In the old days, hooking up your TV was simple. You connected an outdoor antenna to an "antenna" input on the TV, or a cable-TV connector with an adapter to the same input.
But as TV sets and the sources and delivery of video signals have become more sophisticated and varied (DVDs, satellite dishes, HDTV, videotape, and digital signals), so have the connections. Nowadays, there are four types—composite, S-video, component and digital—with the first three being the most common. If you have an aging VCR, it likely has a composite video connector, typically a single RCA jack. It’s called "composite" because it combines the color and luminance (brightness) portions of the video signal into one signal, so you only need one cable. But that combining of brightness and color portions lessens the video quality somewhat, so a new connector was introduced in the 1980s. The S-video jack ("S" stands for separated) keeps the luminance and chrominance (color) information separate, and this connector will usually yield significantly improved picture quality (compared to a composite connection) from sources such as DVD. The S-video connector also uses a single cable and a special plug.
Greater improvement is possible with DVD images by using a component video connection. Component video further separates the color and brightness information, using three cables from which the TV set extracts the red, green and blue components that make up the picture (plus the brightness or luminance). This type of connection must be used for TV displays and DVD players that have progressive-scan capability, and typically there are three separate RCA jacks. For high-definition (HDTV) video signals, a wide-bandwidth component-video connection is required.
The latest video connector found on recent HDTV sets is pure digital, called either a DVI (Digital Video Interface) or HDMI (High Definition Media Interface). These keep the video signal in digital form until it reaches the TV display. Read more about these interfaces.
Your TV display and DVD player must each have compatible connectors in order for you to benefit from the potentially improved picture quality. If your DVD player has component-video output jacks but your TV lacks them, then you can’t realize the benefits until you get a new TV that has component-video inputs. If all your equipment has S-video connectors, then use them.
Read the next tip: "How to get a Seamless Soundstage"