultant. Stay tuned for our January article – Now that you have the new components and displays, how can you make them all work…without using five remotes!
Happy Holidays !
The aim of the Home Technology. Simplified series is to address confusing issues surrounding technology and electronics in the home. If you have questions or would like clarification on a particular issue, please comment on this article or contact us directly.
Suzanne Wamboldt is co-owner of uberHome, an award-winning electronic system integration firm in Dartmouth, NS. uberHome designs and installs a variety of electronic solutions to create smarter homes the entire family will enjoy.