The Role of an RF Modulator in a DVD Player/TV Setup

Using one is necessary if you have an older TV

Although DVD players are designed for a variety of setups and can offer a plentiful variety of video outputs (composite, s-video, component, HDMI, etc.) and audio (analog, digital optical/coaxial, etc.), manufacturers didn't consider that people may still want to connect to a standard cable or antenna input on older analog TVs that don't have additional audio/video inputs. This situation calls for an RF modulator. In this guide, we explain what an RF modulator is and why you may need one for your home theater setup.

What Is an RF Modulator?

A Radio Frequency Modulator, or RF Modulator, converts signals to a format that can be used by devices that can receive RF input, such as radio and television receivers. These devices include DVD players, VCRs, and game consoles. The RF modulator converts the video (and/or audio) output into a channel 3/4 signal that's 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 that makes it perfectly suited for use with a DVD player 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.

How to Set Up An RF Modulator

Follow these steps to connect an RF modulator to your DVD player and television set:

  1. 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.

  2. Connect a standard cable from the RF modulator to your TV.

  3. Select either the channel 3 or 4 output on the back of the RF modulator.

  4. Turn the TV on and the RF modulator automatically detects 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 automatically detects the DVD player and displays 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, soundbar, 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 viewed on your analog TV.

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 doesn't provide HDMI connections. The only connection option that's eliminated on newer TVs is the S-video input.

It's also important to note that, at some point, all analog video connections may be removed from Ultra HD TVs in the future. This article will be updated to reflect any changes that are implemented.