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S-Video vs. HDMI

S-Video vs. HDMI

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As technology continues to evolve, new video interfaces are introduced, replacing old interfaces on media devices.

S-Video was popular in the ’90s, superseding composite video as the analog connector of choice. However, it soon had to compete against VGA and component video, which were released shortly after.

HDMI is the modern standard for video transmission. Digital, super fast, and high-performing; it is everything that display technology has evolved to demand.

If you own a combination of older and newer media devices, you need to know how the S-Video and HDMI interfaces work. Can they interact with each other? Let’s find out.

What Is S-Video?

S-Video is an analog video transmission interface that delivers low SD-resolution videos, maxing out at interlaced resolutions (480i and 576i). The “S” is short for Separate — Separate video.

S-Video Fully Explained - RETRO GAMING ARTS

The S-Video connector is old technology—it was released in 1987 to replace composite connectors. You can find it on old computers, TVs, video recorders, and other video devices.

Since then, however, newer and better-performing video connectors have been designed. Consequently, the S-Video port is no longer common on modern devices. 

In this age of HD pictures, S-Video applications are limited because they can only transmit low-resolution signals. Also, the S-Video connector only transmits video signals. You must send audio from your source device separately using an audio cable

However, among early analog video connectors, S-Video is a better option than composite video. Composite video signals are transmitted on one channel, but S-Video signals are separated before transmission to deliver better color and clarity.  

How Does S-Video Work?

The S-Video connector transmits video signals along four main lines. However, the connector comes in different types and can have more than four lines. 

It separates a video signal into two: Y and C signals — which it transmits in sync. The Y signal represents the video’s brightness (luminance), while the C signal contains information for colors (chroma) in the video.

By separating signals, S-Video avoids the decoding process, reducing the risk of dot crawl distortion. Signal separation also helps to ensure color accuracy.

Of the four dedicated S-Video pins, one channels luminance, another chroma, and the remaining two are ground (earthing) lines (Ground Y and Ground C). 

The extra channels (lines) on some S-Video connectors allow them to transmit other information or signals that aren’t natively S-Video. The specific functions of these additional channels vary depending on the device.

What Does the S-Video Connector Look Like?

S-Video uses a round connector known as the Mini-DIN. Its port has several pinholes; there may be 4, 7, or 9. 

4-pin S-Video Port

The plugs at the end of the S-Video cables are circular, matching the port. Standard cables come with 4-pin plugs, but there are also cables with 7-pin and 9-pin plugs. 

S-Video plugs fit only one way into the port. To avoid damaging the connector, ensure that the pins on the plug line up with the pinholes in the port before plugging it in gently. 

Regardless of how many pins they have in total, each S-Video connector has the standard four pins/pinholes in the same position.

This design ensures that 4-pin cables can fit into any S-Video port with 4, 7, or 9 pinholes. However, cables with more than four pins cannot work with the 4-pin port because of the extra protruding pins.

7-pin S-Video Cable

S-Video cables vary in length. They can be anywhere from 3 to 100 feet long.

What Is HDMI?

HDMI is short for High-Definition Multimedia Interface. It is a digital interface for transmitting high-quality data, including audio and video signals. 

HDMI Cable

The HDMI Founders released the interface in 2002, and it has gone on to become the most popular interface in modern media devices. You’ll find HDMI on TVs, projectors, PCs, game consoles, media players, etc.

Digital connectors are essential for transmitting the HD display quality favored in modern times. Because it is a relatively new technology, you won’t find HDMI on older computers, receivers, TVs, etc.

One of the best things about HDMI is that it transmits audio and video signals via a single cable. You do not need an extra connector for audio. 

HDMI transmits high-quality videos, including HD, 4K, and even 8K resolutions. It also supports features like HDMI ARC, 3D Video, Ethernet data, and HDMI CEC

You’ll find that most display devices have multiple HDMI ports. This is so that they can connect simultaneously with HDMI source devices. 

How Does HDMI Work?

HDMI uses TMDS (Transition-Minimized Differential Signaling) to transmit signals. This system allows it to transmit high-quality, uncompressed data without translating the digital signals to analog and back again. 

To minimize transitions, the source device encrypts the signals before sending them out. These transitions (or translations) contribute to signal degradation.

The HDMI also transmits an inverse copy of the signal along with the original. The receiving device calculates the difference between both signals and uses the result to compensate for any signal degradation.

The HDMI connector is bidirectional; both connected devices can transmit simultaneously. A single HDMI cable can carry two video signals at once.  

The HDMI connector comes in different versions—each one better than the former in terms of data capacity and functionality. We have versions 1.3, 1.4, 2.0, and 2.1. The most recent versions (2.0 and 2.1) transmit 4K and 8K resolution videos at high speed.

What Does HDMI Look Like?

