The RF Modulator - DVD Player Connection Option

What an RF modulator is and why you might need one

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Dynex RF Modulator. Image provided by Dynex

DVD is a consumer electronics success story. It has served as the catalyst for the acceptance of home theater, boosting the sales of TVs, surround sound receivers, home theater speaker systems, and also paved the way for Blu-ray, which, in turn, led to the introduction of Ultra HD Blu-ray.

DVD Players and Old Analog TVs

Although DVD players are designed to be used in a variety of setups, and, depending on the brand and model offer a plentiful variety of video (composite, s-video, component, HDMI) and audio (analog, digital optical/coaxial) outputs, manufacturers didn't account for the demand for players to still be able to connect to a standard cable or antenna input on older analog TVs that may not have additional audio/video inputs.

Don't Connect a DVD to an Analog TV Through a VCR

Many consumers have tried to connect their DVD player to a VCR and then use the VCR to pass the signal to an analog TV, but have experienced very poor picture quality and image stability. The reason that a DVD player cannot be connected to a TV in this fashion is that DVDs are encoded with anti-copy technology that interferes with the VCR's circuitry, preventing users from using a VCR as a "conduit" for passing DVD signals to the TV. Anti-copy technology is also why you cannot make a copy of a DVD onto a VHS tape or other DVD successfully.

How can you connect a DVD player to your TV, if your TV doesn't have the type of AV inputs that are compatible with the DVD player? Secondly, how can you connect both your VCR and DVD player your TV at the same time if your TV only has one cable or antenna input?

The RF Modulator Solution

The answer to the above questions is a little black box that has been around for years called an RF modulator (Radio Frequency Modulator).

The function of an RF modulator is simple. The RF modulator converts the video (and/or audio) output of a DVD player (or camcorder or video game) into a channel 3/4 signal that is compatible with a TV's cable or antenna input.

There are many RF modulators available, but all function in a similar fashion.

The main feature of an RF modulator that makes it perfectly suited for use with DVD is the capacity for it to accept the standard audio/video outputs of a DVD player and the cable input (even passed through a VCR) simultaneously.

Setting Up An RF modulator Is Fairly Straightforward

  • First: Just plug your cable/VCR output into its cable input connection of the RF modulator and the DVD player into the RF modulator's AV input connections.
  • Second: Connect a standard cable from the RF modulator to your TV.
  • Third: Select either the channel 3 or 4 output on the back of the RF modulator.
  • Fourth: Turn the TV on and the RF modulator will automatically detect your cable input for the TV. When you want to watch your DVD player, just put the TV on channel 3 or 4, turn the DVD on and the RF modulator will automatically detect the DVD player and will display your movie.

Although there are minor differences between various brands and models of RF Modulators the set up is basically as outlined above.

In addition to DVD players, you can also use an RF modulator to connect other video source devices to an older analog TV that does not have AV inputs, such as DVD recorders, game consoles, media streamers, and camcorders, as long as those devices have standard AV output connections.

RF modulators do not work with component video or HDMI connections.

Additional Considerations

If you don't have a stereo system, sound bar, or home theater receiver, you can also hook up the DVD player's analog stereo outputs to the RF modulator as well.

Obviously, you won't get the benefits of surround sound, but you will hear the audio through the TV's speakers. Also, you won't get the full benefits of a DVD quality picture as the conversion from video to RF (cable) downgrades the resolution. However, as you switch between your VCR and DVD you will notice the quality of the DVD image is still superior to anything you probably have viewed on your analog TV.

Also, you don't need to use an RF modulator to connect a DVD player to today's HD and Ultra HD TVs as they provide both analog (composite, component) and HDMI input options for connecting any DVD player that does not provide HDMI connections. The only connection option that has been eliminated on newer TVs is the S-video input.

However, it is also important to state that, at some point, all analog video connections may be removed from Ultra HD TVs at some point. This article will be updated to reflect any changes that are implemented.