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The right way to hook up your VCR

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

The right way to hook up your VCR

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1993, The Syracuse Newspapers

The hit parade for downloads is always topped by my articles on adjusting your TV for the best picture. But few readers have ever asked for one column I think could be just as helpful.

That's because many readers probably don't know what they're missing. I mean that literally.

What they're not seeing is a really good picture on their TV when they play a tape on a videocassette recorder. I wrote about a simple way to achieve a big improvement some time back. Based on all the VCR hookups I've seen over the last decade, I'd guess that 60 percent of you aren't getting what you paid for.

All that's needed is a different connection between the VCR and the TV, if—and it's a big if —your TV has the right connector. Most mid-size and larger sets these days do have it. Your video recorder may even have come with the right cable. If it didn't, you can buy one for a couple of dollars.

Thje problem with VCR hookups comes from the fact that the video recorder must be plugged in between the cable feed or the antenna and the television set if you are going to be able to record anything. In other words, the VCR has to get the signal first.

The cable feed uses a standard, so-called coaxial cable, and the place where the antenna hooks up just has two screw-on or clip-on connectors. Most VCR manufacturers try to make things easy by giving you a little adaptor that lets you run your antenna connection into the cable input.

So if that's how the signal goes into the VCR, it seems natural to assume that that's how it should go out, on the way to the TV. After all, the TV has a cable hookup, too.

But that's the worst way to do it. Here's why.

When the TV or cable signal comes into the VCR, it's not a viewable TV signal. It has to be decoded (demodulated, in tech talk) into the proper video and audio components. The VCR handles this fine. Video recordings these days are often spectacular.

When you play the tape back, the VCR has a choice. It can send the video and audio signals straight into the TV, or it can turn them back (remodulate them) into the kind of signal it received in the first place. If you hook that coaxial cable into the back of the VCR and attach it to your TV, that's just what happens.

The signal is reshaped back into TV broadcast form, and it travels a few feet into your TV, where it is again broken down into video and audio.

Was that trip necessary? not at all. The other VCR connection bypasses this second conversion process, so the picture is clearer and brighter.

Nearly every serious TV set these days has that other connection. It's called the "video input," and, of course, the connector on the VCR is called the "video output." At both the TV and the VCR, the connector is a small round jack with a tiny opening, called an RCA jack. (RCA invented it in the early part of the century.) Many VCRs actually have at least three RCA jacks, and three are also likely to be found on more expensive TVs. The other two are for the left and right audio signals.

To connect the VCR to the TV through the RCA jacks, you need a special video cable. It's thicker than typical audio RCA cables, and handles the video signal properly. (An audio cable can cut the picture quality.) If you got a thicker-than-normal RCA cable with your VCR, you have what you need.

Otherwise, check Radio Shack or any other electronics store for a video cable with RCA jacks on each end. If your VCR and TV also have left and right audio jacks, pick up a pair of audio cables, too. But check that box where you keep your odds and ends first; you may already have a spare set that came with your stereo system.

Plug everything in and set your TV controls to either "video" or "monitor" or something similar, and you're all set.

I'll bet your TV shows a better picture when you play a tape. But if it doesn't, maybe you'd better download that "How to Adjust Your TV" column after all.

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