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Tech Answers: How to Install an RCA Converter Box to a TV

Updated on April 22, 2013
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Even in a good economy you should recycle where you can. TV’s are expensive and you never want to throw a working one away. Older technology can run into problems with dealing with the new digital world. In the US it has already happened, but in many more locations over the air broadcasts are being transitioned from analog to digital signals which older TV’s just can’t understand. That’s where a digital converter box comes in.

Here's what a broadcast might look like.  Analog in Grey, Digital in Red
Here's what a broadcast might look like. Analog in Grey, Digital in Red | Source

Why Won’t My TV Understand the New Signal?

The difference is in how the signal is sent through the air. An analog signal is a series of waves that are broadcast through the air. These waves carry different information based on the height and frequency of the wave and can be measured with different variation. Think of a digital signal that's broadcast as something similar, but as digital stairs rather than a wave. The signal doesn’t go up by small amounts; it makes jumps from one level to another without any gradual change. With a digital signal information can be compressed to a higher degree then analog, allowing the space formally held by uncompressed analog to be used for other things like increasing the speed of a cellular network by letting towers transmit within that frequency band.

TIP: Color Code Everything

Getting your cables mixed up? Take some different color tape and mark your connecters. Whether it be just different types of tape, different flavors of electrical tape, or masking tape marked with a crayon, you can cut pieces and stick them to the different devices you have, and mark the cables in the same way. Doing this lets you verify your connections at a quick glance instead of needing to pull everything out just so you can confirm you plugged the cable where you meant to rather than the similar connector right next to it.

Still Looking for Your Converter Box?

OK, Let's Get This Box Hooked Up

The process of hooking up an RCA converter box to a TV is rather simple once you get the hang of it. In fact, the video included in this hub from RCA will give you a great head start. Your converter box is the middleman between your antenna and your TV. If you’re hooking up a VCR too, then you need to hook them up one after the other in a series or what’s known as a ‘Daisy Chain’.

The start of the chain is always your source, which in this case is your antenna, and the end of the chain is always the TV. While not necessary for simply watching movies, your VCR should always be in the chain after your converter box in case you ever want to record live TV. So in this example your antenna will always hook to your converter box, and your VCR will connect from the converter box to the TV. It might make it easier to visualize it this way:

  1. Antenna
  2. Converter Box
  3. VCR
  4. TV

The signal always goes out from the point higher up on the chain to the point lower position on the chain. In this example, the cable that connects the VCR to the TV will go from the ‘out’ port on the VCR and the ‘in’ port on the TV.

In order to keep it as simple as possible, use a coaxial cable wherever possible for everything but the TV. Personally I'd use a coaxial cable for everything if you can, but sometimes TV's require a different connection.

All in all, it’s not all that difficult if you stay organized. If you know what cable goes where beforehand you can set this up in moments and have that old TV in the garage up and running again.

An RCA Official Video

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