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HDTV Connection Type

In the early days of HDTV Broadcasting, little dissent was raised on the kind of connection type to use.  Borrowing from the early progressive DVD Player market, Component Video (a.k.a. Y-Pb-Pr) was the de facto standard and millions of HD-Ready and HDTV sets were shipped with this analog input connection.  We've come a long way in the digital world where nearly all the content producing studio has waged a war on digital media distribution, the fear of music and video piracy becoming the driving factor in the design of the latest and greatest electronic equipment.  

Although Component Video connection still comes standard with nearly all HDTV sets sold today, the move to digital format (closing the Analog Hole) seems to have some unintended consequences, the further merging of the computer to entertainment products like TV sets that double as a PC monitor, computers that receive content, storage and archiving servers for media content on demand, the possibilities seemed endless.  Enter content protection, or encryption.  

Digital panels use two connection types, DVI and HDMI. DVI was the most common connection type used on matrix displays such as plasma, LCD, DLP, and LCOS, but the transition to HDMI which (dual licensing ensures HDMI accompany HDCP) was pre-ordained  in the effort to disable perfect data replication.  The lock-down has been swift and nearly complete as the larger and more expensive flat panels featured HDMI to win over savvier consumers.  While the video standard is backwards compatible to DVI, HDMI also carries audio to eliminate extra cabling.  Added complexity of HDCP "handshake" can be crippling to some models, and non-HDCP based DVI displays are unable to display images using HDCP encryption which could be confusing to owners of monitors and TV sets that were released prior to the implementation of the encryption scheme, but early adopters are.....adapting.  User forums like AVS Forum and other community based sites help to educate the masses.   

The need to utilize content protection as well as the differing video codecs limit the longevity of nearly all video equipment requiring seemingly constant upgrading to stay current, but the final standards are in sight.  The current digital format, HDMI will likely be around for quite a while.  Referenced below is a quick chart on video connection types:

Composite Video (Analog yellow RCA) - NTSC SD Video 480i  
S-Video (Analog 9-pin Mini-Din) - Standard Definition Video 480i
Component Video (Analog Green/Blue/Red 3x RCA) - Standard Definition 480i 
High Definition 480p/720p/1080i (consult TV manual compatibility)

VGA (Analog 15-Pin D-Sub) - High Definition 480p/720p/1080i/1080p and *some PC connectivity.  
VGA (Analog 5x BNC or RCA,  R/G/B/H/V) - High Definition same as VGA.  
*VGA and RGBHV is interchangeable
DVI (Digital Single or Dual Link) - High Definition 480p/720p/1080i/1080p and *some PC connectivity
HDMI (Digital) - High Defintion 480p/720p/1080i/1080p and *some PC connectivity


Digital Connections and Content Protection

During the transition period, all sets will still be sold with Component Video inputs which majority of HDTV owners still use, but make sure that any new sets purchased also includes one of the following inputs:

DVI with HDCP  
DVI is most common on today's flat panel PC monitors and front projectors.  In the transition period, DVI also became the standard in HDTV sets.  It's important to note that not all DVI connections are HDCP compliant, and older sets may not be able to display video via this digital connection.  Make sure you consult the user manual to confirm HDCP compliance before you purchase any display with DVI that you plan to use with an HDTV tuner.  

This implementation of the HDMI connection has been swift and common nearly to all displays labeled as HDTVs, but not so in the computer monitors that bare resemblence.  This is poised to change as PC graphics cards adopt HDMI as the connection type and in the process become HDCP compliant.  HDMI is a requirement for the adoption of HD-DVD and Blu-Ray DVD formats, in effect an encryption system that will be used with future entertainment and home theater PCs (HTPC).  

It is also important to note that HDMI is also an audio format, accompanying the HDMI video in tandem, and plans are to expand the HDMI capability in newer versions of the controlling chip.  With higher video and audio bandwidth, it is poised to appear in nearly all A/V receivers/processors which will add some complexity to the single cable configuration when routing sound to external home theater A/V systems.  HDMI is designated to deliver multi-channel audio for both music and video if connected through a A/V Processor with decoding capability and HDMI version 1.3, and if this sounds computer nerdy, well, it's just as complicated to explain.  

** There are on going consumer laments regarding the crippling of the component (Y-Pb-Pr) connections to only enhanced definition 480p (not standard but not high definition) on HDTV displays pre-digital implementation to close what media companies call the analog hole.  There are multitudes of component based HDTV on the market, just enough to make the shut-down a sticky proposition.  Component video sources seem preferred by professional and commercial installers.   

-Kei Clark
Updated 6/2/07
References Linked AVS Forum


HDTV Basics

Display Technology and TV Types


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