CONNECTING YOUR PC , VCR , AND TV USING ONLY COMMON HOUSEHOLD TECHNOLOGIES

NOTE: Following the following instructions will probably render tech support useless.
ANOTHER NOTE: OK, so I lied. There's one thing you need that you may not have: a video card with an S-Video Out.

The following knowledge has been time-tested and is unbelievably stable (not!). If you follow the following instructions, you should be able to hook your TV up to your computer, and your VCR, too. There are many reasons you may want to do this, but the main ones are:

Now, this is all cool, except for one problem: the equipment. You don't want to go out and buy expensive converter thingies or giant boxes or anything. You want to do this with the common household technology that you already have (you cheapo, you!). There's nothing to fear, a solution is here! And here it is.

Stuff You'll Need:

  • Compatible External Speaker: To be compatible, the speaker must come from a set of two speakers in which one speaker plugs into the computer, and the other speaker into the first speaker. The compatible speaker is the one that plugs into the computer, if the other speaker can be disconnected from it, that is. After removing the second speaker, there should be an RCA Audio Out available on the compatible speaker.
  • Mono-to-Stereo Splitter: (optional) This splitter will take the audio from the speaker which is on one wire, and split it into two wires, a Left and a Right. This is an optional component. If you don't have this, then the sound will sound like it's all coming from one place, but that's OK.
  • Compatible PC: A compatible PC is any PC that is compatible with a compatible video card.
  • Compatible PC Monitor: Your PC monitor is probably compatible. To be compatible, it must be compatible with a compatible video card, and the screen resolution must not be too high for the television. Technically, if the system (by some miracle) works without any configuration, you won't need a monitor, but this is very unlikely.
  • RCA Cables: These cables are almost always black. The ends of the cables are either yellow, red, white, or black. They may come in a triplet with yellow, red, and black or white, or in a pair with red and black or white. The yellow cable is video, and the red, black, and white are audio. You can plug them into the wrong places and they will work, but you shouldn't.
  • S-Video Cable: An S-Video cable is what you probably use to plug your DVD or laserdisc player into your television, so you can use that cable for this.
  • Compatible Television: (optional) A compatible television will have an S-Video In for plugging a S-Video cable into it. You do not need a television if you only want to record things to a tape, and never to watch them on a television.
  • VCR: (optional) You won't be able to use a very old VCR, since these only support coaxial cable and not RCA cable, but your VCR should work. You do not need a VCR if you only plan to show stuff on the television, but never to record what is being shown onto a tape.
  • Compatible Video Card: A compatible video card is one that has an S-Video Out. This means that you can plug an S-Video cable into the back of the video card.
  • Video Tape: (optional) Preferably a blank video tape. You will be using this to record stuff onto. You do not need a video tape if you don't plan to record anything.

Now that you've gathered all the stuff (hopefully), you should seriously consider the following before going farther: What you are about to use the preceding materials for is totally what the manafacturers of the products you are using don't intend for their customers to do. It is unlikely that there will be any bodily harm to you or your equipment, but if there is, I'm not responsible. Also, as mentioned before, if it doesn't work, there is absolutely no way tech support will help you, because you're doing things all wrong.

NOTE: For the purposes of this writeup, it is assumed that you want to record things to a video tape and show them on a television.

Let's start by plugging the television into the computer. This is a pretty easy step. Take that S-Video cable and plug it into the S-Video Out on the back of your video card (it should be labeled). Plug it into the S-Video In of your TV (this should be labeled, too). Turn on your TV. You probably won't see anything. If you don't, then grab your video card instruction manual, and find out and do what you have to do on your computer to get this link to work. Then use your INPUT or TV/VIDEO button to switch to the S-Video input on your TV. When it works, it should look something like this:

*---------* |====|           |=============|
|   The   |_| -- |  S-Video  |    Exact    |
| Monitor | | PC |}---------{|   Copy of   | « The TV
*---------* |*** |   Cable   | The Monitor |
   /___\    |====|           |=============|

