Which is better? HDMI or component video? That’s the great debate right there that continues to this day even as the decade closes with HDMI being the current standard in HD audio-video transmission. Many people ask the question or regularly debate HDMI vs component (YPbPr).
Why is that anyway? Is it because a component is capable of delivering standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD) signals, so many component video holdouts resisted switching to HDMI when this debate started? Before HDMI really started taking over, the component did offer quite the impressive quality leap without shifting to a new HDMI-only port.
The Great Debate
Here are a few details on the differences of both before getting to the nitty-gritty of things. At any rate, let’s dive deep into the debate by defining both formats and going from there.
- What Is HDMI? HDMI means High-Definition Multimedia Interface. It’s the current standard used for the digital transfer of audio and video from an AV source with HDMI output to a television, monitor, or projector as well as any other compatible home entertainment appliance with an HDMI input. Its latest version, HDMI 2.1, is capable of 40 Gbps max bandwidth but requires Ultra High-Speed HDMI cables to access this rate. In contrast, the max bandwidth for 1.4 is 10.2 Gbps while 2.0 is at 18 Gbps. 2.1 also has the ability to play 8K video at 120 Hz versus HDMI 2.0 and its playback of 4K video at 60 Hz.
- What Is a Component? Component video is a video signal that’s split and transmitted or stored into 3 component channels, known as YpBrPr or YPBPR. Like composite, component video cables don’t carry audio and are often paired with audio cables. Meanwhile, YpBrPr is the color space used in video electronics, specifically component video cables. It’s the analog version of the YCbCr color space carried by a component video cable. The green cable carries Y, the blue cable carries Pb, and the red cable carries Pr.
- What’s The Difference Between HDMI and Component Formats? HDMI is a purely digital signal, delivering HD video and audio into a single cable like SCART used to do many years ago in the 1980s, but this time for High-Definition Television or HDTV. It can’t be used for standard TVs and legacy systems without a converter or adapter. As for the component video, it can be used to carry both standard analog video signals and HD video signals from a component source device to a component display. You need a separate cable for sound to be plugged into the audio port of your TV to deliver sound.
- What’s The Difference Between HDMI and Component Cables? HDMI cables come in multiple variants, like the standard HDMI cable, high-speed HDMI cable, premium high-speed HDMI cable, and ultra-high-speed HDMI cable. It also has automotive variants for car video displays like the standard automotive HDMI cable and high-speed automotive HDMI cable. Finally, there’s the HDMI cable with built-in Ethernet. They send video and audio to one single cable. This is in contrast to component video cables that consist of red, blue, and green cables. They also aren’t bundled with a sound cable.
- Most People Don’t Notice The Difference: Although HDMI is the wave of the future and it’s supposed to be better than component by default when it comes to HDMI’s 1080p (progressive scan) versus component video’s 1080i (interlaced), most people won’t notice the difference. It’s a whole different ballgame when it comes to higher resolutions and frame rates like with HDMI 2.0 or 2.1, but most television sets still carry HDMI 1.4 and most Blu-Ray and DVD players play most movies at 1080p HD or an upscaled 720p. The vast majority of HD video for HDMI looks exactly like the 1080i HD of component video.
- Component Ports and Cables Are Stubbornly Sticking Around: Component cables and TV sets that use them are still sticking around in the 2010s stubbornly the same way RCA cables did versus component cables. At the very least, you still need those component cables in order to hook up your PS4 to your component-compliant TV without an HDMI connection via a converter. People are still weirded out by motion smoothing or motion interpolation mode using 60 Fps, so they’re not jumping into the 4K bandwagon just yet. However, if you can go HDMI just stick to HDMI since it’s the HDTV version of USB at this point.
- Does The Difference in Quality Ultimately Matter? In 2019, yeah the difference does matter. Unless you’re hooking up your Nintendo Wii to your HDTV, most people have shifted to HDMI. 10 years ago in 2009, it wasn’t so clear. The highest resolution back then was 1080p and the latest HDMI version was 1.4. So component quality at the time was at par with HDMI. However, 10 years later, times have changed and HDTV viewing means HDMI cables. Otherwise, you need to buy an adapter for legacy systems, like an HDMI to component converter.
On the other hand, legacy systems with component cables are still in use even today in order to view a 1080p resolution videogame, movie, or show. Streaming is done at 1080p still, not 4K to 8K video with dizzying 60-180 Hz refresh rate. Many media players still stick to the 1080p ceiling and only certain users and companies are releasing content for 4K to 8K video. However, the time for the component has nevertheless clearly passed, especially in light of its need for separate audio connections. HDMI is the future and component video is the past.
The Bottom Line
You’d think the fact that component cables don’t carry sound while HDMI does would mean the end of the debate, but component video supporters would argue that they don’t mind having extra audio cables paired with component cables. Is it the price? HDMI cables have dropped in price significantly that you can buy either that or component cables with little difference in terms of cost. Even if HDMI cables cost a little more, it’s more than worth it to be able to play 1080p HD as well as 4K or 8K video.
Nevertheless, it’s also true that HDMI and component video outputs for 1080i or 1080p remain the HD that most people are familiar with and most people avail of, 4K and 8K video aside. In that specific metric, component and HDMI are equals. Outside of it, 10 years later, HDMI 2.0 and 2.1 blows component video quality out of the water.