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I can either get a passive RCA (Composite video) to VGA, an active RCA to VGA or an active HDMI to VGA, but which?

What I want to know is:

  • How does the quality compare between them (as in not freezing, fast connection ect)?
  • How do their costs compare?

I know audio can be transmitted in both, but I'm not bothered about any audio. (I'll use the audio jack.)

(I have seen Can a simple cable convert HDMI output to VGA?, but I'm looking for more of a comparison with the RCA)

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An active HDMI to VGA adapter would be much better quality than and active Composite video (RCA) to VGA adapter. Both would be much more expensive than a passive adapter however.

Active HDMI to VGA adapters

A quick check using google shopping suggests that an active HDMI to VGA adapter will cost around £50 ($80) and should support 1920x1080 resolution if your VGA monitor does.

Passive Composite video to VGA adapters

You might be able to buy or make a passive adapter for a few pounds (dollars), unfortunately it would not split out the chrominance and luminance information, so at best you would end up with a monochrome image, and that assumes that your monitor is capable of taking a composite video signal on one of it's colour channels (usually green), which is far less common today than it once was.

Active Composite video to VGA adapters

A similar check on an active Composite video to VGA adapter reveals that they are available, but are more likely to be around £100 ($155) and will at most up-scale 480i or 576i video to 1920x1080 resolution, so the actual resolution will be either 640×480 or 720x576 at a lower frame rate.

Cheap Active HDMI to VGA adapters

An answer to a related question suggests that active HDMI to VGA converters can be had substantially cheaper (i.e. £13!) direct from manufacturers in China, but also reveals that people have reported problems with long term use of these kinds of devices:

Note that any conversion hardware that converts HDMI/DVI-D signals to VGA (or DVI-A) signals may come with either an external PSU, or expects power can be drawn from the HDMI port. In the latter case there may be a problem, as the HDMI specs only provide in a maximum of 50mA (@ 5 Volt) from the HDMI port, but some of these adapters try to draw up-to 500mA, in case of the R-PI there is a limit of 200mA that can be drawn safely, as 200mA is the limit for the BAT54 diode (D1) on the board. Any HDMI to VGA adapter without external PSU might work for a time, but then burn out D1. The solution is to either only use externally powered converters, or to replace D1 with a sturdier version. Also notice that the R-PI's power supply also must be able to deliver the extra current.

Looking for an active adapter with an auxiliary power in, I did find this one, which appears to have an mini-usb, presumably for power.

Given these prices/problems, you might be better off going out and buying a cheap DVI or HDMI monitor. In the UK you can buy a small unbranded screen for around £80 ($125) at the moment, if you look around.

Update for Raspberry Pi B+

According to the Raspberry Pi blog, Gert’s VGA Adapter allows you to use a VGA display with the Raspberry Pi B+ at the expense of most of the general purpose I/O pins. It even allows you to use the VGA screen in addition to the HDMI.

The colour depth is only 6 bits per channel (262144 colours in total), so there is noticeable banding, but if you want a cheap solution, and don't mind soldering a few resistors and through-hole components, the kit only costs £6 after a successful Kickstarter project.

  • It seems like the TL;DR summary here is "Don't connect to VGA". – Zoot Aug 1 '12 at 13:48
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I have no direct experience, but I'd guess that HDMI to VGA will give best quality as most of the "messing around" is done in the digital domain.

The signal from the RCA jack is already lower quality than VGA (as the sync, brightness and colour information is all smooshed down a single wire, still in analogue form,so with no hope of recovering any loss). In slightly more technical terms (at the risk of going off-topic and veering towards electronics.se): There's a lot more analogue bandwidth available to get the VGA signal through - it usually has 3 individually shielded coax cables for the colour signals and separate (also usually shielded) signals for the syncs. To a first approximation you have 3-4x the bandwidth to get the signals through, which means sharper edges and better colour definition.

As for cheapness, anything I write here will be out of date by tomorrow!


In the comments, it has been noted that a home internet connection has no problem getting HD video through a single pair of wires. This is true (if you are fairly near the phone exchange) but note that:

  • It's compressed video that's sent over the internet, rather than raw video (over HDMI or RCA). 8Mbps (a good ADSL connection round here) is 1MByte/sec ~= 300k pixels/sec at 24 bits-per-pixel. 100k pixels/frame @ 30 frames per second, which is about enough for a 250-line image (depending on aspect ratio). It may well have travelled over a mile of cable though!
  • 100Mbps Virgin is "smooshed down a single fibre" for most of the way, so has waaay more bandwidth (in the analogue, not the "internet" sense) to play with. The achieved data-rate (and even the 8Mbps, although over a much longer distance) comes via heroic digital signal processing, compared to what was available when composite video was born.
  • 1
    Smooshed down into a single wire :-) very technical. Believe it or not but 10/50/100mbs DSL is smooshed into a single wire (ie VirginDSL UK) and it does not seem to moan about download HD movies. The composite is just a standard invented many years ago that uses modulation to transmit data. Its resolution was defined as 480i (analogue 480lines interlaced NTSC for Americas) or 576i standard definition know as PAL/SECAM for EU,Africa and Asia. A single wire can carry several frequencies and not clash. – Piotr Kula Aug 1 '12 at 10:39
  • @ppumkin True, but DSL uses digital signalling whereas composite video is analog. – Tibor Aug 1 '12 at 11:07
  • Ahh yes- but it is still a frequency, with different modulation and its own set of problems. Still runs on one wire(technically 2) I looked at your profile and I am well aware you know exactly what all this smooshing means. But some users of this forum might not :-) – Piotr Kula Aug 1 '12 at 11:09
  • There is no meaningful comparison to DSL! Composite has severely limited color bandwidth because it is an encoding scheme originally designed to fit in the width of a broadcast television channel. VGA is not, has color bandwith equal to its luminance bandwith and is much sharper in addition to supporting higher resolutions. – Chris Stratton Aug 1 '12 at 12:07
  • @ppumkin: "lacks factual data": were you talking to Tibor or me? I've added some clarification anyway... – Martin Thompson Aug 1 '12 at 14:18

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