Back to Basics: How to Set Up a DVD Player or DVD Recorder

It won't be long before expressions like, "Honey, don't forget to tape American Idol for me!" and "Let's go to the videotape" fade as disc- and hard-drive-based recording triumphs over the trusty VCR. And while DVD recorders a re more complicated to set up and use than VCRs, they're getting easier - really!

DVD players are even easier to hook up because they only have to send signals without receiving any. Since every DVD recorder can also be used as a player, we'll begin with player hookup before going through the options for connecting your recorder.

Time for Some Playback Basic setup is the same whether you're u sing a player or a recorder for watching DVDs. Begin by hooking up the audio. To enjoy Dolby Digital or DTS surround sound, you'll need to run a coaxial, optical, or HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) digital cable from the player or recorder to your A/V receiver or preamp/processor. (An HDMI cable will also carry your video signals.) If your machine also plays DVD-Audio discs or Super Audio CDs and you want to experience the high-resolution mix, you'll need to run six cables - five for the main speakers and a sixth for the subwoofer - from the player's multichannel analog output to the receiver's corresponding input. A few high-end players and receivers let you do this through a single digital connection.

Next, hook up the video using the best-q uality connection you can. The lowest-q uality video you can get from a DVD player is through the composite-video output - the familiar yellow RCA jack found in a trio with red and white analog stereo jacks. Instead, use either the S-video output, which has a four-pin connector, or the component-video output, which has three RCA connectors, usually color-coded red, green, and blue. Both will give you much better image quality than composite video, with component being an improvement over S-video.

Progressive-scan video can provide a noticeably smoother image than conventional scanning. If you have a digital TV and a progressive-scan player or recorder, you must use the player's component-video output, switched to its progressive-scan mode (see "Tech Talk," page 29, May 2005 issue). But you might be able to make an even higher-quality digital video connection. While DVI (Digital Visual Interface) is the most common digital connection, w e're starting to see models with the newe r HDMI. But you can't use a digital video output u nless your A/V receiver or TV has a corr esponding input.

To make the video connection, run the appropriate cable (or trio of cables for component video) from your player or recorder's video output to the corresponding input on your receiver. You could make this connection directly to your TV, but if you have a number of A/V sources - say, a DVD player/recorder, a cable box or satellite receiver, a VCR, and a hard-disk recorder - connecting them all through your receiver will let you easily switch between them.