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How To Choose The Right Video Connection On Your HDTV
By Adrienne Maxwell
January 2007

We’ve heard all the sayings: “Variety is the spice of life.” “Keep your options open.” “Too much is never enough.” In our consumer-driven culture, we’re led to believe that choice equals happiness, but that’s not necessarily true. I recently caught a segment on NPR about psychology professor Barry Schwartz’s book “The Paradox of Choice,” in which he contends that too many options actually limits our ability to enjoy any choice we make. We find ourselves forever questioning whether we’ve made the best choice.

Consumer electronics are a prime example of this theory in action. These are devices designed to bring us enjoyment, yet the staggering array of options in every product category ultimately haunts us. The more money we’re about to spend, the more we agonize over whether we’re spending it wisely. (Of course, that’s why you turn to infinitely wise reviewers like us to reduce your options, pointing you toward or away from certain products.) The HDTV shopper must wade through layer upon layer of choice: screen size, resolution, technology, price. Once you finally commit to a certain TV, it’s time to choose what kind of HD content you want. Will you go with digital cable, satellite, or over-the-air HDTV? Do you want to watch high-definition movies on disc? Well, guess what? Now you’ve got to choose between Blu-ray and HD DVD.

Once you’ve made all the “right” decisions and shelled out all the cash, you bring home your new HDTV, unpack it, and stare blankly at the wall of confusion also known as the connection panel. The average HDTV sold at your local big-box retailer probably has 10 different video connections located somewhere on its frame. Throw in the audio and other peripheral connections, and you may feel an acute case of option anxiety. What distinguishes one connection from another, and which will ensure that you’re viewing the highest quality image? The bad news: choose poorly, and all of your previous decisions are rendered meaningless. No pressure there, right? But here’s the good news: No matter how crowded that back panel is, you don’t have as many options as you think. I know, that doesn’t seem like it should be good news, but, if dear Mr. Schwartz is right, it is.

The Big Three: Your Path to High Definition
No matter how many video connections an HDTV’s spec sheet may boast, you should concentrate on the big three that allow you pass a high-definition signal: component video, DVI, and HDMI. Some professional and high-end video systems may incorporate other HD-capable connections, but I’ve chosen to focus here on the three you’re most likely to encounter on an average consumer HDTV.

Component Video
The only analog option in the bunch, component video is currently the standard for sending high-definition signals. I can’t think of an HDTV on the market that doesn’t have at least one component video input (some projectors may not) to accept the signal from a high-definition cable or satellite set-top box. Component video is often the highest-quality option on a standard DVD player, as well. That’s why it’s a good idea to buy a TV with multiple component video inputs. Unlike lesser-quality analog connections that cram the video signal into a single cable, component video splits the signal into three elements – one for luminance (or black-and-white information) and two for color – and sends each element over its own cable to allow for a cleaner, more colorful picture. The connection on your gear’s back panel consists of three RCA-type connectors that are both labeled and color-coded: Y (green), Pb or Cb (blue), and Pr or Cr (red). The pre-packaged component video cable sold at your local retailer is usually one fat cable with three RCA connectors on each end, also labeled and color-coded. Some professional and high-end consumer equipment may use BNC connectors instead of RCA; BNC connectors twist and lock into place for a secure fit.

In the early days of HDTV, salesmen and consumers alike mistakenly believed that, if a TV had component video inputs, it was an HDTV. That’s not true. An enhanced-definition TV (EDTV) still features component video inputs for use with a DVD player, and some HDTVs include component video inputs that lack the bandwidth to pass the high-def signal. These inputs are usually labeled “480i/480p” to let you know that the input is not meant for use with a high-definition source. This is becoming less common, as more manufacturers choose to offer only HD-capable component video inputs to avoid confusion.

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