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Connecting it all up

Why are there so many sorts of connecting cables? Find out with this quick guide.

Why are there so many sorts of connecting cables?  Find out wit
published on UK Free TV

Why are there so many sorts of connecting cables? Find out with this quick guide.

The connectors on each cable are called plugs (and are also called male) and they will usually fit only into one sort of socket (or female connector).

Most cables you will come across are male to male. Occasionally you will find leads with a socket on one end and a plug on the other, and these are called "extension cables".


The SCART cable is used to connect a set-top box to a television set, or to a video recorder. This can only be a short cable. The SCART cable carries all of these types of signal:

  • analogue stereo sound
  • a single RGB television picture
  • a single composite video picture
  • a single S-Video video picture
  • widescreen picture signal

As stereo sound, RGB picture and widescreen signal is the best possible combination for digital television viewing, it is vital to use a SCART lead between any set-top box and the main television.

The composite video picture with stereo sound is the best combination for a VHS video recorder. If your set-top box has two SCART sockets, it is likely that the one marked TV will carry RGB picture information and the other will not.

If your television has more than one SCART input, you may need to choose a special one (marked RGB) if you want to use RGB from the SCART cable.

On most set-top boxes it is possible to turn the RGB output on and off. This can be used to test the RGB input function on the television ? the picture quality appears blurred when it is disabled.

If have a DVD player, rather than a VHS recorder, you can attach this to the set-top boxes second SCART connector. The signal from the set-top box will normally be overridden by the DVD player when it is on, usually in high-quality RGB.

Some very cheap SCART cables do not have all the pins connected. They may not provide RGB and widescreen picture signals. SCART cables are normally no more than three metres in length.

UHF lead

The UHF lead is a lead that you would traditionally associate with television signals. They can carry:

  • up to 45 (but normally only five) analogue television channels
  • a single picture from a set-top box
  • around 50 analogue cable TV channels
  • mono sound
  • NICAM stereo sound
  • Teletext services (for example, Ceefax)

You can't avoid these cables if you are going to use Freeview, as these cables are the only ones that you can use to distribute Freeview signals around the house.

Where you have an integrated digital television (an idTV) you just need to get the signal from the aerial to the television with one of these cables.

If you are using a Freeview set-top box, you will need to get the signal from the aerial to the set-top box using this aerial lead, but for best results connect the TV to the box with a SCART cable.

You can also use a UHF lead to connect a set-top box to a television somewhere in the house. Your set-top box will require a RF (radio frequency) modulator. Note that "RF passthough" is another way of saying there is no modulator. You will be able to "tune" the second television into the picture showing on the set-top box.

Some boxes (all Sky boxes) have the ability to connect a remote control receiver to the second TV end of the interconnecting cable, so you can change channels.

The set-top boxes, whilst providing a reasonable quality picture to the second TV, will always provide only mono sound via a UHF lead.

The step-change in picture quality obtained by switching to RGB on a SCART is far greater than any obtained though spending any more on a gold-plated SCART cable.

Satellite or cable TV cable

These cables are usually very stiff, and have a very basic screw connector on the end. Usually they will provide an unbroken link to the satellite dish. At the dish end they plug into the device on the end of the arm, the LNB.

Don't try to disconnect these cables when the set-top box is on. Usually there is a small voltage that will cause dangerous sparks.

If the cable connects to a satellite dish, there is not much you can do with the cable. Each receiver in the set-top box needs it's own wire to the LNB. With a personal video recorder (such as Sky+), or a multi-room installations there are two cables to the four-output LNB on the dish. If you want more rooms, each will require it's own cable.

If the cable is providing cable TV, then it is possible to use inexpensive "Y connectors" to link the incoming signal to various set-top boxes, cable modems, or - via an adaptor - directly to the back of a TV.

Composite video cable

This is the most simple and basic video connection you can get. It carries:

  • a single picture from a set-top box

The picture will be in colour, and of comparable quality to a analogue broadcast station. However, there is no sound. For that reason this cable is often found joined to a stereo audio cable.

These signals are quite robust and can be carried for many metres. Often modern television sets have a single yellow photo input on their front input panel.

You also use an identical cable to carry digital stereo (SPDIF) sound.

Stereo audio cable

These cables carry the left and right channels of sound on two joined cables. They are usually required when a SCART cable is not being used, as the SCART cable already carries stereo sound.

If you are connecting your set-top box to an external stereo system, a separate stereo audio is used.

There is no real practicable limit to the length of these cables, but excessive length will degrade the quality of the signal.

S-video cable

The S-video standard is not well supported by most UK digital TV boxes, and very few have a S-video socket. If you need one for a particular analogue camcorder, use it, but avoid S-video with digital television. If you are using what appears to be a monochrome picture from a SCART lead, it will certainly by an incomplete S-Video signal and you should change to the RGB input.

VGA cable

This is the cable you will use to connect a computer to a old style monitor, and some modern LCD screen too. Most modern LCD TVs will have a VGA input too.

If you want to connect a set-top box to a LCD monitor, you can buy a conversion box from around 60. However this will not result in a better picture than using an existing SCART socket if there is one.

The only way to get higher than normal television resolution is to use a VGA in conjunction with a personal computer or modern games console.

