De-mystifying RCA cables
Everyone has seen the ports on the back of their TV, stereo system, camcorder or even your computer, but what are they for? Do you need to use them? Can you opt to use HDMI instead? What are the differences, if any? The number of unknowns can be confusing when it comes to the various cables and cords used with modern-day technology, but it doesn’t have to be. When you understand the basics behind the most common types of cables it gets much easier to sort out what you need and where to put them.
What does RCA stand for?
The term ‘RCA’ is derived from the company that first introduced the design back in the 1930s, the Radio Corporation of America. The cord was originally designed to connect a phonograph turntable to a radio receiver, becoming one of the first cords made to allow people to use older technology with newer technology. Comprised of three small cables held alongside each other, the male cords (which have prongs sticking out) plug into the female part called a ‘jack’ (usually found on the back of the device you’re plugging into.)
By the 1950s, RCA connectors began to dominate the industry, replacing the older .25 inch phone connections other devices in the had been using. Being able to marry two devices was appealing, and soon nearly every device being produced naturally had a set of female RCA jacks waiting to be used should the owner decide to do so. RCA cables are also used as DC power connectors, RF connectors and as a connector for loudspeaker cables. It is really quite versatile.
What do the different colors on an RCA cable mean?
Yellow is for composite video, an analog video signal format that carries standard-definition video along a single channel. Also known as CVBS, composite video was not part of the intended use of an RCA cable, but now is indistinguishable as part of the trio.
Red controls the right audio channel
White or Black control the left channel of audio
If any of the plugs are not pushed in entirely there is usually a loud hum or buzz to be heard if either device is turned on. This is avoided by making sure the cables being used are relatively high quality, so the seals grip better between the male and female parts and therefore provide a better connection.
Do RCA cables carry power?
The short answer is yes, but not in the way you might think. RCA cables carry about 32 watts of power and, in theory, could be used to power speakers and subwoofers but it can be risky. If you unplug the cables in the wrong order you risk frying the wires. There’s also the risk of random shorts that could ruin your sound system, so for those reasons, it is generally recommended that you use the proper power cables for your sound system unless you know exactly what you’re doing.
Now, an introduction to HDMI
The HDMI cable takes the lessons we’ve learned from the RCA cable and runs with it. It is a digital replacement for analog video standards, providing a high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI). Several versions of HDMI were designed and released around the same time, all of them offering improved audio and video capacity, resolution, and performance but also offering new, advanced features such as 3D capabilities and Ethernet data connections as well as Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) extensions.
HDMI was born around 2002, and mass production of HDMI products started in late 2003-early 2004. TVs and camcorders were the first products to offer HDMI ports, drawing customers in with their superior picture quality and sound options.
Which is better, RCA or HDMI?
The answer seems simple. HDMI is newer so it’s better right? Well, not in every case. HDMI and RCA both have video capabilities that support a variety of different resolutions, but they both deliver signals in very different ways. The biggest difference between the two is that HDMI delivers its signal in a digital format whereas the RCA cable delivers it in an analog format.
While both HDMI and RCA deliver pictures through colored components, they obviously complete this task in different ways as well. RCA uses each of its three cables to provide a ‘color difference’ type signal where HDMI uses ‘transition minimized differential signaling’ or TMDS that utilizes a blue channel to which horizontal and vertical sync are added, and individual green and red channels as well.
The short answer to which is better will always be: it depends on the device in question. Your Blu-ray player might work better on HDMI but the cable box on RCA. In the end, you just have to try both and see which you prefer. RCA has been around this long, odds are it’s not going away any time soon.
Can I convert RCA cables to HDMI?
In today’s modern world you can convert pretty much anything to something else. When it comes to converting composite or component video to HDMI there are many ways to do so.
RCA delivers signals in an analog format, while HDMI does the same in a digital format. Because of this, there are very inexpensive composite/component to HDMI converters that allow the signals to be converted from one format into the other. Many of these adaptors also upscale the video quality, which is a very nice bonus. It is worth noting that not all adaptors can scale up to the same resolution, so it is important that you check both the connector type and the scaling ability.
One final thing to consider is that composite and component video still have a place in our world, as even HDMI cannot completely overwrite what a good old RCA cable can do. Human innovation is always looking for the next big thing, so odds are that something big is coming soon.