Recording from a Cable Box to a VCR

Published October 12, 2002  

Q: I have AT&T digital cable. I am unable to tape [vhs] from it     I called and was told I cannot tape digital without a digital VCR.   I also was told I could not tape by pre setting the time & channel but only when I was viewing. That does not make a lot of sense to me. I asked a friend and he said he tapes digital without a digital VCR. I called AT&aT again and this time I was told I could not tape digital even if I had a digital VCR. What is the way to do it? Or is it not possible?
-Harold S Rosenberg

A:  There is no problem taping from digital cable.     Very few people have a digital VCR, and besides, your digital cable box probably does not have the proper digital output for it.   Just reading your email made me angry.   The tech support at the cable company is misinforming you, as well as preventing you from getting the most out of your subscription.   This is very poor customer service, and an example of one of the reasons I do not recommend cable TV service when much better alternatives are available. You would do yourself a big favor by getting Dish Network or DirecTV.     The picture quality is much better, the subscriptions generally costs less, and you get more for the money you spend.   Service programs are available that mimic digital cable, so you do not have to buy any equipment.     Since local channels are available through satellite now, it is hard to find a reason to stick with cable.   If you think a homeowner’s association forbids you from installing a small dish, think again. A regulation released by the FCC on August 6, 1996 preempts area zoning ordinances, homeowner association covenants and restrictions on DBS dish antennas. This bill essentially stipulates that residential consumers have a right to install a satellite system on any residential establishment that they own, as long as it is entirely contained within their own, private residential area.

To answer your question, the screw-cable from the digital cable box to the TV is an analog TV signal, probably on channel 3 if you live in Pittsburgh. Connect it to your VCR’s “in” terminal and go from the “out” terminal on the VCR to your TV. Then set your VCR on channel 3 and it will record whatever is coming from the cable box.

To use the VCR timer, set it to record channel 3. Your cable box may have an auto tuner to switch channels at different times. So, let’s say you wanted to tape channel 39 on digital cable at 9pm, for one hour. First, you would tell your cable box to go to channel 39 for one hour at 9pm. Then you tell the VCR to tape channel 3 for one hour at 9pm. The cable box will turn to the channel 39 at 9pm and send it out on channel 3, and your VCR will turn on and record it. They work separately, but you synchronize them together.   If the cable box doesn’t have an auto tuner, you will have to set it to the channel yourself before you leave home.

With the better Dish Network receiver, all you have to do to record is find the program on the on-screen guide and press the enter button to set the timer. When the program comes on, it will tune in the channel, start the VCR recording, and at the end of the program it stops the VCR. It’s what I use and it is phenomenally easy.

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