Q: I am trying to get the best possible video resolution out of an iPod touch / iPhone dock. I purchased a monster cable with an S-Video connection, but Apple stopped making the S-Video dock. Apple now sells the component video kit but I have been told S-Video is still better. How do I get the highest resolution out of my iPhone or iPod onto my TV? My television is rated at 1080, but the only docks I find are around 600.
A: The first important point to consider is that regardless of the cable used or the television used, the iPod (and iPhone) are only capable of 480-line output (NTSC) or 576-line output (PAL), and the content on the iPod itself is limited to these resolutions also (approximately 720×480 or 720×576 are the upper hard-limits, and these are even lower on some iPod models). Therefore, no cable is going to provide any higher resolution or quality than this, since your source material and source signal is limited to these standard-definition resolutions.
Several manufacturers such as DLO and Creative Labs have begun to release “upscaling” iPod docks that provide high-definition 720p output from a standard 2007 iPod model. However, these are the same in principle as an upscaling DVD player—the source material is simply being cleaned up and output at a native HD resolution for your TV, and any quality increases are going to be minimal compared to viewing content actually encoded at 720p or higher.
S-Video is somewhat superior to composite video output (identified by a single RCA video lead, normally coloured yellow). However, contrary to what you’ve been told, S-Video is definitely considerably lower in quality than component video output (identified by three RCA video leads, normally coloured red, green, and blue). In fact, component video is the only three of these connections that can be used to carry progressive scan video content from DVD players and HDTV content.
Note as well that with the iPod classic and iPod nano (with video), the Component AV cables can provide a progressive 480p signal, whereas the S-Video and composite outputs are limited to 480i. Unfortunately, the iPod touch and iPhone do not currently support 480p output, so you will be limited to interlaced video on these devices regardless of which cables you use.
Ideally, however, if your TV supports component inputs (as almost all HDTVs on the market do), the Apple Component AV Cables are definitely the recommended choice for the best quality. This is especially true if you are using an iPod classic or iPod nano (with video) which have better-quality 480p output capabilities, but even with the iPod touch or iPhone the quality increase is noticeable enough.