What Are S-Video Cables and Connectors For?

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S-Video connectors often provide a quick and easy way to connect audio-visual components. You might recognize them as they can be color-coded yellow. However, not always, so don’t rely on this – because a composite connection is often yellow, too!

So, what is an S-Video connection, and when should you use it? And, can you connect an S-Video output to a composite input connection? Read on to discover the secrets of an S-Video connection.

What Does S-Video Do?

S-Video, or Separate Video, is an analog video signal that transmits video data by separating the luminance (brightness) and chrominance (color) components. 

By transmitting the luminance and chrominance signals over separate wires, S-Video can produce a higher-quality image than composite video. The separated signals have less interference, reducing dot crawl, cross color, and other artifacts that can degrade image quality.

S-Video is a standard-definition analog video signal. It does not provide the higher resolutions and image clarity of digital video formats like HDMI. 

The maximum resolution S-Video can transmit is 480i/480p for NTSC systems or 576i/576p for PAL systems.

Some key advantages of S-Video over composite video include:

  • Sharper image with reduced artifacts and noise
  • Improved color reproduction and hue accuracy
  • Increased brightness and contrast

However, there are some limitations to be aware of:

  • Audio must be transmitted separately, often via RCA connectors
  • Maximum SD resolution of 480i/480p or 576i/576p
  • Analog signal susceptible to interference and degradation over long cables
  • Not compatible with modern digital video equipment
  • It is not as high-quality as component video, which is split into 3-channels

Overall, S-Video provides a step up in video quality from basic composite video but has been supplanted by digital interfaces like HDMI in most AV systems. 

It is still helpful in connecting older SD analog video sources like retro gaming consoles, VCRs, and DVD players to displays that support the interface. Some TVs still include at least one S-Video input, although this has been rare in recent years.

What Do S-Video Connectors Look Like?

An S-Video connection on your device will look something like this:

Video adapter with a 4-pin s-video connection
Video adapter with a 4-pin S-Video connection

The most common type is this 4-pin mini-DIN connection, pictured above.

However, you may also come across some with 7-pins, like the one pictured below.

7-pin S-Video Connector on the side of a laptop
7-pin S-Video Connector on the side of a laptop

The 7-pin version is more common on PCs and notebook computers, and the extra pins can be used to send an RGB video signal.

An S-Video connection with 7 pins will accept a cable with 4 pins – however, you obviously can’t connect a 7-pin cable to a 4-pin port.

Even though the connection is circular, the plug will only fit one way due to the position of the holes for the pins.

Don’t push too hard until you have it lined up correctly, as it is pretty easy to damage the cable this way.

What Does the S-Video Cable Look Like?

S-Video Cable

An S-Video cable looks like this. This is the version with a male 4-pin mini-DIN. You should be careful when inserting the plug, as it is pretty easy to bend the pins.

If the pins do get bent, you can often use a small screwdriver or pair of long-nose pliers to straighten out the wonky pins.

Be careful, though; too much movement will break off the pins. Been there, done that.

A simple, well-made S-Video cable should be all that you need, so you don’t need to spend extra for a ‘high-performance’ cable – but you can if you like.

As the cable transfers analog video, a cable with good shielding can be important – especially for longer runs around other electrical equipment.

Something like this S-Video cable at Amazon should provide a reliable signal:

Cmple 4-PIN Gold-Plated S-Video Cable
Cmple 4-PIN Gold-Plated S-Video Cable
Image Credit: Cmple

The main thing to check is that the cable has the correct number of pins for the connection on your device.

The cable pictured above has 4-pins.

When Should You Use It?

You would mainly use an S-Video connector for things like linking your video camera or an old games console to your TV – or for other older consumer electronics devices with limited alternative connections.

An S-Video connection wouldn’t usually be used to interconnect devices such as DVD players and Blu-ray players.

These devices will usually have better options, such as an HDMI connector or a component video connection.

And most of these devices wouldn’t have an S-Video out anyway.

However, you should get a better image using this type of video than with a composite video connection.

So, if you have a choice between these two, then try S-Video first.

Can You Convert S-Video to Composite Video?

Yes, you can convert S-Video to composite video.

Consider this. What do you do if you have a video device with an S-Video output but only a composite video input on your TV – or another display device?

That’s easy. Just buy a simple S-Video to RCA composite video adapter cable like this:

StarTech S-Video to Composite Video Adapter Cable
StarTech S-Video to Composite Video Adapter Cable
Image Credit: StarTech

Then, connect the S-Video connector on the adapter cable to your output device.

You can then use a simple RCA composite video cable from the adapter into your display device.

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s answer some quick and easy questions about S-Video.

What Is S-Video Used For?

S-Video is a connection used by some consumer AV devices to send a picture to a screen or monitor. You should only use this medium-quality analog video signal if higher-quality video connections aren’t available – like HDMI or component connections.

What Is an S-Video Cable?

An S-Video cable is used for connecting S-Video connections on audio-visual devices. DVD players, video cameras, laptops and game consoles may all have an S-Video output for sending the picture to a TV or projector.

How to Use an S-Video Cable

Your source device will have a female S-Video output connection, and your screen or AV receiver will have a similar female S-Video input. You will need a male-to-male S-Video cable to connect between the device’s ports. When you select the correct input on your TV or receiver, you will see the picture from your player.

Does S-Video Have Audio?

No, S-Video doesn’t carry an audio signal. It is video-only.

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About The Author

Paul started the Home Cinema Guide to help less-experienced users get the most out of today's audio-visual technology. He has been a sound, lighting and audio-visual engineer for around 20 years. At home, he has spent more time than is probably healthy installing, configuring, testing, de-rigging, fixing, tweaking, re-installing again (and sometimes using) various pieces of hi-fi and home cinema equipment. You can find out more here.

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