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What is S-Video?

By R. Kayne
Updated: May 16, 2024

S-Video (Separated Video often referred to as "Super-Video") is a video interface standard found on most audiovisual equipment today. S-Video is a step up from standard composite video, which uses a yellow RCA jack and RCA cable, while S-Video utilizes a mini-DIN plug and S-Video cable. When connecting equipment that has both options, one can choose to use S-Video.

S-Video connectors are four or seven-pin mini-DIN plugs. To ensure correct orientation of the pins the connector has a notched, metal sleeve that must align properly with the female jack before it can be inserted. S-Video cables are more expensive than RCA cables and are not always included with products, but can be purchased separately.

S-Video delivers a superior picture to composite video by avoiding some of the processing that composite video requires. A video signal is a mixture of two separate data streams: brightness or luminescence, known as the Y stream, and chrominance or color, known as the C stream. The C signal carries values for red and blue, while green values are deduced. Hence, RGB, or red, green and blue, occupies just two data streams within the C signal.

In the original analog video standard in use since the 1950s, the Y/C signals are compressed into a single stream, passed through a single RCA wire, and decoded by a television filter into its Y and C elements. Although enduring and convenient, the process of compressing and decoding video signals results in some degradation of data integrity. This translates directly to the screen in loss of picture quality. S-Video preserves greater signal integrity by housing two wires in a single sheath, dedicating one to each of the Y and C signals and eliminating much of the filtering process. Greater preservation of signal integrity results in a sharper picture.

As with composite video, S-Video only transfers visual data. Audio cables are required for transferring sound. These can be standard RCA cables, or in the case of high-end CD and DVD players, digital audio connections might be preferred.

There are people who claim to see no appreciable difference between composite video and S-Video, while others believe the transition from composite to S-Video is akin to getting a system upgrade for the cost of a cable. Some of the confusion might lie in the fact that aside from HDTV, television signals and VHS tapes are encoded with composite video. DVDs, however, are encoded using a higher standard, so an increase in picture quality should be more evident when using S-Video to view DVDs. But before running out for S-Video cables, check to see if your equipment supports either component video or High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), both of which are superior to S-Video.

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Discussion Comments
By as2114 — On Apr 06, 2013

I have a projector that has an S-video + RCA audio cables ran through the walls of a church, from the back sound room to where the projector is mounted on the ceiling. The cables are about 50-75 feet long (about). The projector went bad so I need to replace it, and wanted one that has HDMI. Is there a converter that I can put on both ends of these cables so that I can convert both sides from S-Video/RCA audio to HDMI? This is to avoid running new cables. Can I do that with the existing cables, so at the end, I'm connecting HDMI to HDMI, once the converters are attached at both ends?

By anon157872 — On Mar 04, 2011

When you're buying an s-video cord to connect your computer to your tv, make sure you get the right type. There's 7-pin s-video cords and 4-pin cords.

By anon153609 — On Feb 17, 2011

Personally, I rate S-Video quite highly, over Composite and Component I might add. I've seen the evidence of superior picture with S-Video over the other two options, it's the connection for me certainly.

By anon56903 — On Dec 18, 2009

anon520 wrote: "I just bought a new HDTV and have a HD cable box, but my receiver does not support HDMI. Should I hook up the HDMI from cable to tv, and then use component cables from receiver to cable? Can I use both, or does it have to be one or the other?"

Use HDMI from HD cable box to HDTV for audio and video.

I am assuming your receiver will be handling enhanced audio e.g. surround sound, so use the appropriate cable from the cable box to the receiver e.g. coax, TOSlink fiber, plain RCA.


By anon520 — On Apr 26, 2007

I just bought a new HDTV and have a HD cable box, but my receiver does not support HDMI. Should I hook up the HDMI from cable to tv, and then use component cables from receiver to cable? Can I use both, or does it have to be one or the other?

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