Component Video to HDMI Cables

--Sorry, but they don't exist. Here's why.

We are frequently asked, "can you make a cable that has three RCAs for component video on one end and an HDMI connector on the other?" The answer, unfortunately, is: "Yes, we can make it. And no, it will not work." Why?

Analog is Analog, and Digital is Digital, and never the twain shall meet

The problem with making an HDMI to component (or component to HDMI) cable is, simply, that HDMI and component video are two entirely different ways of representing a video image as a set of electrical signals. They do bear some similarities; both break the colours up into three streams of red, green and blue (though these, in a component video signal, are actually carried as luminance and "colour difference" signals), and both run these three streams in parallel with one another to the display. But that's where the similarities end.

Component video is an analogue format. What this means is that the values of the colour signals are represented by continuously varying voltages, with, theoretically at least, a nearly infinite number of possible voltage values representing the complete range of colours. HDMI, on the other hand, is a digital format. Although the three HDMI cable twisted pairs that carry red, green and blue also carry signals representing the values of the red, green and blue components of the signal, these signals are not continuously variable, analogue voltages. Rather, they are digital information--ones and zeros--sent by a digital transmitting circuit that rapidly alternates between a negative and a positive voltage. These ones and zeros have to be received by another digital circuit, interpreted, and transformed by that circuit into colour intensities to be displayed on a screen.

The type of circuit that puts out or takes in an analogue component video signal is completely unlike the sort of circuit that puts out or takes in a digital HDMI signal. It's not hard to physically hook the two up--all you need is a soldering iron, an HDMI cable, and a willingness for needless destruction (though, since an HDMI cable has nineteen contacts and a component cable only six, there'll be some spare wire left over)--but the two circuits have no idea how to talk to one another.

So, What Can Be Done?

Ordinarily, the answer to this sort of problem is very simple. If both of your devices have HDMI connections available, hook them up by HDMI; if both have component video, hook them up by component video; and if both have both, take your pick. If your only problem is that your devices support the video types, but you are short of input or output jacks, buy a switch. But now and then we do run into someone who really has a problematic situation, and needs to get HDMI to run into a component video input or vice versa. What's to be done?

There are such things as active converter circuits, which will take a signal of one type, process it, and convert it to a signal of the other type. We don't sell that sort of thing, but there are broadcast-supply houses online which do. Before you go shopping for one, though, there are a couple of points of which to take note. First, these devices typically are expensive, ranging anywhere from around $300 to a thousand dollars or more; it's often cheaper to replace your source or your display. Second, if you're converting HDMI to analogue video, consider this: because of the restrictions imposed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), it's very likely that any HDMI to analogue converter box you find will have HDCP (High-Definition Content Protection) enabled, which means that you will not be able to view HDCP-protected sources through that converter. If you have to do it, you have to do it; but if you can avoid it, you'll avoid some real potential headaches.

* An added note: we have, on rare occasion, seen devices which provide a nonstandard wiring setup where it is possible to route analogue component video through an HDMI socket. These devices are extremely rare, and if you have one, your user's manual will clearly state as much. Unfortunately, because there are a few such devices on the market, there are now "HDMI to Component" cables being marketed in various outlets, and the sellers of these products often do not appear to realize that they will work with only a very small, limited class of devices. Don't buy one just to try out; unless your manual says it will work, it WILL NOT.

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