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Hookup diagrams

How to Hook up a Cable TV Box

How to hook up a Plasma or LCD HDTV
How to hook up Surround Sound

Connecting a CableTV or Satellite System

How you hook up a cable TV box depends on many things. The type of cable box, the type of TV and the cable connection choices.

Standard (Non-Digital) CableTV Box

This hook up method was used in the 1980s but is still valid for analog TV.

A cableTV box with only a coaxial/RF output to a TV is analog and the TV has to be tuned to channel 3 or 4. Some analog cable boxes offer separate RCA jacks for two-channel stereo output and composite video outputs for connection to a TV that has RCA video and audio inputs. These audio/video output jacks could connect directly to your home theater receiver for video and two-channel audio. You'll need two (2) coaxial/RF cables and a pair of stereo RCA cables with an extra RCA cable for composite video, if you have those connections available on your receiver and/or television.

RF cable - most basic hook up, carries video and audio but not high definition or stereo.

Step by Step: Connecting a Cable Box (RF Input/Output Only)

An analog cableTV box with only RF jacks uses only a coaxial/RF (cable) input and output.

1. Using one of the coaxial/RF cables, connect the wall jack outlet from your cable tv provider to the coaxial/RF input of the cableTV box.
2. Connect the cableTV box's coaxial/RF output to either a TV or a VCR's coaxial/RF input.

The cable box outputs typically on channel 3 or 4, so your TV or VCR must be set on channel 3 or 4.

Standard (Non-Digital) CableTV Box with RCA composite audio/video outputs

This hook up method was used in the 1990s up until 1998 when digital televisions were available.

If your TV has RCA composite audio/video input jacks, you can use RCA cables to connect the cable box to your TV. In this case, you will select an input on your TV using your TVs remote control in order to view the cable box output.

This connection method uses individual cables for video and audio and gives a slightly better picture and stereo audio. You still cannot get high definition with this hook up.

Step by Step: Connecting a Cable Box (RCA video and stereo audio)

An analog cableTV box with RCA jacks uses 3 RCA cables (yellow, red, white) to connect to your TV.

1. Using the yellow video cable, connect the yellow video output jack on the cable box to the yellow video input jack on your TV.
2. Connect the two audio cables (red, white) from the cable box audio output (red, white) to your TV audio input jacks (red, white).

Digital CableTV Box

A digital cable TV box is needed for high definition and the cable box has to be high definition capable. Digital cable TV boxes handle both analog and digital cable tv signals. Digital cable TV signals are typically encoded or scrambled. This requires the customer to use a proper compatible cable TV box to decode the signals from the cable TV provider before sending them to the TV. Digital cable boxes add more output options for video and audio such as high definition video and digital audio surround sound. For high definition, you must use component video connections or HDMI (DVI can also be used but DVI is being replaced by HDMI). Digital cable boxes can have a built-in DVR to record TV shows on a hard disk drive.

Step by Step: Connect a Digital CableTV Box

[Digital CATV] The next-generation cableTV boxes add the ability to send audio and video signals to a home theater receiver. Some add digital audio ouputs and for high definition video, component video outputs and HDMI outputs.

Digital Cable TV with HDTV

Today's digital cable TV signals are carried on standard coaxial cable. While the physical cable itself looks no different than analog cable, there is considerable difference in the signal's bandwidth. Digital cableTV can carry many more channels and with HDTV resolutions. Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound is also available in many TV shows.

You'll connect digital cableTV in the same way when it comes from the wall. A coaxial/RF cable is connected from a jack on your wall to a digital cable box RF input. A digital cableTV box has all the features as an equivalent HD satellite receiver, complete with video outputs for HDTV and S/PDIF digital audio output for 5.1 channel surround sound. HDTVs also have the same jacks to accept the signals coming in from the source.

Below is a typical HDTV rear panel. HDMI input is top right. Component video is top left. Composite video/audio bottom left. HDTVs can also accept PC input (the blue multipin jack) so you can use the HDTV as a computer monitor.

HDTV rear panel cable connections

Available Connections


Connections on the digital cable box include the input coaxial/RF jacks like you'll find on a standard analog cable box. Typically, you can also still send the coaxial/RF output from the box to your VCR for recording programs, though the newest models come with on-board Digital Video Recorders (DVRs). You'll want to check the product manual to ensure that you understand the particular features, quirks, or requirements of your brand/model. The rest of the connectors provide audio and video directly to your home theater receiver or TV.

RCA Audio Connections

RCA jacks provide a stereo signal for all analog channels. On many of these analog channels the receiver can utilize Dolby Pro Logic or Pro Logic II/IIx decoding to give you "surround sound".

Remember, even though you may have a "digital" cableTV set top box, it will likely not output digital audio for the analog channels (typically found on the first 70 or so channels). Because of this, you will want to connect a pair of analog RCA cables form your cable box to your receiver or TV even if you already made a digital S/PDIF connection (more on S/PDIF below). Most satellite systems output digital audio at all times so this is not a problem for those using satellite-based systems.

