Can You Still Use An Analog TV?

Man Trying To Watch Analog TVs
Man Trying To Watch Analog TVs. Getty Images - xavierarnau - Vetta Collection

Many consumers are under the impression that since the analog to DTV Transition took place in 2009, that analog TVs can no longer be used. However, that is not necessarily the case.

Analog TV Broadcasting - A Quick refresher

Analog TV refers to a device that receives and displays broadcast TV signals that are transmitted in a similar use used in AM/FM radio transmissions. In analog TV broadcasts, video is transmitted in AM, while audio is transmitted in FM.

Analog TV transmissions were subject to interference, such as ghosting and snow, depending on the distance and geographical location of the TV receiving the signal. Also, analog TV transmissions were severely limited in terms of video resolution and color depth.

Full power analog TV broadcasts officially ended on June 12, 2009. There are some special conditions were low-power, TV broadcasts may still be available in some communities, but, for the most part, as of September 1, 2015, these should have also been discontinued, unless special permission has been given to a specific station licensee by the FCC to allow them to continue.

With the transition from Analog to Digital TV broadcasting, in order to continue to receive TV broadcasts, consumers either have to purchase a new TV, or implement one of the workarounds discussed below, in order to continue using an analog TV.

Although HDTVs and Ultra HD TVs provide a much better TV viewing experience, if you still have analog TV, you still may be able to use it in the "digital age".

It is also important to note that the transition from analog to DTV/HDTV not only affected analog Televisions, but VCRs and pre-2009 DVD recorders that had built-in tuners that are designed to receive programming via an over-the-air antenna. Also, if you subscribe to a cable or satellite TV service, you may, or may not be affected.

Ways To Connect an Analog TV in Today's Digital World

If you still have an analog TV and are currently not using it, you can breathe new life into it by employing one of the following options:

  •  If you receive your television programming via antenna, external DTV converter boxes are available that enable older TVs to still be used. The DTV converter box is placed between the antenna and the TV and simply converts in incoming DTV/HDTV signal to an Analog TV signal that can be hooked up to any TV. Of course, you won't get any of the increased resolution of DTV or HDTV and all widescreen programming will show up as letterboxed (black bars on the to top and bottom of the image) on your analog set. However, the DTV converter box does extend the usefulness of an older, but still perfectly functioning TV.
  • If you subscribe to a cable/satellite service, and the cable/satellite box that provides an analog RF output with supporting analog signal service, you may be able to use this option to gain access to TV programming. However, you may need to contact your local cable service or satellite provider for more details, as many cable/satellite services no longer provide analog TV signal output via this connection option.
  • On the other hand, if the analog TV also includes, in addition to an antenna/cable connection, a set(s) of RCA style AV inputs (red, white, and yellow), you can either connect an external DTV converter box that also has that connection option, or a cable/satellite box that has that connection option.
  • The DTV Transition also affects VCRs and DVD recorders (DVD recorders made before 2009) that may have a built-in tuner to receive programming via an over-the-air antenna. Also, most DVD recorders that are currently available do not include a built-in tuner. In these cases, the VCR and/or DVD recorder needs to be connected to an external DTV converter box or cable/satellite box in order to receive TV programming for recording purposes. However, there are some extra restrictions.
  • In addition, you may even be able to connect some media streamers to an analog TV that has a set of AV inputs, provided the media streamer has a set of analog AV outputs. This is rare, but one example is the Roku Express Plus. By taking advantage of this option, you can watch services, such as Netflix, Vudu, and Hulu on your old analog TV.

Additional Factors To Consider

Keep in mind that with all the above connection options, your old analog TV can only display images in standard definition (480i) - so even if the program source is originally in HD or 4K Ultra HD, you will only see it as a standard resolution image.

On the positive side, if your old analog TV still works (especially Sony Trinitron/WEGA, Panasonic Panablack, and Samsung Dynaflat TVs that may have analog tuners), you can still use it - in fact, even if you have a new large screen HD or 4K Ultra HD TV in your main viewing room, your old analog TV may be just fine for a second room, garage, or office.

Additional Note For Owners Of Pre-2007 HDTVs

Another thing to point out is that until 2007, even HDTVs were not required to have digital or HD tuners. In other words, you may fall into that category of consumer that may have early HDTV, but it may only have analog TV tuner. In that case, the above connection options will also work, but since you are inputting a standard definition signal, you will have to depend on your TV's upscaling capability (if any) to provide a better quality image for viewing.

Also, an old HDTV may have DVI inputs, instead of HDMI inputs for accessing HD resolution signals.

If so, then you will have to use an HDMI-to-DVI converter cable, as well as make a second connection for Audio. These connection options can be used with compatible OTA HD-DVRs or HD cable/satellite boxes for receiving TV programming.

The Bottom Line

If you have an older analog TV that is still working, you may still be able to use it, keeping mind its more limited capabilities and need for an add-on DTV converter box for receiving TV programming.

Although not really suitable as your main TV (especially in a home theater setup), an analog TV may be perfectly suitable as second, or third TV.

However, as time goes on, and the last analog TVs are finally disposed (hopefully recycled) the analog-or-digital TV issue will be put to rest.