Red Plug, Blue Plug, Old Plug, New Plug: Hooking up Audio/Video Part 1

Putting a man on the moon is Rocket Science. Hooking up your TV to your cable box isn’t… or at least it shouldn’t be. Audio/Video gear is actually a little more complicated than computers to hook up, because a lot of the connectors can be physically interchanged. Keep these basic principles in mind:

  • The picture of the back of a TV that’s in your DVD player’s instructions will not look like the back of any actual TV, especially yours. It’s best to have the manuals for all your components available, and use the actual back panel layouts in each manual.
  • When following a hookup diagram in any manual, the position of each plug is less important than the color of each plug. Colors must always match on both ends. This applies mostly to RCA style plugs; the others are a little more self-evident.
  • Always keep in mind the direction of signal flow; from the output to the input.
  • TVs, receivers, and home theater systems have mostly inputs (they get a signal from somewhere else). but they often have one or two outputs as well, hopefully in a separate section.
  • DVD (Including Blu-Ray) and CD players have outputs only, while DVD and CD recorders, tape recorders, and VCRs have inputs and outputs. Cable and satellite boxes have outputs, and inputs for the incoming signal, but they often have auxiliary inputs as well.
  • Use the shortest cables you can. Shorter cables improve signal transfer. Extremely long cables (Longer than 25 feet) may completely absorb the signal before it gets where it’s going. If you need to make a very long run of an RCA type cable, use TV coax instead and get adapters for the ends to make it fit the RCA jacks. This works well at least up to 100 feet.
  • Test your hookup as you go and make sure it works the way you expect before moving on to the next item.
  • Whatever type of hookup you choose, you only need one video and one audio hookup per component. For example, you don’t need a Composite and an HDMI cable to hook up the DVD player, even though the manual may show both for the sake of illustration. The same goes for audio. Use either analog stereo or digital (optical or coaxial), not both.
  • When hooking up a TV, unless you’re using an HDMI cable, don’t forget to hook up the audio to the audio jacks that correlate to the video input you’re using.
  • There are usually several different correct ways to hook up audio and video gear. Not only do you often get a choice of connection types, you also can hook up DVD (or other video component) audio to either your TV or your stereo, or both. Some choices depend only on your personal preference.
Simple Cable Box Hookup. The Cable Box can also be hooked up to the TV using Composite, Component, or HDMI/DVI cables.

Simple Cable Box Hookup. The Cable Box can also be hooked up to the TV using Composite, Component, or HDMI/DVI cables.

Let’s start by hooking up the TV, since it’s usually the centerpiece of the system. Cable and satellite boxes both hook up the same way. Plug the cable coming out of the wall into the in from cable or in from satellite jack. (They may be labeled slightly differently.) There are usually several ways you can then hook the cable box to the TV. The general rule is to use the highest quality connection type available. From highest to lowest quality, they are HDMI or DVI (digital; not common on TVs), Component video, S-Video, Composite video, and Coax, all analog.

The easiest way to hook up an HDTV to the cable or satellite box is with an HDMI cable. This is also the highest quality and most expensive way. Unless your cable or satellite box is high definition, this connection may not be available to you. In this case, go down the above list until you find a connection that is present on both components. If you use any connection other than HDMI, you also need to hook up audio with a separate cable. The choices here are only two: analog stereo or digital, either digital coaxial (identified by a single orange RCA plug), or digital optical (the only cable type that has no metal contacts on the ends). Make sure that you plug the audio cables into the set of jacks that correlate to the video input you chose. Remember, go from the output on the cable or satellite box to the input on the TV.

Next time: Connecting all that other stuff to your TV

This post has been adapted from my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now! Click here to read all about it.

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