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What Is an AV Composite Cable?

By Jeff C.
Updated May 16, 2024
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An audio-visual composite or AV composite cable is a system of cabled connections intended to connect an output of both sound and visual effects to a receiving device, commonly a television or projection screen, that can display them. This sort of cabling is usually easily recognizable by its four-pronged ending containing output jacks that are yellow, red, and white, as well as a more standard power connection. Each jack is meant to be inserted into a corresponding port on the receiving device. When installed properly, the cable allows for data from one source to be heard, projected, or displayed on the other. In general it can carry only analog cables, which often means that it’s falling out of favor with newer technological advancements utilizing digital and high-definition outputs. As such they’re often relegated to older pieces of equipment in modern times and may not enjoy the breadth of use they once did, but they are nonetheless important in many settings.

Basic Composition

In terms of composition, these cables contain both a video component and an audio component and are often referred to by the acronym CVBS, meaning "color, video, blank and sync." One is usually yellow. The yellow branch transmits all the brightness, sync, and color signals. Audio is normally handled by the red and white terminals. The red connector is for the right audio channel, and the white connector is for the left audio channel.

The colored connections are often referred to as “RCA connections” since they were first created by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). They were invented by the Corporation in the 1940s largely replaced the "tip, ring, sleeve" (TRS) connectors or jack plugs.

Primary Uses

In general, composite audio cables carry a stereo signal of far higher quality than that provided by coaxial cable. Using RCA connections to pass analog line-level audio signals between components is still the industry standard in many places and with respect to many audio devices, and jacks can be found on most types of audio/video component including TVs and digital video recorders.They are most common connection between televisions and VCRs, for instance, as well as most standard DVD players. Many gaming consoles also depend on them.

Transmission Capabilities

AV composite cables don’t always transmit signals at very high quality, at least when compared to some of the other types of cable available. When they were first introduced their transmission was usually thought of as superior; the overall ability of the cables hasn’t changed, but industry capability has. In general, cable hierarchy from lowest to highest quality is thought to be coaxial cable, AV composite cable, S-Video cable, component cable, and HDMI cable, with the latter being able to carry high definition and ultra-fast digital transmissions. The use of AV composite cable is restricted to analog, not digital signals, which can be limiting, particularly in an increasingly digital world.

Comparison to Component Models

In the modern landscape, AV cables often compete with more streamlined component cables and HDMI cables. Component cables often look the most like composites since they also use RCA adapters, but they are able to transmit a broader range of signals and are usually compatible with more newer devices. AV models often cost a lot less, but they can also do a lot less and may not be as useful with brand new technology. Most new televisions offer a composite connection on the front of the set for hassle free connection of camcorders, digital cameras, computers, and older video game consoles.

Composite video cables can transmit a 480i resolution; the "i," which is short for “interlace,” denotes how the video images are broadcast to the screen. Interlaced means the cathode ray tube (CRT) gun paints the screen with the even numbered lines on a first pass and then renders the odd numbered on a second pass. The CRT afterglow, combined with persistence of vision, allows the image to be viewed flitter-free at half the bandwidth progressive scan requires.

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Discussion Comments

By everetra — On Jul 22, 2011

I am surprised to read in this article that coaxial cable connections are considered the lower rung of video quality.

Actually, that would explain a problem I’ve been having. Some months ago I bought a high definition flat screen television. I have satellite but a non-high definition receiver.

Therefore, I connect the TV to the receiver by using coaxial cable. (Actually I think that I have component cable too, but I haven’t messed with that).

Long story short, I haven’t been too pleased with the picture quality. It certainly looks like nothing comparable to the video quality I saw in the store.

It’s not terrible, but sometimes the picture gets a little blurred as it tries to stretch those signals into high definition. I have options on my remote where I can basically turn off the high definition, but this results in cropping the picture from top to bottom and left to right.

I guess I’ll have to bite the bullet and get a high definition receiver, and an HDMI cable.

By allenJo — On Jul 22, 2011

@Mammmood - Yeah, I know what you mean. I have a camcorder AV cable for my digital camcorder and it’s very versatile.

Not only does it let me play my video direct to TV, but it also lets me digitize my analog recordings. I hook up the connections the same way, except I press “record” on the camcorder and it will record what’s playing on TV onto my digital tape.

I realize that there are more convenient ways of doing analog to digital conversions, but this has come in handy and doesn’t require me routing any signals through a computer.

By Mammmood — On Jul 21, 2011

While a standard AV composite cable is not exactly the best for high quality signal transmissions, it sure has been a life saver on a number of occasions.

I have composite cable connections on both old and new audio, video and game console equipment, and if it weren’t these connections, I wouldn’t be able to get these devices talking to each other.

These cable connections are very reliable, and just about every manufacturer offers them with their equipment. You can consider composite cables a kind of Swiss army knife of cables, when nothing else will do.

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