Plasma TV Cables & Connections: How to Hook It Up

Review Date July 2004
Reviewer: Jack Burden

Getting your plasma screen television up and running can seem a little daunting at first. Most plasma displays do not have built-in tuners, so you have to obtain an NTSC/ATSC TV signal though an external -- or "outboard" -- tuning device, also known as a "set-top box," which will then pass that signal to your plasma monitor. The principle is the same for tuners as well as for DVD players and satellite cable systems

The goal is to make use of the best connectors that your system offers, rather than to rely on the old yellow, red, and white RCA standbys -- unless, of course, you have to. The idea is to achieve the sharpest and best-looking picture possible using what you've got, and the connections you choose can make all the difference in the world

Your analog options include:

Composite Video: This type of video connection utilizes a single coaxial or shielded cable, which has been fitted with RCA-type plugs at either end, and is devoted to video (YELLOW). This video signal is a "composite" one in the sense that it has been sub-divided into luminance information (black and white detail), chrominance information (color detail), and sync pulses (the vertical and horizontal scan frequencies) and then combined into a single, composite signal

Note: Because it is an all-in-one video signal transmitter, Composite Video is a convenient way to transport video information, but it has the same drawbacks of the video portion of composite A/V signals -- poor picture quality. Because all the signal component are lumped together, it is possible for them to be imprecisely stripped apart for display, resulting in all sort of possible picture defects owing to the interference of luminance with chrominance information or vice-versa.

S-Video: To get around the picture degradation that can occur with composite video, S-Video was created. In the S-Video format, chrominance information is kept separate from luminance and sync information. S-Video signals are transmitted via twin coaxial or shielded cables, which are fitted to miniature 4-pin DIN-type plugs or two RCA-type plugs -- one marked "Y" for luminance/sync and the other marked "C" for chrominance.

Note: Most video equipment that is fitted with S-Video inputs also has Composite Video inputs in case the device to which you are connecting is not S-Video compatible.

Component Video: Component Video inputs look like Composite Video cables, except Component Video has three, separate inputs -- yellow, red, and blue. In this instance, the video signal components have been separated physically (i.e., run along different cables) and thoroughly (i.e., by color). The luminance information is combined with the sync data, so that fine detail and display data are carried along a single cable (YELLOW). The chrominance information is further separated into its own color components, blue minus luminance and red minus luminance. The BLUE input is called B-Y (blue minus luminance), Cb, or Pb. The RED input is called R-Y, Cr, or Pr. Component Video gives a higher quality picture than Composite Video

Note: Component Video connections may be of an RCA-type or what is known as a BNC-type. BNC cables twist and lock into place, rather than just plugging in, so they offer a more secure connection between your plasma TV and its source video device (e.g., DVD, tuner, etc.).

Video Graphics Array (VGA): VGA inputs are the 15-pin, screw-in inputs that you probably know from having to connect your PC's CPU to a monitor. This is the type of input one uses to connect a PC to a plasma TV. It is also the type of connector RCA includes on its ever-popular HDTV tuners.

Here are some of the newer digital video connections, all of which are digital. Through a high-end digital connection, DVD and satellite signals will look and sound as good as your plasma television is capable of reproducing them.

The so-called "digital trinity" includes:

Digital Visual Interface (DVI): This connector passes an uncompressed video signal from HDTV receivers and other source devices to your plasma display. You will find DVI connections on most 2004 HD plasma monitors and integrated HD plasma TVs, as well as some high-end DVD players, newer PCs, and HD satellite receivers.

Note: There are two types of DVI interfaces: DVI-I and DVI-D. DVI-I is capable of making both digital and analog connections, while DVI-D is strictly digital. If you want to connect two pieces of equipment, both of which support DVI connections, going with a DVI-D cable ensures you'll be using a digital connection rather than an analog one.

High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI): HDMI takes DVI another step by adding up to eight channels of digital audio to DVI's digital video. HDMI is full "backwards compatible" with DVI. That is, you connect a DVI-enabled satellite receiver, say, to your brand-new HDMI-enabled plasma monitor (without getting the digital audio, of course). This way, your plasma TV remains compatible with "older" DVI-only equipment

To learn more about this, the latest in digital interface technology, see the HDMI homepage.

A Note on High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP): Hollywood has begun to implement new technologies to protect copyrighted material from being "pirated" -- i.e., reproduced for free. This only applied to high-resolution material, like DVDs or HDTV. All it means is that you will need a DVI or HDMI connection in order to view these copy-protected signals at full resolution.

IEEE 1394 (a k a FireWire and iLink): IEEE 1394 is another digital connection, which transmits video signals in a compressed form -- so they can be recorded. This type of connection is perhaps best known for digital audio use, particularly as a way to load MP3s onto an iPod. Nevertheless, IEE 1394 has found its way onto the backs of some DTVs, notably those manufactured by Mitsubishi.

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