S/PDIF Digital Audio Outputs

The S/PDIF (digital) output comes in two flavors: optical (sometimes called Toslink) and coaxial. Either will work and there is no real difference between the two when connecting your digital cableTV box to your home theater receiver. Cable TV boxes may have one or the other or both. The receiver will decode the bitstream, amplify the sound and route to proper loudspeakers. Make sure your receiver is Dolby Digital 5.1 capable.

Optical digital audio jack requires a fiber optic cable connection from cable box to audio/video receiver.

Coaxial digital audio jack requires RCA style copper cable connection from cable box to audio/video receiver.

Using the digital audio output will provide your home theater receiver with full 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, when available. Most programming will be broadcast through digital cableTV/satellite in two channel audio formats (stereo or enoded as Dolby Pro Logic), but HDTV channels, premium movie channels and even some cable networks will broadcast certain movies or prime time content in Dolby Digital 5.1.

Video Output Options

An assortment of video output options include composite (a single yellow RCA connection), s-video (a single 4-pin connection) and component (3 RCA connections colored red, green, and blue).

Component video provides the best possible analog video signal and is the only analog interface capable of transmitting HDTV resolutions. Connect the cableTV box's component video outputs to your home theater receiver or TV if it can accept component inputs (match up the colors and consult your receiver's manual for any required settings). Connect them directly to your HDTV if your receiver does not support component video connections. Remember that if these video outputs aren't used, you're not getting a high definition signal (HDTV) from the source.

Component video is only video and requires an audio connection.

Note on HDTV programming: Even if you make all the right connections, be aware that HDTV is only available if the provider is sending you HD resolution. Contact your cable or satellite TV provider to see what you need to do to acquire the HDTV channels you want (including local channels). HDTV is available for all the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox) and also to cable stations (TNT, DiscoveryHD, Bravo, etc). Due to bandwidth limitations, your cable TV provider may compress HD signals and therefore not be giving you full HD resolution. Compare your picture quality to a known source for high definition which you feel is the best quality.

Step by Step: Connecting a High Definition Digital CableTV Box to a Home Theater Receiver or digital TV

1. An RF/coaxial cable goes from the jack on the wall to the RF input on the digital cable box.
2. Video should be connected to your home theater receiver via component video (see below for using DVI or HDMI).
3. Audio is connected to your home theater receiver using S/PDIF AND stereo analog RCA connections.

Note: The reason for both audio connections is that the lower cableTV channels - even on a "digital" cableTV box, are not actually digital and will only output audio via the analog stereo RCA outputs. Connect both and most receivers will switch automatically to pick up the digital audio when it is present. This is unnecessesary if you are using satellite TV.

4. The home theater receiver is connected to the TV using the same video connection type used to connect the digital cable box to the home theater receiver. Note: If you have a receiver that has video upconversion and a cable box that does not support component, you can still connect the component video outputs of your receiver to the television. 5. A VCR can easily be added to the mix by using the coaxial/RF output on the cableTV box to the VCR's coaxial/RF input. You can then connect the VCR's stereo RCA outputs and video output to the receiver. Note: Just like above, some receivers won't be capable of converting the composite or s-video inputs to component video, so a separate connection to the TV might be necessary.

Component video hook up with analog audio

DVI or HDMI Connections

Many of today's cableTV and satellite set top boxes feature DVI or HDMI outputs. For video, connect DVI or HDMI as you would component video connections - they're both meant to carry digital HDTV signals. DVI is being replaced by HDMI. HDMI is a fully digital multi-channel audio and HD video carrier. The HDMI output on your cableTV/satellite box will go into your home theater receiver and out again into your HDTV - one cable run for everything!

DVI is video only and requires an audio connection.

HDMI - the all digital video and audio hook up

The advantage of HDMI over component video is no conversion from analog to digital need take place for final display on your digital TV. Also you don't need audio cables like component video because HDMI includes audio in the same cable. So, all else being equal, HDMI is the connection of choice for HDTV. Many digital cable boxes have HDMI outputs, particularly high definition boxes. Make sure you have high definition service from your cable provider so you are getting HD and not just digital TV in standard definition. HD is defined as 720 or 1080 resolution. HDMI will handle standard definition (lower resolution) as well as high definition.

HDMI has multiple pins


How do I hookup my DVD player to my TV?

How to hookup a Digital Cable Box for Surround Sound

Surround sound requires an audio/video receiver with Dolby Digital 5.1 capability and 6 loudspeakers. You hook up the digital cable box to the receiver using a coaxial or optical digital audio cable from the digital audio OUT on the cable box to the digital audio IN on the receiver. The loudspeakers are connected to the receiver.

This hook up diagram also shows a VCR or DVD recorder connection from the cable box so you can archive TV shows to tape or disc.

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