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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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Thursday, 11 April 2013
Lisa Vanderstreaten
10:36 AM

Hi, Im trying to connect my freeview tv to my dvd-vcr but it wont tape anything from freeview. It plays both videos and dvds if I switch the input on the tv to half scary av2, but how can I record from freeview? Please help!

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Lisa Vanderstreaten's 6 posts GB flag
Lisa Vanderstreaten
10:47 AM


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Lisa Vanderstreaten's 6 posts GB flag

5:09 PM

Lisa - you cannot use the TV tuner to record to a dvd/vcr recorder - it must have its own tuner or at least a freeview box attached to it, and be attached to the aerial.

Check if your recorder has a freeview tuner in it (it will often tell you on the front, or check the manual). If it does not, my best advice whould be to buy a new PVR, such a Humax or Panasonic.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
MikeB's: mapM's Freeview map terrainM's terrain plot wavesM's frequency data M's Freeview Detailed Coverage

5:09 PM

Lisa Vanderstreaten: When your DVD-VCR recording set menu is being viewed on the TV make sure that AV1 is selected as the "source input" otherwise it will try to record from its own internal tuner, this being the default setting.

By the way you may have to do this each time you want to record, because when the recorder is turned off it will revert back to its internal tuner.

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jb38's 7,179 posts GB flag
Neil Bell

5:49 PM

Linda Vanderstreaten In addition to JB38's advice you may also need to set something on your TV to tell it to output from one of the AV SCART sockets. I know I have done this on my Sony KDL32EX503 TV but I'm not at home at the moment and the TV has a stupid cut down instruction manual - you have to click on "I manual" on the remote to read the instructions on the screen - & I can't remember the details! Its not very practical in use because you have to have the TV switched on on the channel you want to record for it to work

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Neil Bell's 106 posts CZ flag
Lisa Vanderstreaten
9:14 PM

MikeB, jb38 and Neil Bell, thank you all for replying, Ive been at my wits end trying to make this work.
Mike- the vcr has a tuner in it. Do I still have to reattach it and the tv to the freeview box or will the coaxial cable be enough? And which SCART socket do I use?
Jb38 I tried all the input channels, the only one the picture from the video and dvds showed up on was half_scart av2.
Neil Bell I have no idea how to do that, I dont have the manual.
Sorry if I sound really stupid!

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Lisa Vanderstreaten's 6 posts GB flag

9:28 PM

Lisa Vanderstreaten: Well its not really selecting an input "channel" as such but telling the DVD - VCR to use the AV2 "input socket" for recording.

However if your recorder also has a "Freeview" tuner and not analogue (which was assumed applied) then there is not really any point in trying to record from your TV as the programmes are the same, and so you will require the aerial to be connected into recorder as well as the TV.

As far as the scart is concerned, you now only require one scart connection between the AV1 on the recorder and likewise on the TV.

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jb38's 7,179 posts GB flag

9:37 PM

Lisa Vanderstreaten: By the way as your location is not known its not possible to assess the signal level you are liable to be receiving, but if you find that by the aerial being used to feed the TV and the recorder results in the picture glitching when it didnt before, then you will have to purchase a powered two way splitter to overcome this problem, the aerial going into the common input and with each of the two outputs being fed into the TV and DVD-VCR respectively.

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jb38's 7,179 posts GB flag

9:49 PM

Lisa Vanderstreaten: Could you please provide the model number of the DVD-VCR in question.

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jb38's 7,179 posts GB flag
Lisa Vanderstreaten
10:20 PM

Its a Samsung SV-DVD3E. Im in the south east of England if that helps. Thank you again for your help

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Lisa Vanderstreaten's 6 posts GB flag
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