Well I took the plunge when I got a hard drive/DVD recorder, and figured out how to hook it up myself. It's not that difficult once you've got the underlying logic. So here's my take on how to connect AV boxes - Freeview set top box, DVD player or recorder etc - very basic and conceptual, as that's the only way I know how to look at things, but hopefully it will demystify things a bit for some. (This is with a British/European bias naturally).
AV signalsThere are several possible types of signals. In decreasing order of quality: RGB or component video (roughly equal); S-Video (not the same as S-VHS) and composite video. Obviously, try to use RGB or component video if you can. RGB is the most commonly supported high quality signal.
To use a particular signal type: box A has to be able to output that signal type, box B has to be able to receive that signal type, the cable you use has to be able to carry it, AND the sockets you connect that cable to may have to be set (in the box's menu options) to output that type on box A, and to receive that type on box B.
Cables and sockets/connectorsIn Europe (including the UK) Scart sockets/cables (also known as euroconnectors) are the most common and easiest to use, and usually carry RGB signals. (For component video and composite video etc, other types of connectors are used, usually involving multiple cables). Generally, as you'd expect, the better (and more expensive) the scart cable, the better picture/sound you'll get.
Scart leads are usually NOT included with your box, most manufacturers are too stingy to give you one even with your several hundreds of pounds' worth of gear. So get one in advance if you can't wait to hook it all up once you get your shiny new box home.
On some boxes, certain sockets do double duty - they can act as outputs or inputs depending on what you connect them to and how, and on the menu settings. It may be obvious but worth emphasising that if one end of a cable is connected to an output (with that socket being set to be an output if necessary), the other end should be connected to an input (with that socket being set to be an input.)
Sockets on boxes or your TV will often be labelled AV1, AV2 etc (sometimes the labelling is annoyingly not shown on the box or TV, but it should be clear from the manual which socket of a particular box is considered "AV1" and which is "AV2" etc). The labelling AV1, Av2 etc is just a way to distinguish between different sockets on the same box - it can be other types of sockets too, not just scart sockets, which are labelled AV something. There's no magic in the numbering - AV1 could be an output on one box, but an input on another; AV1 could be a scart socket, AV3 composite video etc - you just have to check the manual to find out if AV1 on a particular box is an output or an input, what types of signals it can carry, and how to set it up in the menu if necessary to make it an output or input (as needed) and to make it output or receive the kind of signal, e.g. RGB, that you want (which should be the same at both ends!). By the way, on your TV remote control if you keep pressing the "AV" button it will just cycle through, displaying on your TV in turn the signals that come from the the TV aerial, then from the boxes connected to whatever is designated as AV1 on your TV, then whatever is AV2 for the TV, etc.
At the risk of stating the obvious, if a box is going to output AV signals to be shown on the TV, like a VCR or DVD player, then a cable should go from the OUT of the box to the IN of the TV; if a box needs to receive AV signals, like a VCR or DVD/hard drive recorder recording digital terrestrial TV from a Freeview box, then a cable should go from the OUT of the Freeview box to the IN of the DVD/hard driver recorder or VCR.
Not all scart leads are equal. Some scart leads are "fully wired" or "fully featured", and are more expensive. You need fully wired scart leads for some things. Mainly, some boxes can do fancy stuff like automatically turn your TV on for you when you turn on the box. For this to work, you have to connect the box to the TV with a fully wired scart lead. Also, TVs often have only one or two sockets that this works on - if you connect a fully wired scart lead to the wrong socket, it won't work, so check your TV manual to figure out which socket to connect it to, if you want this feature.
AerialMost boxes need to be connected to your aerial, e.g. if you want to record to a DVD recorder while your TV is off. Most manufacturers will give you a spare aerial cable with your new box (no doubt they're cheaper than scart leads!).
The basic way is to connect the cable from your rooftop aerial to the Aerial In (also called RF In) of box A, connect the Aerial Out or RF Out of box A to box B's RF In (using the cable that came wth the box), and so on in a chain, until finally the RF Out from the last box goes to the Aerial In of your TV. That's all - you just have to remember it's always Out to In, and the last thing in the chain has to be the TV. (If you don't have any scart connectors or cables, for many boxes it will still work if you just connect the aerial cables between all the boxes as mentioned, without any scart leads - the signal just won't be as good. See further this webpage if you have no scart input or output connectors or leads.)
So a typical setup might be:
Freeview box - scart out to TV; another scart out from Freeview box to DVD recorder; RF IN from rooftop aerial; RF out to DVD's RF in
DVD recorder - scart out to TV; scart in from Freeview box; RF in from Freeview box's own RF out; RF out to TV
Switch on the power last to the boxes, only after you've connected everything.
My final suggestion is that you label cables at each end (I just use paper and sellotape!) to say e.g. "DVD out to TV" at one end and "TV in to DVD out" at the other. It will make life a lot easier when you upgrade or get new gear - it certainly enabled me to get it all working in less than 3 minutes when I upgraded my DVD/hard drive recorder recently.
And remember - you have to set the timer on your Freeview box separately as well as programming your VCR or your digital video recorder (unless the recorder has been set to record automatically on detecting a signal from the Freeview box, which you can do - check your recorder's manual - I don't, personally).
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