Can You Still Use an Analog TV?

If you have an old analog TV - check out some tips to keep it useful

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

Analog TV Broadcasting - A Quick Refresher

Analog TVs were designed to receive and display broadcast TV signals transmitted in a similar manner used for AM/FM radio transmissions. The video was transmitted in AM, while audio was 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. Analog broadcasts were also severely limited in terms of video resolution and color range.

Full power analog TV broadcasts officially ended on June 12, 2009. There may be cases were low-power, analog TV broadcasts could still be available in some communities. These should have also been discontinued as of September 1, 2015, unless the FCC granted special permission to a specific station licensee.

With the transition from analog to digital TV broadcasting, to continue receiving TV broadcasts, consumers either have to purchase a new TV or implement a workaround to continue using an analog TV.workaround to continue using an analog TV.

Illustration of a person struggling to find a channel with rabbit ears antenna on the TV
Lifewire / Derek Abella

The transition not only affected analog TVs but VCRs and pre-2009 DVD recorders that had built-in tuners designed to receive programming via an over-the-air antenna. Cable or satellite TV subscribers may, or may not, be affected (more on this below).

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 with one of the following options:

  • If you receive TV programming via antenna, external DTV converter boxes are available that enable using older TVs. Placing the DTV converter box between the antenna and the TV converts incoming DTV/HDTV signals to signals compatible with any analog TV. You won't get any of the increased resolutions 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.
  • If you subscribe to a cable or satellite service, and the box provides an analog RF output with supporting analog signal service, you may be able to access programming. However, if you have been receiving basic cable without a box using a "cable-ready" analog TV, many services no longer provide analog TV signal output via this connection option. Even if your old analog TV is "cable-ready," you may now be required to rent a box from your provider that will covert digital cable signals back to analog. Contact your cable service or satellite provider for more details.
  • 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 connect an external DTV converter box 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 as well as DVD recorders that do not include a built-in tuner. In these cases, you must connect the VCR or DVD recorder to an external DTV converter box or cable/satellite box to receive TV programming for recording purposes. However, there are some additional restrictions.
  • You might 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. One example is the Roku Express Plus, which allows access to streaming services such as Netflix, Vudu, and Hulu on your old analog TV.

An analog TV can only display images in standard definition resolution (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.

Additional Note For Owners Of Pre-2007 HDTVs

Until 2007, HDTVs were not required to have digital or HD tuners. An old HDTV might only have an analog TV tuner. In that case, the above connection options will also work. A standard definition signal will depend on the TV's upscaling capability to provide a better quality image for viewing.

Also, an older HDTV may have DVI inputs instead of HDMI inputs for accessing HD resolution signals. If so, you will have to use an HDMI-to-DVI converter cable as well as a second connection for Audio. You can use these connection options with compatible OTA HD-DVRs or HD cable/satellite boxes for receiving HDTV programming.

The Bottom Line

HDTVs and Ultra HD TVs provide a much better TV viewing experience, but if you have an analog TV, you may still be able to use it in the digital age. Although not desirable as a primary television (especially in a home theater setup), an analog TV could be suitable as a second or a third TV.

As years pass and the last analog TVs are finally disposed of (hopefully recycled), the analog-or-digital TV issue will be put to rest.