Difference Between Composite & Component AV Cable

By Shea Laverty

Composite cables were at one time the standard for electronic video interface.
i Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

Composite cable and component cables have similar names and both use RCA connectors; these traits in common often confuse people. However, despite these similarities there are several differences between these two audio-visual cable types.

Number of Connectors

The biggest difference between composite and component cables is the number of connectors on each. Basic composite cables have six male connectors -- two video and four audio. Specialized connectors often employed by devices such as gaming consoles usually only have four -- one video, two audio and one specialized output plug that connects to the device itself. Basic component cables have 10 connectors -- six for video and four for audio. Specialized component cables have only six connectors - three video, two audio and one specialized input cable for the output device. These are examples of the most common integrated composite and component; some are purely video cables that require a separate RCA audio cable.

Connector Colors

Another visible difference is the color of the connectors. Composite connectors feature three primary colors -- yellow for video, and white and red for audio. Sometimes the white or the red is replaced with a black connector instead, but typically yellow, red and white are the basic colors. Component connectors feature red, blue and green for video, and typically the same red and white for audio. Occasionally, the audio connectors will be designed differently, featuring dark covers with colored bands to differentiate the red audio from the red video. Sometimes the opposite is employed with the video cables featuring this different cover design, again to prevent confusion.

Signal Division

The way composite and component video cables transmit video data is also significantly different. Composite video cables transmit image data in a single line-level cable where video information is encoded into a single channel. Component instead divides the signal into three separate channels: YPBPR. Y represents luminance or the screen's brightness, while PB carries the difference between blue and the luminance and PR carries the difference between red and the luminance.

Picture Quality

Composite is limited in that it transmits lower-quality video. Typically, composite is limited to a resolution of 480i or 576i. Since this is only standard definition, modern high-definition images will not display optimally using composite video. Component can display content in both standard- or high-definition, from 480i to 1,080p -- and theoretically beyond. It is hampered only by the native resolution of the display device.