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Can You Connect Your DVD Player To Your TV Through Your VCR?

The short answer is YES, it is possible to connect, however, there is a good chance you may not be happy with the results.

With a DVD player running through a VCR, copy protection can distort the picture. This is true with 95% of consumer VCR's. DVD players, in most cases, are not designed to be connected to a VCR. In fact, manufacturers have specifically made DVD players so that hooking them up to a VCR will give undesirable performance.

There is a reason for this. Movie studios and others do not want you copying their DVD content to a VHS tape on a VCR. Multiple copies could be made and sold or distributed and thereby cost the DVD authors money by reduced sales. 

What the DVD players manufacturers have done in most cases, and with most DVD player models, is build into these players, electronic circuits which send signals out to the VCR during play or record. By design, these signals cause the electronic circuits in the VCR to get confused and thereby cause distorted video. 

The VCR synchronization and automatic-recording-level circuitry in 95% of consumer VCRs will try to adjust it's levels according to the signals sent into it by the DVD player. What this means is that you should get distorted images such as a picture that cycles from very dark to normal or a loss of vertical hold or other negative picture performance. The VCR is fooled into making adjustments that do not really have to be made. The end result is a form of copy protection called Macrovision

Depending on the model of VCR you have, and depending on the model of DVD player you have, you will get different picture performance. In addition, you might be able to get perfectly good performance on pass-through operation, while getting horrible performance trying to record to a VHS tape. This result makes perfect sense since the automatic gain control (AGC) circuitry in some VCRs does not start to work until the recording mode is engaged. (In other VCRs, the AGC circuits work all the time, regardless of the mode) Pass-through operation means you play the DVD thru the VCR and see the results on the TV (no recording involved). Typically, you will not be able to record a VHS tape of the DVD and get acceptable results. In most cases you will also not get acceptable results on pass-through operation. You might get a perfectly good audio signal however, meaning you could listen to a movie on your TV while seeing a picture which cycles from good to distorted. A small consolation. 


Why would you want to connect a DVD player up to your VCR anyway?

If you have no intention of trying to copy a DVD onto a VHS tape, why would you want to hookup your DVD player to your VCR? Well, some people have had their old TV set for years and it still works. They see no reason to buy a new TV, but they have bought a DVD player and they found out that the DVD player has no way to connect to their old TV set which only has a RF coax cable antenna hookup. 

One solution might seem to be to connect the composite video and stereo audio cables from the back of the DVD player into the respective VCR jacks on the back of the VCR (if the VCR is not too old) and then feed the output into the TV by the existing RF coax cable connection going into the TV antenna jack from the VCR. After all, you have had this type setup for years. All you are doing is adding a DVD player as another input source. In theory this might work, but since the copy protection scheme implemented in DVD players prevents, in most cases, feeding a signal through a VCR, you have to come up with another solution. 

The solution is to buy a RF modulator box at Wal-Mart or Radio Shack for $20 and connect your DVD player up to it's composite video and audio jacks. The RF modulator box has a RF coaxial cable connection to hookup to your TV.

Why does the TV picture not become distorted when the DVD player is connected directly to the TV?

Good question! If the DVD player sends out signals which causes a VCR to get fouled up, then why do you get a perfectly good picture on the TV when the DVD player is connected directly to the TV and not through a VCR? The simple answer is that Televisions do not have exactly the same electronic circuits in them that VCRs do (i.e. do not have automatic gain control AGC circuitry). As a result, your TV can display the DVD picture and sound as originally intended. After all, the movie studios want you to be able to enjoy your DVD movie without any picture distortion if you are viewing it with no intention to copy the content.

The Basics of TV Inputs

On some TV's, the only input is an antenna jack, a small silver jack, usually labeled "RF", "VHF", or "ANT" which is designed to take the plug from the cable which comes from a radio-frequency source (usually broadcast television) such as a TV antenna, the output from a cable TV box, or the RF output from a VCR.

Keep in mind that, with an RF signal, the video (picture) and audio (sound) information are all combined on the single cable. It's becoming less and less frequent that you find TV's with RF-input only. There are almost no new TV's above the 20-inch screen size (or even below it, in most cases) which only have an RF input. With some very rare, and usually extremely inexpensive, exceptions, the TV's now on the market will at least also have a composite video input jack.

The composite-video input is an RCA jack (the type used, for example, to connect the input from your turntable to your stereo). Almost without exception, the composite-video RCA jack is yellow and it is typically labeled "video," "video in," or "A/V." As this type of input carries video only, it will always have next to it an audio input. 

