To have a true HD picture on your HDTV requires 4 things.
- HD source material. This can be a movie, video game, whatever.
- Played on an HD source device: Blu-ray player, video game machine, cable box
- connected with a connection capable of carrying an HD signal/source
- to an HDTV.
For example, if you have an older satellite box connected up to your TV with an RF cable and connectors, it's not HD.
If you have an upscaling DVD player connected to your HDTV with composite AV cables or the aforementioned RF cables, it's not HD. This is probably why some people complained about how they couldn't tell the difference between films on blu-ray and DVD on early Blu-ray players, they didn't have them hooked up with HD connections.
In fact the ONLY ways to get an HD picture on your HDTV are via HDMI connections, Component cables, and RF cables (but ONLY with over the air ATSC signals from an antenna and a few HD channels carried in Clear-QAM cable by a cable provider, usually only the local stations that you could receive with a tall enough antenna) Technically there's also DisplayPort, DVI and VGA, but those are PC-centric connections that many HDTV's don't have
This is HDMI which is, to use the vernacular, totally awesome.
HDMI, love it
HDMI is one connection that carries both high resolution video and high quality audio on the same cable. By high quality audio, that means lossless uncompressed multi-channel audio. It can also carry control signals AND network connections too! It's the bomb. HDMI connections are smart, they're "negotiated" between devices. When HDMI devices connect, the devices "talk" to each other and tell their capabilities:
TV: HI, I'm a VIZIO TV, my maximum resolution is 1080p at 60Hz and I can handle a 48khz stereo audio signal, but if you give me a 5.1 surround sound mix in Dolby Digital or PCM, I can try to create a "virtual surround stereo mix" with my SRS circuit.
Source device: You got it Jack, 1080p at 60Hz video with 48khz 5.1 mix on the way.The result being that the source gives the display the best picture and sound it can handle. In the early days of HDMI, there were sometimes issues with the "negotiations" especially between different brands, but it's worked out now.
If you have a satellite box connected to your TV, it should be using HDMI. If it doesn't have HDMI, your satellite company needs to give you a new one that does.
If you have a cable box connected to your TV, again, HDMI
Same for for the PS4/PS3 and Xbox One/Xbox 360.
Same for a Blu-ray player, it should be connected with HDMI.
Or for one of those Media Streaming devices, like a Roku, or Apple TV.
But if you have a device that doesn't have HDMI, but does have/support Component connections, you should use that next:
Component connections use 3 cables for video, you can see that they're red, blue and green. Formally they are: YPBPR using the Green, Blue and Red connectors respectively. It is important to not confuse Component connections with Composite connections. Composite only uses ONE cable for video, and it usually has a yellow connector.
Component cables can carry a full 1080p picture with just slightly less quality than HDMI since component is an analog connection, not digital. Component connections are set up manually since there's no negotiation of devices. Component connections are often used with stereo audio connections using red+white cables, don't confuse the two red cables! Sometimes they're also used with optical digital or coaxial digital SPDIF audio connections which don't provide quite as high quality audio as HDMI does.
If you have a progressive scan or upscaling DVD player, it probably has component connections, use it. If your DVD player doesn't have component connectors...well it's time to upgrade it to a Blu-ray player anyway.
It's the best connection you can get out of a PS2, original Xbox, Gamecube, or Wii, use it in preference to anything else if you have one of those. Requires a component cable specific to the game machine, though you can find one that has game-end connectors for all 3 of the Wii, Xbox, and PS2.
The last connection that can provide HD content to an HDTV in certain specific situations is the "RF" connector. Technically it's the "F-type" RF connector:
You will notice that I said "specific situations" above. There are only two.
- Using an external antenna to pick up over-the-air ATSC signals from a broadcast station exactly like you would with rabbit ears or antenna on mast with an older TV.
- Directly connected to a cable system that sends HD channels with Clear-QAM. This is generally limited to the local broadcast channels that you could pick up with an antenna. On the local cable system this is 8 channels. You won't be getting AMC HD, HBO HD, or even the full channel lineup this way, to get the full HD and channel lineup on cable, you'll need a cable box which should be connected with HDMI.
Older cable box or "digital converter" connected with RF? Not HD.
Dish or DirecTV box connected with RF? Not HD.
As for the other two connections commonly used with TV's, S-Video and Composite, they are not HD and we don't have to worry about those unless you're hooking up an old VCR or pre-HD video game machine. In that case S-Video should be preferred over Composite but many HDTV's don't have S-Video connectors. My first HDTV had S-Video but the current ones don't sad to say. It makes the FHG and the FHG's SNES (Super Nintendo) unhappy.