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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 by 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:

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:

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:

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.

Your comments: most recent posts are at the bottom

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Wednesday 25 June 2014 9:43PM

jb38: Great - I could only find what seems to be the US version, which of course has no scarts..

Lorraine Copley
Thursday 26 June 2014 12:19PM

Hi MikeB, thank you so much for your quick reply. The DVD is actually a R120E model which is different to the R120 manual that you refer to and does have 2 scart connections and as I said "The satellite dish is connected directly into the Grundig Digibox and I believe that the Scart lead should be connected to the TV from the DVD and then a second scart from the DVD to the Grundig Digibox I will try and work through what you have said and see what happens.

Thanks also to jb38 for your reply. fingers crossed

lorraine copley
Tuesday 1 July 2014 12:06PM

OK I have tried it all again and have still no success - the only thing I have noticed is that the DVD instructions say that the aerial/satellite cable should be connected to the dvd recorder - but this is not possible as the satellite connection is not the same as the rear of the dvd unit - do I have to have another aerial connection from the tv to the dvd recorder??

Tuesday 1 July 2014 6:37PM

lorraine copley: The instructions given to you by MikeB were purely in relation to you recording (or playing back) programmes recorded from your Grundig "satellite" box, therefore the aerial referred to in the R120's instruction manual does not come into the equation, likewise should be ignored.

Tuesday 1 July 2014 9:27PM

lorraine copley : In addition to that said, the reason for me having said to ignore any references made to the aerial sockets on the R120E is simply because that they are in effect redundant, this being due to the fact that the device in question is only capable of analogue reception and not digital, analogue being a mode of transmission that ceased in more recent times.

Should you have a normal aerial? then it should be connected directly into the TV.

Friday 11 July 2014 5:53AM

Good morning . How. DVI OR VGA cable is attached with monitor and set top box .
Thank you

Friday 11 July 2014 1:58PM

shivinder : You really cant, at least not in a way which makes sense for you. If your Freeview box had hdmi, you can get a convertor for DVI to HDMI, and use the left/right audio outputs to speakers, but VGA to scart is a bit of a nightmare - it can be done, but dont bother. If both had HDMI, then life would be easy.

Frankly, you have three choices:

1) Use the PC to stream

2) Buy a TV tuner card/usb thingy - a little over a tenner in theory.

3) Buy a proper TV. When customers ask me if they can use a monitor as a TV and visa versa, I point out that we dont sit 10 feet from our PC, or that we word-process on our TV.

Sunday 24 August 2014 10:34AM Croydon

hi just bought a smart tv samsung, it links fine to the internet and Sky - no problem there. However, trying to receive freeview channels only without using my sky box. it just has a black screen and states poor or no signal. I called samsung customer support (!) they explained that I need an air to tv aerial.
please can you help?

Neil Bell
Sunday 24 August 2014 5:38PM

Ann You need an aerial to plug in to your TV. if you don't already have one you might get away with a set top aerial as you live fairly close to Crystal Palace. Otherwise check with your neighbours as to what they use. Next up would be a loft aerial and then a rooftop aerial. Neil

Sunday 24 August 2014 8:56PM

ann :

Having worked in that area I would expect the reception from Crystal Palace in your part of Waddon should be reasonable but you may find that the traffic on Stafford Road may make reception using a 'set top' aerial somewhat variable.

I would suggest having an aerial installed, preferably of the log-periodic type - a good aerial installer will know what that means - as that will be suitable for the foreseeable future services.

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