With a mono TV, there will be a single white RCA jack, usually labeled "audio" or "audio in," which takes the audio, while on a stereo TV there will be a pair of RCA jacks, the left-channel, "audio left" jack being white and the right-channel, "audio right" jack being red. Partly because the combination of the composite-video input jack and the analog (mono or stereo) audio input jack(s) carry the picture and sound on separate lines, this means of connection provides better quality than the RF jack, on which everything is mixed together.

As long as your TV at least has the composite-video and analog-audio jack set, you'll be all set for connecting a DVD player to the TV. Even the least-expensive DVD player will have a composite-video output and stereo analog audio outputs (with a mono TV, you could use a $3.00 "Y" adaptor to connect the two RCA audio output jacks on the DVD player to the TV's single audio input jack).

On a tiny minority of current sets, and more frequently on older, less-expensive TV's, you'll find a model which only has an RF jack for input. 

With each passing year, it's less and less likely that any particular TV will have RF input only. However, if that's the case for your set, you'll have to deal with it if you want to connect a DVD player. Unfortunately, the problems and compromises inherent in connecting a DVD player to a set which only has RF input make it a very attractive option to replace your older set with a new model, as long as you can afford it.

Actually, if your budget is so tight that you're stuck with a set that only has RF input, you might want to consider how badly you really need a DVD player. 

DVD's create a finer screen image and they have extra features, like actor bios and commentary tracks. Also, a DVD player allows you to connect to an A/V surround-sound receiver, thus enjoying, in your home, a soundtrack which is similar, in configuration, to that in a movie theater.

Unfortunately, a surround-sound receiver, and the set of six speakers needed to fully take advantage of its output, will set you back at least $300 ( a high-quality surround-sound setup will cost at least $450, independent of the cost of the DVD player itself).

However, DVD players, as previously mentioned, also have regular analog stereo audio output, so, if you've already got a stereo receiver and speakers, you can use those to play your audio at high volume levels, although movie and TV soundtracks don't provide very accurate imaging through a pair of stereo speakers, unless the speakers are much closer together than they typically will be in a home stereo setup. On a newly-purchased VCR, you can get stereo sound for ten bucks more than a similar mono model would cost. Stereo VCR's often sell for as little as $50.

But let's say you have a TV with RF input only and you still want to get a DVD player. What are your options? For about $25, you can get an adaptor, from Radio Shack or Recoton, which will take the composite video and analog audio output from a DVD player and convert these inputs to a single RF output which you can then feed into your old TV.

If the output of an RF adaptor (i.e., modulator) matches the quality of a broadcast RF signal, it would have a resolution of 330-interlaced, or 330i. A VHS VCR has a resolution of 250i, so the result from the DVD playing through an RF adaptor would be improved over the VHS resolution. On the other hand, the RF adaptor wouldn't give an image as good as you'd get with a DVD player directly connected to a TV, which is 480i.

Clever attempts to route DVD players through video inputs on VCR's will not be effective. The copy protection system on many discs confuses most VCR's and will severely degrade the picture. This statement is true in most, but not all, cases.

Basic Facts of RF Adaptors

There's nothing inherently wrong with an RF adaptor, as long as it's of good quality. In fact, if you run the output of a DVD player into the A/V (composite-video, analog L/R audio) jacks of your VCR, and then run the RF output of the VCR into your older, RF-input-only TV, you'll be doing the same thing as if you ran the DVD output into an RF adaptor -- lumping the audio and video together and changing them from their original formats to a single RF (radio frequency) output. Whether you used an adaptor or the RF output from your VCR, you'd set the TV to channel 3 or channel 4 (whichever was unused in your area) and your TV would receive, and display, the video and audio from the RF input.

It's quite possible to connect a DVD player to a TV through a VCR.
However, most DVD players have copy-protection circuitry built-in. This circuitry will cause image degradation in 95% of consumer VCR's:

Some problems the copy protection creates include colored stripes, distortion, rolling, and the picture displaying in black & white.

One way around the problem of connecting a DVD player to a VCR is to use an RF modulator. These are made by companies such as Recoton and Radio Shack and sell for about $25. One example is the Radio Shack 15-1244 RF modulator  which includes a composite-video (RCA) input jack plus left and right stereo audio input jacks (RCA). Using one of these modulators won't let you get as sharp an image as you'd get directly connecting a DVD player to the TV's composite, S-Video, or component-video input, but it will provide a sharper picture than you would get with VHS tape.

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