The HDMI connector is rectangular and shaped like the letter “D.” It is wider than a USB-A Port but smaller than the VGA connector port. 

The HDMI Port

HDMI uses 19 wires in a single cable, so the connector has 19 pins. 

Because of their “D” shape, the HDMI cable fits only one way into the port. Cables come in different categories based on their transmission speed, but they all look the same.

You can identify the different types of HDMI cables by their speed ratings. We have standard, high-speed, premium high-speed, and ultra-high-speed cables. Those in the high-speed categories support higher HDMI functions and speedy, high-quality transmissions.

The HDMI cable

To choose the best cable, you must consider the size and type of video you want to transmit. Standard HDMI cables only have enough bandwidth to transmit 720p and 1080i videos.

Comparison: S-Video vs. HDMI

Which of these transmission interfaces is better? Which should you use?

In this section, we’ll compare S-Video and HDMI based on their appearance, bandwidth capacity, transmission quality, and efficiency.

1. What do they look like?

The S-Video port is small and circular, with multiple pinholes. It pairs with its cable, whose plug has matching pins. 

On the other hand, the HDMI connector is a rectangular port shaped like the letter “D.” It closely resembles — but is smaller than — the VGA connector

VGA connector

2. How do they work?

S-Video separates the analog signal into two (brightness and color) and transmits them on separate channels. This separation helps S-Video maintain color accuracy and discourage image distortion. 

On the other hand, HDMI uses TMDS to transmit uncompressed signals. The source device encodes the signals before transmission to preserve data quality. 

It also sends an inverse copy alongside the original, which helps the receiving device to calculate and correct signal degradation.

3. Bandwidth Capacity/Image Resolution

S-Video has a maximum bandwidth capacity of 18 MHz. It supports the transmission of SD images up to 576i and cannot transmit HD-quality signals. 

Bandwidth Capacity

Due to its signal separation technique, S-Video also offers good color quality. 

HDMI has a very high bandwidth capacity which only increases with newer versions. The most recent version, HDMI 2.1, has a data rate of 48 Gbps. 

HDMI supports the high-speed transmission of HD, UHD, 8K, and 10K resolution videos. It also offers excellent color accuracy, and HDR.

4. Efficiency

S-Video is an analog connector, so it transmits a lower-quality signal than HDMI. It also does not carry audio signals; users must send audio to their display devices separately. 

HDMI’s ability to transmit high-quality, uncompressed signals makes it the standard for digital transmissions today. Its capacity to transmit audio and video signals on the same cable gives it points for convenience. 

The HDMI interface also supports multiple features which improve the viewing experience. For example, the HDMI eARC allows the easy return of high-quality audio to external speakers.

HDMI ARC and eARC Explained | Simplify Your System!

5. Interference

S-Video cables are usually prone to external interference and quality loss. The video signals are even more susceptible to interference when they travel long distances.

Ensure you choose an S-Video cable that reduces the chances of interference. Shorten the transmission distance as much as possible and use shorter, well-shielded cables (under 10 feet). 

Due to poorly-shielded cable designs, HDMI can be susceptible to signal degradation over distances above 17m/55ft. However, you can use HDMI extenders to extend the transmission distance without losing quality.

Comparison Table: S-Video vs. HDMI

Qualities  S-Video  HDMI 
Appearance  Small and circular with pinholes  Rectangular. Closely resembling the letter “D”
Transmission Technique  Separates signal into two and transmits each on different channels  Uses TMDS to maintain signal quality from source to receiving device
Supported Quality  Transmits SD images up to 576i Transmits HD, 4K, 8K, and 10K resolution images
Audio Does not transmit audio signals  Transmits audio signals along the same cable
Interference  Prone to interference when using long or poorly-shielded cables Prone to interference over distances above 17m 


  • Can I Convert S-Video to HDMI?

RCA and S-Video to HDMI Converter - Save Older Video Equipment by Converting to HDMI #47-300-001

You can transmit from an S-Video source to an HDMI display. People have embraced HDTVs and other HD displays while holding on to their older computers and media players, so this is a common conversion.

You only need an S-Video to HDMI adapter  to connect and convert video signals between both devices. However, S-Video only transmits video signals, so you’ll only receive video on your HDMI display. 

Use a separate cable to send audio from the source to your display device.

S-video converter Conclusion 

S-Video and HDMI are video transmission interfaces from different technological eras. While S-Video is analog technology, it still has a place in the digital age.

S-Video is more common in older devices and transmits only video signals in SD quality up to 576i. Comparatively, HDMI is the current beau of the industry. Its large bandwidth capacity allows it to transmit high-quality digital signals at high speeds. 

You can transmit signals between both interfaces with an adapter. However, if you’re transmitting from an S-Video source to an HDMI display, be prepared for some quality loss during conversion and downscaling.

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