Red White Yellow Cable: Composite Cables Explained

Red, white, and yellow cables can be found in a variety of places. They are often used to connect devices together, or to provide power to a device. If you have an old device such a VCR with these connectors, you may be wondering where you can find a cable that will work for your device. In this article, we will explore what these cables are and where you can find them.

Key takeaways:

  • Red, white, and yellow cables are RCA or composite cables used for transmitting analog audio and video signals. (Read more…)
  • The red and white cables are for audio (right and left channels), and the yellow cable is for video. (Read more…)
  • Although they are outdated, composite cables are still available for purchase and can be found in a number of places. (Read more…)
  • To connect old devices to modern displays, you may need adapters or converters, such as RCA to HDMI converters or component video cables. (Read more…)

What Are The Red White and Yellow Cables Called?

Red, white and yellow cables are commonly known as RCA cables or composite cables and are used to transmit analog audio and video signals. The red, white, and yellow cables typically correspond to the right audio channel, left audio channel, and video signal, respectively.

Other names:

  • AV Cable
  • RCA Connector
  • Audio Video Cable

Composite cables were first created in the 1940s and were widely used in the following decades. They eventually fell out of favour when HDMI cables became the standard for connecting electronic devices. However, they are still in use today and can be found in a variety of places.

What Does RCA Stand For?

Why the name RCA? The abbreviation RCA stands for Radio Corporation of America which was the first company to produce these cables. They’re also known as RCA connectors. RCA cables can come in a wide variety of colours, but the most common colour combination is red, white, and yellow.

While these connectors were the standard for connecting media devices back in the day, they’re being slowly phased out, and a lot of new TVs manufacturers scrapped them entirely, in favour of HDMI. In a word, they’re outdated and mainly used for connecting older media devices to modern displays.

The Colours Explained:

Usually, attaching the cables to the ports is very easy because both the connectors and the ports on the TV are colour-coded, so it’s a matter of matching the colours. Your TV will usually have a little diagram on the rear, next to the colour-coded ports, that will help you match the connectors to their ports.

What do the colours mean? Each colour in the trio has a specific purpose. One colour, usually the yellow one, is responsible for the video signals. It only carries analogue video, no audio.

The “composite video” refers to the yellow cable in the RCA cable bundle; yellow, red, and white. The cable that’s responsible for video signals. In some cases, a TV won’t have a yellow port, but it will have a port labelled “Video In” which works the same.

The two remaining colours, red and white, are for the analogue audio. Specifically, the red cable is for the audio on the right side, and the white connector is for audio on the left side. When used together, you get stereo audio. If you only plug one of these in, then you’ll probably only have audio from one speaker or one side of your monitor or TV or no audio at all.

Make sure the yellow cable is plugged in properly, otherwise, the video could be black and white. Bear in mind, the video connector (RCA cables) was never designed for today’s high definition resolutions, so it’s maximum resolution is about 480i NTSC. That resolution is good enough for watching old movies from a VCR player or retro games, but not much else.

What do Different Colours on AV Cords mean?

The red – audio line for the right channel
The white (also black) – audio line for the left channel
The yellow – carries video signals

How to Convert Composite to HDMI?

Assuming your display has HDMI ports, the best way to convert composite video to HDMI is by using a composite video to HDMI adapter. These are also called RCA to HDMI converters, and make sure to buy one that has an external power source because that extra power is needed to convert the analogue signals to digital (HDMI).

Component Video vs. Composite Video? What’s the Difference?

component cable

Evan-Amos / Public domain

At a glance, the words component and composite seem similar but they’re quite different. It’s important to understand the difference between the two or you risk buying the wrong cables. Composite cables, the ones we have been talking about, come with three colour-coded cables, red, white, and yellow. They’re designed to carry video and audio signals.

The component video also uses three colour-coded cables; green, blue, and red, but the main difference is these cables can only carry over video signals. Essentially, it splits the video signal into three separate entry points.

It’s like if you were to split the previous yellow cable into three separate cables. Each of these cables sends a different video signal, for instance, the green one carries the brightness, and the blue and red are for their respective colours.

The advantage of component video is it can support higher resolutions because the video signals aren’t jam-packed into one cable, but rather separated into three.

The downside; to get the audio working you might need to use two RCA audio cables while leaving the yellow one unplugged. Both cable types use an analogue signal, so you’ll need a powered-converter to convert the signals into digital for HDMI.

How to Connect Old Gaming Consoles to HDMI-only Displays?

So you have an old gaming console, such as the Wii, and you want to connect it to your HDMI-only display. It’s fairly easy, but you will need a specific converter. You could use an RCA to HDMI adapter, but then the resolution will be limited to 480p.

To increase the maximum resolution (if the console can support it), you should use component cables, the ones with green, blue, and red. The reason is component cables can support higher resolutions, so you can easily achieve 1080P.

Bear in mind, using only component videos you won’t receive any audio. So I recommend looking for an HDMI converter that has ports for component video and also RCA audio (red and white). While this setup requires multiple cables, it works the best.

And remember, the HDMI converter needs to be powered by an external source because extra power is needed to convert analogue to digital. It sounds rather complicated, but in reality, it’s a matter of buying the right adapters and plugging everything in. Very simple.

So don’t throw away those old media devices! With the right cables and converters, you should be able to use them on your modern displays with no problems whatsoever.

Picture attribution: Evan-Amos / Public domain

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About S. Santos

👋 I'm a technology columnist and blogger with over 10 years of experience, currently serving as Blue Cine Tech's AV Editor. Specialising in gadgets, home entertainment, and personal technology, my work has been featured in top technology blogs. I'm dedicated to breaking down the complexities of the latest tech trends, from explaining the intricacies of Dolby Vision to optimising your streaming experience. This blog serves as a platform for my ongoing exploration of the ever-evolving tech landscape. If you see me at industry events like CES or IFA, feel free to say hello.

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