South Jersey writes: Hi Ben! I was looking into getting an HDTV at Target and Best Buy, and they told me I’d need an HD cable but didn’t know the price of the cable or even bother to ask if I had HD service. One salesman at didn’t even know what an HDMI was. However, his co-worker did. Would I need one for a VCR? Neither of them knew that.
Greetings—and congratulations on surviving the TV department! Sounds like you made it out unscathed, albeit unsatisfied.
So, want to hook up your old VCR to a new HDTV? Yes, it’s possible, even if your VHS deck doesn’t have an HDMI video output (which I’m almost positive it doesn’t, unless you happen to have a newer DVD/VCR combo player).
In addition to HDMI inputs, most HDTVs will have a few older types of video ports that work with the vast majority of VCRs.
The most common type of input is called “composite,” and it looks like a small, metal-tipped plug (also known as an “RCA” plug) that should be familiar if you own a home stereo system.
Another common video input is called “S-Video” (a.k.a. “Super Video”), which comes with a slightly larger plug that has a series of small, delicate-looking pins jutting out of each end.
(Side note: You could also connect your VCR to an HDTV using a coaxial cable, like the one you’d use for a rooftop antenna, but that would involve tuning your HDTV to the right television channel to watch your VCR—pretty annoying, and unnecessary.)
So, should you pick S-Video or composite? Well, S-Video offers slightly better video quality than a composite video connection, so go with S-Video if you can. Check the back of your VCR, and if you find an S-Video output, great; if not, there should at least be a composite plug back there.
That takes care of the video; what about sound? In addition to a composite video output, your VCR should have a pair of RCA-style audio jacks: one (usually red-colored) jack for the left channel, and a second (typically white) for the right. All you need is a stereo audio cable—which, again, will look familiar to anyone with a home stereo.
Now, when you go HDTV shopping, just make sure the model you pick has either an S-Video or composite video input. Remember, you can always ask the sales clerk to show you the back of the set.
OK, but what about the cables themselves? Well, the TV store may have some for sale, but beware of salespeople hawking overpriced composite cables. Plenty of perfectly good cables are available (both online and in stores) for less than $10 each.
Here are a few shopping links from Amazon:
Need help picking an HDTV? Check out my cheat sheet for first-time HDTV shoppers.