Will My VCR Work With a Digital TV?

By Erik Johnson

Updated February 10, 2017

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Despite the prevalence of DVD, Blu-ray and digital video recorders, many of us still have libraries of videotapes of personal memories or out-of-print movies and television programs. Luckily, videocassette recorders can still connect to modern digital televisions to watch these collections. VCRs are still able to record programs after the digital television switch, though special hardware may be required.

Connecting the VCR

Connect your VCR to a digital television to play back previously recorded material or commercially distributed tapes. If your VCR connects using composite RCA cables--three red, white and yellow connectors--simply plug it into an available input on the back of your TV and select that input with the remote. Older VCRs use a thick screw-on coaxial connector and your TV may only have a single coaxial input. Use a coaxial switch box or splitter if your cable or antenna is already connected through the coaxial connection. Tune your television to channel 3 or 4, determined by a switch on your VCR. Some video recorders have composite cables and a coaxial connector. Use the improved signal of the composite cables when possible, as the coaxial connector offers degraded picture quality especially noticeable on a digital television.

Recording Television Broadcasts

If your receive your television signal through cable or satellite, your VCR will work as it always has when connected to a digital television. Since the switch to digital broadcast in June 2009, VCRs can no longer record broadcast television without special equipment. VCRs manufactured before 2007 were not required to include a digital tuner and are therefore unable to receive the transmitted digital signal. To record a digital broadcast you’ll need a digital-to-analog converter box. These boxes are available at most home electronics and department stores. Connect an external antenna to the converter box and then connect the converter to the VCR. Since the converter acts as a tuner, select the channel you wish to record on the converter. Set your VCR to channel 3 or 4--determined by a switch on the converter--or to the audio/video input. To record a program, tune the converter to the desired channel and set the timer on your VCR to record at the proper time. Some converters interface with a VCR to simplify programming.