You're probably thinking, if it's this simple, why did he even warn me? Foo, it ain't done yet! Turn on the TV and play something. Hear any sound coming out of the TV? Didn't think so! This is where it gets complicated. We're going to have to get sound to the TV. But, since we're going to hook up a VCR, it will be pretty easy to do this through the VCR, so let's hook the VCR up. First, plug the VCR into the wall for power. Then, get a triplet RCA cable (yellow-red-black or white are triplets) and a single RCA cable. Plug the triplet into the corresponding RCA Outs on the VCR and Ins on the TV. It is absolutely essential that you plug the triplet RCA cable into the Video 1 inputs of the TV. Then plug the Monitor Video Out of the TV into the Video In of the VCR. It should look somewhat like this:

The VCR:                        The TV:
VIDEO OUT }--Yellow RCA Cable--{ VIDEO 1 IN
L AUDIO OUT }--White RCA cable--{ L AUDIO 1 IN
R AUDIO OUT }--Red RCA Cable--{ R AUDIO 1 IN

VIDEO IN }--Any RCA Cable--{ MONITOR VIDEO OUT
If you know how, you should be able to use coaxial cable, but I don't know if it will work for what we're trying to do, so stick to RCA. Now, turn on your VCR and put in a tape with something on it. Play the tape. Switch inputs using your INPUT or TV/VIDEO button until you see what's on the tape that's playing. This is the VCR's input, so remember it.

Now, for the sound. This is the outrageous part that absolutely should not work but still does. Plug the speaker into the Line Out or Speaker Out of your sound card. Plug an RCA cable into the place where the second speaker used to be plugged into this speaker. Plug the other end of the RCA cable into the Audio In of the VCR. If you have a Mono-to-Stereo splitter, plug the other end of the RCA cable into the Mono-to-Stereo splitter, and the Mono-to-Stereo splitter into the VCR's Audio Ins. It should look something like this if you don't have a Mono-to-Stereo splitter:

            SPEAKER
+--------+   ++++
| SOUND  |___|  |}--ANY RCA CABLE--{ VCR AUDIO IN
|  CARD  |   |  |
+--------+   ====
Assuming your sound card and the speaker both work, you should now have video and sound in the S-Video input on your TV. As an added bonus, this strange setup allows you to control the volume of the TV using the volume knob on the speaker. But to record to a tape, a few steps remain: Insert the tape. Hit the RECORD button on the VCR. Play the movie file you want to record and/or show, using your media application, prefrerably in full-screen mode. Once you're done, hit STOP on the VCR, and your tape should be recorded.


Though may infer that I came up with this set up all by myself, I did not.
It could not have been done without the help of Mr. Josh Wood.
Thanks Mr. Wood!

Problem

Some PC video cards come with a TV-out connector that is S-Video only. But you want to connect it to a VCR or television which only has composite video inputs.

Solution

Build a passive adapter. The S-Video signal is nothing more than a NTSC/PAL signal, where the color component kept on a separate line. The S-Video signal is combined onto a composite using this simple circuitry:
     __   __
    /  |_|  \          ____ 
   /         \        /    \(c2)
  |(s1)   (s2)|      ( (c1) ) 
  |(s3)   (s4)|       \____/
   \         /         RCA
    |__===__|         male
     S-Video
      Male
s1---------+----------------------c2
           |
s2---------+

s3-----------------+--------------c1
                   |
s4-----------||----+
             C1
I've built this adapter and can confirm it works.

Source: http://www.hut.fi/Misc/Electronics/circuits/svideo2cvideo.html
Thanks to lj and netsharc for pointing out a mistake. (c1,c2 reversed in circuit diagram)

A Better Solution

Because IANAEE, this 'naive engineer' solution is imperfect. It will degenerate the quality of the signal. If you plan on recording to VCR, it may not even matter. The properly calibrated circuit can be found in jasstrong's s-video node. I've never wound my own inductor, I think I'll try that version too.
Comments on roded's Cat5 octopus wiring:

To minimize the chance of crosstalk between audio and video (nasty 50/60Hz and 15kHz hum and hiss), keep the pairs together when wiring up the connector.

For example, use the OrangeWhite/WhiteOrange and GreenWhite/WhiteGreen pairs for S-Video, then the two remaining Brown and Blue pairs for audio (or just one of the pairs for SP/IDF Dolby Digital sound. Also, use the color-striped white wire of a pair for the ground signal.


On TenMinJoe's TV screen overscan adjustment:

For recent ATI video cards equipped with TV out connectors (from Rage 128 to Radeon), surf to ATI's support site(http://support.ati.com) and download the ATI Control Panel drivers. This driver installs new tabs in your Display Properties control panel.

One of them, labelled ATI Displays (accessed in Settings->Advanced) shows all the connected monitors. Click on the odd-shaped button above 'TV' to view its properties, then select the Adjustments tab which shows screen position and size controls.

So, you've sat down to watch your latest entirely legal DivX downloaded from the P2P application of your choice. You're watching it from the comfort of your easy chair in front of your big telly via the TV out mode of your fancy graphics card, and all seems well.

The problem

But wait! The picture doesn't fill your 32" screen! What are those unsightly black bars doing all around the edges?

It's by design, it turns out. Televisions typically chop off the edges of the picture by a varying amount - rather than having an expensive process where the picture is calibrated to exactly fill the screen, the TV manufacturers know that all that's really important is that the whole screen is lit, so they err on the side of losing some of the image off the edges. This is known as overscan.

The graphics card manufacturers know that the TV is going to chop off the edges of the picture. To compensate, they make the picture a little smaller to ensure that you don't lose anything. Because they don't know how much the TV will overscan, they tend to overcompensate, leaving a black border.

This would be all well and good if for some crazy reason you were trying to word process on your TV and didn't want the menu bar to disappear off the top of the screen. However, if you're trying for the 'watching television' experience, the black bars all around the picture are rather irritating.

A partial solution

Fortunately, you should be able to enable overscan mode on your TV card. The procedure for this will vary according to your card - my ATI Radeon card has it as an undocumented feature in the Windows control panel - there's a utility called 'Rage3D Tweak' which (amongst other things) makes an 'enable overscan' toggle box appear.

Hooray! The nasty black borders disappear and once more all seems well.

Further problems

However, you are left with the nagging feeling that something is still not right. Wait! Now that we're not compensating for the TV's overscan, doesn't that mean we're losing the edges of our picture?

Unless you have an extraordinarily well calibrated TV (or one that allows you to calibrate it yourself), you will in fact now be losing some of your painstakingly downloaded picture off the sides of the screen.

This seems a shame.

DIY black borders

What you need to do is introduce some black borders of your own. But not hastily estimated nasty black borders like the graphics card produced - no! These black borders will be carefully sized in order to exactly fill that part of the picture that the TV is scanning off the edge of the screen, ensuring that the whole picture is squeezed into the displayed area.

False hope

You might think that it would be a simple matter to resize your video window on the desktop such that it has some gaps around the edges and fills your TV screen precisely. If you find you can do this, then good for you - all is well. (Windows users - Note that an app called Zoom Player will enable you to configure precise black borders and save you having to resize the media player window each time.)

However, in the case of (at least) certain ATI cards, you can only enable overscan mode when the card is set to what ATI call 'theater mode', where the 'overlay' (i.e. the part of the screen that has your video clip playing on it) is automatically displayed full-screen on the TV. This scuppers any attempts to avoid the overscan because it insists on filling the TV screen with the video clip regardless of its size and position on the desktop.

Aspect ratio

A straightforward way to introduce one set of borders (in spite of 'theater mode') is to adjust the aspect ratio of the picture. Some media players (e.g. Zoom Player) will allow you to adjust this. If you make the picture wider, this effectively introduces horizontal borders at the top and bottom of the image sent to the TV. (Think about how a widescreen movie looks on a normal TV). If you adjust the picture width just right, you can get the top and bottom edges of the picture to exactly match the top and bottom of the TV screen.

And finally

So now you have compensated for the overscan at the top and bottom of the picture, but are still losing some of the picture off the edges.

Happily for Windows users, there exists a nifty utility called DivXG400. This can be made to introduce vertical bars at the side of the image in such a way that they become part of the overlay area, and thus appear on the TV. All you have to do is adjust the width of the bars until your picture exactly matches the displayed area.

So, now, relax and enjoy your DivX, safe in the knowledge that not one pixel can escape your attention.


At the time of writing -
Rage3D Tweak available at http://www.rage3d.com/r3dtweak/
Zoom Player available at http://www.inmatrix.com/files/zoomplayer_download.shtml
DivXG400 available at http://www.tac.ee/~prr/videoutils/divxg400.html

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