If you recently got a new HDTV, chances are it only has one set of possible inputs for either Component or Composite inputs.
You may still have a VCR or a gaming system that uses these cables, and if you need to hook up more than one device, it could seem like you're out of luck. Unless you follow this guide.
1. What is the Difference Between Composite and Component Inputs?
If you have an older VCR or gaming system that you still use occasionally, you will likely need to connect this device via the “composite” inputs.
Composite refers to the yellow video cable that connects these devices to your TV. It is called “composite” because it is a composite of all the colors of the video signal into one cable.
“Component” inputs, on the other hand, separate the colors of the video spectrum into red, blue, and green, providing separate cables for each and thereby improving the quality of the image.
Many modern HDTV sets only have one set of red, blue, and green inputs for analog video and one set of red and white inputs for analog audio. This is essentially a “component” input that doubles as a “composite” input. The yellow cable, in this instance, is connected to the green input on the back of the TV, and the red and white audio cables connect to the red and white inputs. This will leave the blue and red inputs unused, and they cannot be used for anything else.
Therefore, if you need to hook up another device with the yellow, red, and white cables, you will need another piece of hardware.
2. Another Piece of Hardware? But I Just Spent All My Money on the TV!
Don't freak out. All you should need is a composite A/V switcher. You can find these at Big Lots or other discount stores for around $4.You will also find the same exact model at some of the big box stores under a brand name for around $14. I'll leave the decision of which one to buy up to you.
The switcher is basically a small, non-powered box (which means it doesn't need its own plug and you can save valuable outlet space on your surge protector).
It will have three composite (yellow-red-white) inputs and one output, which you will connect to the one input on the back of your TV. A switch on the top of the unit will allow you to select from inputs 1, 2, or 3. On the inexpensive models, you likely will have to physically move this switch as it is not remote controlled.
3. Only Use The Composite A/V Switcher With Devices That Only Have Composite A/V Outputs
Your main way of watching movies and TV should be through HDMI (or the antenna). Your TV should have two or more HDMI ports.
Blu-ray players, upconverting DVD players, and cable boxes should connect via this cable. If your DVD player does not have an HDMI output, consider replacing it with one that does and you'll notice picture quality improve greatly. "Upconverting" DVD players with HDMI outputs are now very inexpensive and available at most discount stores.
If your cable box has only composite outputs, consider upgrading to an HD capable box and you will be taking advantage of the true HD capabilities of your TV.
The only devices you should connect with composite A/V cables are old VCRs, game systems, and other vintage video equipment such as a LaserDisc player.
You probably won't need a “Component A/V Switcher.” Unfortunately, some companies marketing these devices do not understand the difference between “composite” and “component,” and might label their product incorrectly. To make sure you're buying the right device, verify that it has only yellow, red, and white inputs.
A lot of us still have older devices that use the yellow, red, and white cables, and we still find a need to use them from time to time. You likely have some old VHS movies that are not yet on DVD, older video games, or your own home movies that will only connect with this method.
By investing around $4 in a basic A/V switcher box, you will save yourself the headache of having to connect and disconnect cables from the back of your TV when switching your viewing device, and your electronic life will get much easier.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
maryanne on July 18, 2013:
Thank you this has been a big help!!!!! I can use all my stuff with out unplugging everything yeahhhh baby
jest on October 22, 2012:
thanks - great info!
Thankful on September 02, 2012: