Beyond the Basics
S-Video (also called S-VHS)
The Super-Video connector was introduced a little over a decade ago, is present in almost every TV sold today, and has been included on most good TVs for the last 5 years or so. Although the S-Video connector looks like it also uses one cable to carry the video, the brightness and color run as independent signals. Doing this improves the resolution of the image itself, and more interestingly eliminates “dot crawl” and “color bleeding.”
Remember when I said that composite video keeps the color and brightness information together and that the TV separates it later? What do you think happens if the separation is imperfect and a tiny bit of color signal remains in the brightness signal? The answer is “dot crawl” or “chroma crawl.” With a composite cable, you end up with waving edges anywhere there is a sharp contrast in color. On the TV, this will be particularly annoying since the waving edges actually vibrate, creating a crawling effect.
Color bleeding or cross luminance occurs is another problem caused by imperfect separation of the luma and chroma signals. This specific artifact occurs when the brightness signal changes so quickly that the TV interprets it as being part of the color signal. This causes colors to appear on fine black and white details such as pinstripes. With S-Video, the brightness and color signals never mix and so you won’t have either problem. Pretty cool, huh? So how does it look?
Final Fantasy X composite Final Fantasy X Monster-S
FFX composite zoomed FFX Monster-S zoomed
Using a S-Video cable will improve the color, sharpness, and “stability” of an image on any TV. Now, I should add that taking screenshots of image quality can be a problem because on the TV, the image will be blown up, you’ll be sitting farther, and things will be in motion. To give you an idea of what the difference is, I’ve made two pictures of a paused DVD.
Titanic generic cable Titanic Monster-S
Component Video (also called Y-Pb-Pr or Y-Cb-Cr)
At first glance this may look just like a composite input. There are at least three connectors, but instead of a single yellow connector, you have red, blue, and green connectors. With S-Video the luma and chroma signals were kept separate, therefore reducing unnecessary processing (on both the source and display). Well it turns out that the color signal itself originates as two separate pieces of information. So with component video, the chroma signal is in its two separate versions, further improving the signal integrity. The component video format has enough headroom for HDTV resolutions and is as pure as the video signal can get with a DVD source and as good as it gets for games on a North American TV.
Here, things get tricky. Without spending five thousand dollars, it’s impossible to take screenshots using a component connector, so you’ll have to trust us. We figure that you would probably prefer that we spend that $5000 toward bringing you more PC hardware or PC/console gaming articles. With component video, the color range is expanded resulting in slightly richer and deeper images. Another way to think of it is that the colors are more accurate with greens looking greener and reds looking redder. It’s subtle at first, but once you see the difference, you’ll always see it. Your mileage may vary to a certain degree. The higher quality your S-Video comb filter is (the part that splits the chroma image into its two primary components), the smaller the improvement in component video.