When connecting a device to your TV, you may encounter a bundle of cables with different colors extending from one cable.
Typically, it’s a trio of red, yellow, and white cables that connect devices to your TV, and you’ve probably used them multiple times without even noticing. What are these cables and what is their purpose?
Red, yellow, and white cables in a TV connection are part of RCA connectors that transmit signals from one device to another. The red and white cables are responsible for the audio, while the yellow one carries the video signal. Nowadays, they are mainly used for audio devices.
If you want to know more, read the rest of this article. I will explain the purpose of the red, yellow, and white cables and how they work. Additionally, I will show you how to use them and what to keep in mind when buying them.
Understanding Your RCA Connector
The red, yellow and white cables are part of what is known as an RCA connector. The name comes from the Radio Corporation of America because this cable was named back in the 1940s when it was used to connect amplifiers to phonographs.
These colorful cables are known as composite cables. In most TVs or other output devices, such as projectors, you can see corresponding jacks for each color of the connector.
What Do Red, Yellow and White Cables Do?
The fact that the cables have different colors indicates that they perform different tasks. Each cable should be connected to its corresponding jack on the TV in order for each to function. Here’s what each color of the RCA connector means:
The red cable of the bundle is part of the duo that is responsible for the analog audio. Typically, the red cable is specifically responsible for the right speaker, so if you only plug this cable, you’ll be able to hear only from one speaker or sometimes not at all.
The white cable is the remaining half of the analog audio duo. Along with the red cable, it provides the audio connection between the TV and another device. In some cases, this cable can also be black.
As you can deduce by now, the white cable is responsible for the left audio channel. Similar to the right cable, plugging just this cable into your TV will result in audio from only one speaker. You may not be able to hear anything at all.
Unlike the other two, the yellow cable is responsible for the video signals. This cable ensures that the TV can receive the video signal from the device alongside the audio. If this cable is disconnected, you won’t be able to see anything; if it’s not connected well, you may see images in black and white.
Since these cables are pretty old as a technology, the quality of video that the yellow cable can provide is not up to today’s standards. It will be difficult to get video quality in the high-definition resolutions you’re used to, but you may see VCR footage or old movies in pretty good quality.
Where To Plug Red, Yellow, and White Cables in a TV Connection
Somewhere on the side or the back of your TV, you can see three different jacks in three colors: red, white, and yellow.
When making the connection, you should simply connect each plug to its corresponding jack. Some TVs or other devices may not have a yellow jack, but they may have a regular one labeled “Video In”, which is the same.
What To Keep in Mind When Choosing RCA Connectors
Nowadays, there are other ways of connecting devices to your TV or other monitors, and they can provide higher-quality video and audio. However, you still may need to use RCA cables sometimes, as you’ll see below.
So, you may need to buy an RCA connector, and you should know what to look for so that you get the best possible deal. Here are a few things to bear in mind:
- The length of the cables. You may think that the longer the cables of the RCA connector, the better it is. Although they might be more convenient, longer cables can reduce the quality that the connector provides.
- The materials used for the connectors. The connectors may be made of different metals, which affects their quality and, consequently, their prices. Gold connectors are the most expensive and the most resistant, but not the fastest conductors. Copper and silver are better conductors.
- The isolation of the cables. Like every other cable, RCA connectors can get damaged or worn out. The better these cables are isolated and shielded, the more they are going to resist time and other damaging factors.
Uses for RCA Connectors
RCA connectors are not used as much as they used to. Nowadays, video and audio connections are typically made using HDMI cables or component cables. However, you can still find uses for RCA connectors.
You can use these cables to connect various devices to speakers or amplifiers. RCA connectors are still very relevant in audio devices; they can transfer analog audio signals between devices without losing quality. You can use them for Hi-FI equipment, different types of speakers, headphones, and more.
Can I Connect RCA Cable to an HDMI Output Device?
If you have a device that uses an RCA connector, you may wonder if it’s possible to connect it to a TV or other device that doesn’t have the corresponding RCA jacks but instead has HDMI ports. You will be happy to learn that it is possible to convert RCA to HDMI using an RCA-to-HDMI converter.
Here’s how to connect an RCA cable to an HDMI output device:
- Buy a converter and connect each of the colored plugs to their corresponding jacks in the converter.
- Plug the HDMI end of the converter into its corresponding port, and your devices should connect.
You should be aware that while this conversion is possible, it won’t provide the best quality. RCA connectors still can’t support any high resolutions, so the images you’ll get may be low quality. Even so, the connection will still work, and you’ll be able to see and hear the video well enough.
Can I Connect an HDMI Device to an RCA Output?
You can also convert HDMI to RCA if you have a device that only produces HDMI output that you want to connect to an older TV or monitor with RCA jacks. To do the conversion, you need another type of converter, which you can find in electronic stores or online.
Here’s how to connect an HDMI device to an RCA output:
- Once you get the converter, you should connect it to a power source.
- Connect the HDMI cable coming from the HDMI-only device to the HDMI port on the converter.
- Connect the converter’s RCA audio and video cables to the corresponding jacks on the old TV or monitor.
- Change the settings or TV channels on the device to be able to watch the video.
If your TV or monitor is quite old, you won’t be able to watch the videos at the quality that the original device provides, so the footage will be in Standard Definition.
What About RCA Component Cables?
The red, yellow, and white cables are part of composite RCA connectors, which are the oldest version and have been used for decades. As you may recall from the beginning of this article, the other RCA connector type is called a component cable, a newer and more advanced version.
Component connectors split the video signals into three different cables:
- The blue cable (Pb) is responsible for the blue components of the images.
- The red cable (Pr) is responsible for the red elements of the images.
- The green cable (Y) transmits the brightness component of the signal.
Splitting the video signal allows component connectors to transmit the signal without compressing it, so they can support images of much higher quality. Component RCA connectors can support more advanced resolutions such as:
As you can imagine, once component cables became available, they replaced RCA composite connectors and became the standard for TVs and monitors. A lot of recent HDTVs and consoles still have RCA component cable inputs to support these connectors.
However, component cables are still RCA connectors, and the signal they transmit is still analog. Understandably, their image won’t be as clear and crisp as the image HDMI connectors provide.
The red, yellow, and white cables are part of RCA composite connectors, which have been used for decades to connect component devices with output devices.
The yellow cable is responsible for the video signal, while the other two are responsible for the audio. Since the signal is analog, the video quality is low.
RCA composite connectors were replaced by component connectors, which split the video signal to provide better quality. Nowadays, HDMI cables are the best choice for TVs. However, if you have an older device, you can use converters to connect HDMI-output-only devices to RCA Outputs and vice-versa.
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.