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, analog TVs can no longer be used. 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 transmissions 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. However, as of September 1, 2015, these should have also been discontinued, unless special permission to continue was given to a specific station licensee by the FCC.

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.

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 older TVs to still be used. The DTV converter box is placed between the antenna and the TV and converts in incoming DTV/HDTV signal to an analog TV signal that is 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/satellite service, and the cable/satellite 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 cable/satellite services no longer provide analog TV signal output via this connection option. This means that 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, 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.
  • You may 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. This option allows access to streaming services, such as Netflix, Vudu, and Hulu on your old analog TV.

With all the above options, keep in mind that 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

Another thing to point out is that until 2007, even HDTVs were not required to have digital or HD tuners. In other words, if you have an early HDTV, it may only have an 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 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 make a second connection for Audio. These connection options can be used with compatible OTA HD-DVRs or HD cable/satellite boxes for receiving HD 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.

HDTVs and Ultra HD TVs definitely 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 really suitable as your main TV (especially in a home theater setup), an analog TV may be perfectly suitable as a second, or a third TV.

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