DVI cable

If you want to get the very best out of a television or monitor use a digital video interconnect (DVI) cable.

This will be the only way for most televisions and monitors to receive high-definition pictures from a computer, and some set-top boxes.

If you can use either a VGA cable or a DVI cable, choose the DVI option.

HDMI cable

If you want to get the very best out of a television use a HDMI cable.

This will be the only way for most televisions to receive high-definition pictures from set-top boxes.

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Friday, 15 July 2011
Sid Barnett
5:16 PM

Thanks jb38

Did just as you suggested and it works great.

Thanks again.


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Sid Barnett's 3 posts GB flag
Tuesday, 19 July 2011
2:29 PM

Hi. My mother-in-law has a new HD ready TV which is connected to both a DVD player and a VCR. The picture quality from her DTV is poor, and I'm wondering if its because the ariel signal is weak? The TV receives the DTV channels via the ariel which comes from the wall via the VCR.

Another problems is that her VCR (which is ancient...) cannot record from her TV. Is this because it is connected with only one scart lead? She can only record on her VCR the terrestrial channels received by the video player itself. She can only watch videos and record these 5 channels.

Is there a way of connecting her ancient VCR so that it records DTV? I looked at the AV connections and it doesn't seem to recognise the DTV input. Is this because it's only got one scart connection connected to the TV? I'm baffled because I would have thought it would pick up the AV signal from the DTV? Do I need to manually search for this incoming channel???

Is there a way of making the DTV picture clearer or is it because her flat has a rubbish ariel position / connection??

And is there a way of connecting her TV to the dark-ages VCR so that it records from her DTV?

I'm encouraging her to buy a recordable DVD and possibly new VCR.....

Thanks so much!!!!

Alice x

Thanks so much.

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Alice's 5 posts GB flag
KB Aerials Sheffield

11:46 PM

Alice: suggest buying a PVR with a hard drive built in so much easier than trying to tackle an old vcr but if you really want to go down that route you should be able to connect the tv to the vcr and select the av input but the problem there is you can only record whats on the tv its not a good way of doing it
as for aerial reception we really need to know where you are - i know sheffield and the surrounding area its very difficult to answer reception problems without a knowledge of the locality


KB Aerial sheffield 07946481125

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KB Aerials Sheffield's 274 posts GB flag
Thursday, 21 July 2011
8:02 PM

KB Aerials Sheffield : Thank you Keith. When I select the AV input, it says "no signal". Does this mean I have to tune it in to the DTV signal? On the TV itself, it seems to display the VCR films she plays on it. But the problem is the other way round - how can she see what's playing on the DTV in order to then record it?

Re the aerial reception - my m-in-l is based in Chigwell, Essex. (No Essex jokes please...!)


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Alice's 5 posts GB flag
Friday, 22 July 2011
11:52 AM

I have a Samsung LCD TV - is a freeview TV as advertised.
How am I able to connect to freeview channels -? will I be able to get all channels available in UK freeview list?

I will have disconnected broadband line (cable) - can I connect using this cable ?
please advise what will I need.

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Chintan's 1 post US flag

2:22 PM

Chintan: You can't use a cable TV connection with a Freeview TV, you need a connection to a rooftop aerial.

It is impossible to say what services you would get without a full postcode.

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Briantist's 38,906 posts GB flag
KB Aerials Sheffield

8:30 PM

Alice: it depends on the tv and the vcr - seriously its an outdated way of doing it and for someone who isnt technically savvy quite difficult set up - the tv has to have an output via the scart socket (some tvs are wired as output on both sockets others on just one- some send the signal automatically some have to be configured via the setup menu - spend £100 on a PVR - asda currys comet sainsburys tesco etc all stock some kind of pvr (pve by the way stands for Personal Video Recorder) the aerial would connect into the pvr you would then connect the pvr to the tv with either a scart lead or a HDMI cable - as well as a fly lead to carry the aerial signal through to the tv- as for Essex sorry but I know nothing about reception there apart from watching Birds of a Feather -- Hows Doreen???? (sorry Couldnt resist) -- will have to hand over here to any one who installs aerials in Chigwell?--- Anyone????

Keith KB Aerials Sheffield 01142514389 07946481125

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KB Aerials Sheffield's 274 posts GB flag
KB Aerials Sheffield

8:33 PM

Chintan -- HI - the signal varies from area to area - you can guarantee electricity gas and water but aerial reception is another thing all together what Briantist says is quite correct we need a postcode to even begin to unravel what you can or cant get

Keith KB Aerials Sheffield 01142514389 07946481125

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KB Aerials Sheffield's 274 posts GB flag
Wednesday, 27 July 2011
10:19 AM

I have a non-digital Sony TV (3 scarts), a Panasonic DVD recorder (2 scarts), Sky (not plus, not HD) digibox (2 scarts) which work fine together. Analog TV has switched off here so I want to add a Thomson Freeview box (2 scarts) so I can watch or record from 2 sources. Is there an arrangement that would work, please?

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dud5ers's 6 posts GB flag

10:21 AM

dud5ers: If you want to "watch and record" from Freeview, use a Freeview+ or Freeview+HD box, attach it to the spare SCART input on your TV.

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Briantist's 38,906 posts GB flag
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