The RCA cable is one of the oldest audio-video cables. The fact that it is primarily an analog signal interface proves that.
For their age, RCA cables have shown tremendous resilience. The longevity can be attributed to their efficiency.
But how good or relevant is the cable now, particularly in this day and age of HDMI and DisplayPort cables?
And what do those white, red, and yellow-colored connectors on RCA cables signify? Do they serve a purpose or are they there just to make the cable look colorful?
Keep reading for answers to all the questions above and to know everything else about RCA cords.
What Is an RCA Cable?
Also called phono connectors or composite cables, an RCA cable is an audio-video cord that helps connect various electronic gadgets, such as TVs, gaming consoles, speakers, DVD players, cable boxes, etc.
The cable helps link the connected device’s video and audio components with the two to three connectors it employs. The individual RCA connectors are plugged into phono inputs on the device’s rear side.
Why do RCA cables have multiple connectors? Because squeezing all analog signals into one cable could hamper the output quality.
RCA cables can transmit digital and analog audio, composite analog video, and component analog video, and the various color connectors are assigned those specific roles—more on that later.
RCA Cable: Origin, Naming, Uses, etc.
The RCA connector derives its name from Radio Corporation of America, an electronics company that developed the RCA cable design during the 1930s.
RCA cables were initially designed to link radio receivers to phonograph tables. Therefore, it’s also called the “phono connector.”
The original or quarter-inch phonograph connectors used before were thick and big and expensive to make. RCA cables supplanted them due to their low costs and bulkiness. Not to mention, RCA wires were a lot easier to unhook from their ports.
Over the years, RCA cables and connectors have undergone multiple refinements and advancements without ceasing to be backward-compatible.
In the beginning, RCA cables were used to transmit audio signals. Over a period, like with several other connectors, RCA connectors are now used as RF connectors, DC power connectors, loudspeaker cable connectors, etc.
RCA Cable Colors and General Design
RCA cables are known for their colored connectors. They are usually two or three in number, colored white, red, and yellow.
If the cable has red and white connectors, like this Monoprice Two-Channel Audio RCA Cable , it supports only audio—for instance, in a stereo speaker system.
The red connector supports the right channel, and the white male jack supports the left channel, creating the stereo audio effect. It’s never the other way around, for consistency purposes. The white connector could be black at times, however.
Add a yellow connector to the mix, and the RCA cable becomes audio/video-capable—with the yellow male jack supporting composite analog video, like this Pasow 3 RCA Cable .
There are also 5-RCA cables, meaning five connectors bundled on each end, such as the Cmple 5-RCA Male to 5-RCA Male Component Audio Video Cable .
As usual, the red and white connectors in a 5 RCA cable support the audio function. The remaining three connectors (blue, green, and red) transmit component video signals alone.
The green connector carries picture brightness data, and the blue and red connectors provide color information.
Thanks to splitting the video signal into three discrete signals, component video could do HD video transmission (up to 1080p). Besides increased sharpness, the component video image quality is overall better.
There are also RCA cables with more than five connectors—for instance, this Recoil RCI617 6-Channel RCA Audio Cable .
RCA cables could also have an HDMI or AUX male connector at the other end, like this Amazon Basics 3.5mm AUX Male to 2 RCA Male Audio Cable .
Since HDMI uses digital signals and RCA uses analog, you’d need a converter to bridge the signal language difference between the two or connect RCA input to HDMI output.
Here’s one we recommend: ABLEWE RCA to HDMI Converter . The particular device converts analog RCA input to HDMI output. It’s plug-and-play and requires no additional drivers to work.
What are the female RCA ports like? The corresponding female jacks the connectors plug into have matching colors to help with identification. The female jack has a metallic outer circle with a colored inner circle.
Some output devices may not have the yellow female port. Instead, they could have a “video in” port.
To connect, push the male jack into the female one. The female connector ring has a marginally smaller diameter than the male jack so that the latter can overlap or fit over the female plug snugly.
Good quality RCA cables have no fitment issues or stay plugged in. A loose connection could cause a loud buzz or hum, but the signal won’t break. If the yellow connector is sloppy, colors could appear black and white.
Are RCA Cables Still in Use?
As alluded to earlier, HDMI is a more modern, convenient, and ubiquitous audio-video interface. Does that mean RCA cables are no longer required?
Not exactly. Although RCA cables have lost their charm significantly, they are still not antiquated, and there are a couple of good reasons for that.
First, RCA cables are cheaper than HDMI. Second, many audio enthusiasts still swear by RCA for sound (pun intended) audio output.
RCA cables are particularly handy with high-end camcorders that have three RCA jacks. The signal transfer via the separate channels lends to high-quality transfers. RCA cables also help connect amplifiers to various kinds of devices.
On the video front alone, however, RCA has limited functions. Composite RCA cables support a maximum video resolution of around 480i—which is fine for watching classic movies on a VCR or playing retro games but cannot keep up with current video requirements.
Although component video can support 1080p+ resolutions, the five-connector cable is cumbersome. Those prongs were a major reason why component video wasn’t a big hit and didn’t stick around.
Unfortunately, the future also looks bleak for RCA cables, thanks to its design, which renders it tricky and costly to make them genuinely high-quality or provide them the shielding HDMI and similar modern cable designs can embrace.
In other words, there doesn’t seem to be an upgrade path to undo all the existing design flaws and make them more contemporary.
Can You Repair an RCA Cable?
Yes, you can, but it depends on the specific concern.
A replacement wire is the only way out if the cable’s gone bad (broken, cut, deeply bent, etc.).
But if the connector(s) has problems, you can buy replace them with new connectors, such as these CESS RCA Plug Solder Gold Connectors .
Snip the wire where it meets the connector, peel the cable back slightly, and affix the new plug. Here’s a video showing how to do it:
New RCA connectors come in pairs. Although you could replace one bad connector and keep the other one on. Consider replacing both connectors if the new one doesn’t match the existing connector lookswise.
The RCA cable is going out. But don’t be sad, for it has had a long, eventful run.
But there’s still some time before the connector goes out of service entirely, thanks to the several audio-video junkies who prefer them over HDMI cords.
HDMI is not as synonymous with audio as RCA is. Plugging the connectors individually into the rear of an AV receiver or TV invokes a sense of satisfaction that’s hard to articulate.
Since RCA cables will be around for some time, it’s still worth getting familiar with the connectors, especially if you’re an audiophile.
Even if RCA cables were extinct, knowing a slice of history and how it all started won’t hurt.
Catherine Tramell has been covering technology as a freelance writer for over a decade. She has been writing for Pointer Clicker for over a year, further expanding her expertise as a tech columnist. Catherine likes spending time with her family and friends and her pastimes are reading books and news articles.