How Do I Hookup a DVD Recorder to a TV/Home Theater System?

Record your TV programs on DVD and watch them on TV

Magnavox MDR557H DVD/Hard Drive Recorder
Image Courtesy of Amazon

Although DVD recorders are getting harder to find, there are still some available, and there are definitely many in use. Depending on your TV, and the rest of your home theater setup determines what connection options you may be able to use.

A DVD recorder can hook up to any TV that has at least a set of AV inputs.

If your TV does not have AV inputs, and your DVD recorder has an RF output, you can connect it to the antenna/cable input of your TV but there is a catch.

Although some DVD recorders have an RF in-and-out connections to the TV, they are usually passive (you might see the label RF or Antenna Pass-Through). This means it will not pass DVD signals to the TV through that connection. Also, some DVD recorders don't provide RF connections, as they may not have built-in tuners.

DVD Recorder – Passive RF Loop-Through
Robert Silva for Lifewire

If your DVD recorder does not have an RF (aka antenna/cable) output, but you want to connect it to the RF input on your TV, you will need an RF modulator to provide a connection bridge between your DVD recorder and TV in a similar fashion that you use to connect a DVD player to a TV that doesn't have AV inputs.
However, most TVs have a variety of inputs for connecting devices, such as a DVD recorder. You can choose from composite, S-video (very rare), component, or HDMI.

HDMI and Analog AV TV Input Connections
Robert Silva for Lifewire

Don't Use The Same Signal Path To Connect a VCR and DVD Recorder to a TV

If you have both a VCR and DVD recorder, they should be hooked up to separate inputs on the TV.

This is to avoid the effects copy-protection. Even if you are not recording, when you play a commercial DVD on your DVD recorder and the signal has to go through your VCR to get to the TV, the VCR will detect the anti-copy signal and interfere with correct DVD playback.

Copy-protection also has the same effect when a VCR is connected to your DVD recorder before the signal reaches the TV, as a commercial VHS tape with anti-copy encoding will cause the DVD recorder to interfere with the VHS playback signal.

Copy-protection signals are not present on tapes or DVDs your make yourself.

If your TV only has one set of AV input connections, you can either hook up the output of your VCR to the TV's RF input and the DVD recorder to the single set of AV inputs OR get an AV switcher to place between the VCR and DVD recorder and TV.

When using an AV switcher, you would connect the VCR and DVD recorder to separate inputs on the switcher and then connect the output of the AV switcher to the TV. You would then select the input on the switcher to view the VCR or DVD recorder on your TV.

If your DVD recorder, VCR, or TV does not have a digital tuner, there are additional setup requirements for receiving TV programs for viewing or recording.

Connecting a DVD Recorder to a TV Through a Home Theater Receiver

When connecting a DVD recorder to home theater receiver, you can connect it just as you would a VCR – through a VCR1 or VCR2 loop (if your receiver provides this option). However, you can connect it to any available compatible video input that this not being used for another component (don't worry if it has a label for a different device).

You also have the additional option of either connecting the analog audio output, or either the digital coaxial or digital optical output of the DVD recorder to the corresponding digital audio inputs available on the AV receiver.

Onkyo TX-NR787 Analog and Digital AV Inputs Only Example
onkyo

Another option is to connect the DVD recorder to the AV receiver using HDMI if both the DVD recorder and AV receiver have this connection option.

Onkyo TX-NR787 HDMI Inputs Only Example
onkyo

To complete the signal path, connect the monitor or video output (preferably the component or HDMI output) of the AV receiver to the TV to supply the video part of the feed.

In this type of hookup, you have access to all the surround sound functions of DVD playback (of commercial DVDs) through your home theater receiver and speakers, while sending the video signal to the TV.

The Bottom Line

Before the days of HD and 4K Ultra HD TVs and home theater receivers, connecting devices like a VCR or DVD recorder to a TV was pretty straight forward. However, now there are several options available, depending on what connection options are provided on both your DVD recorder, TV, and/or home theater receiver.