I need a cable box
August 2, 2005 1:09 PM   Subscribe

I have regular television cable service, and I want to hook it up to an old television with only UHF/VHF and a coaxial port. If I recall my grandmother's set-up correctly, I need a little cable box which takes in the cable signal and feeds the television's coax port. Cable channels are selected through the box. Thing is, I can't seem to find this sort of thing in Radio's Shack catalogue, or anywhere online for that matter. With the advent of cable-friendly television sets, am I out of luck? How hard will it be for me to find a simple cable box?
posted by DrJohnEvans to Technology (17 answers total)
RF modulator.
posted by holgate at 1:12 PM on August 2, 2005

Best answer: You have two choices.

1. Call your cable company and ask them to send you one. This is what you're supposed to do. They'll charge you yet another monthly fee as a rental charge for keeping the box in your home.

2. Go to eBay and buy either a converter (cable box) or descrambler (cable box + ability to descramble premium channels). Before you buy a box on eBay make sure it is compatible with your cable service. You can either find this out by searching, reading the auction (sometimes) or asking the seller.

By the way, it's illegal to use a descrambler if you don't pay for the channels first, but I think it is legal to have one (the auctions aren't cancelled) and I think it's legal to use one if you tell your cable company first (though they'll probably assume you're a criminal), but I'm not sure on this.

At any rate, you can definitely get a converter (plain old cable box) there. =)
posted by ducksauce at 1:13 PM on August 2, 2005

holgate, it looks like that RF modulater takes various inputs and then modulates them accordingly into RF. DrJohnEvans needs something that will take that signal and then decode it accordingly so he can view various channels within. (or something like that... I wasn't too wonderful at physics)
posted by ducksauce at 1:17 PM on August 2, 2005

Oops, misread. Something like this Scientific Atlantic box?
posted by holgate at 1:18 PM on August 2, 2005

Best answer: Presuming the channels aren't scrambled, a VCR will also do the trick.
posted by box at 1:23 PM on August 2, 2005

Response by poster: Actually, eBay occurred to me just after I posted the question, and yeah, I'm looking for something like this. I was hoping to just quickly pop into Radio Shack and pick up something cheap, but if I'm looking for an antique, that may not be possible.

Another option: would a newer VCR have an internal converter, letting me run the cable through the VCR to the television (and thus change channels with the VCR)?
posted by DrJohnEvans at 1:26 PM on August 2, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, box. Curse you, Live Preview!
posted by DrJohnEvans at 1:29 PM on August 2, 2005

Presuming the channels aren't scrambled, a VCR will also do the trick.

Been keeping my old set running for years with this trick. I even used to use a VCR that had long since quit working with tapes!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:43 PM on August 2, 2005

Yep, a newer VCR will have an internal cable tuner. I did this for years to watch cable on an old TV. Somewhat tangentially, they also usually work for things like hooking up video game systems to old TVs, but not DVD players. Most DVDs are Macrovision protected to keep you from recording them to tape, throwing VCRs for a loop when you hook them up together.
posted by zsazsa at 1:46 PM on August 2, 2005

Have you tried running the cable directly into the TV? I have an old set from the early '80s that I used in the past for analog, unscrambled cable signals. I don't know what your cable TV company provides as a signal, but my past experience was that the lowest-tier channels like CNN, C-SPAN and AMC were sent over the wire unencrypted. YMMV, depending on your cable company.
posted by SteveInMaine at 1:53 PM on August 2, 2005

Actually, my old set has a DVD and an old Nintendo 64 also hooked up to the VCR!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:53 PM on August 2, 2005

What SteveInMaine said. I had Comcast "digital" cable, and did not need the cable box (or a VCR) for any channel numbered less than 100. That included all the basic cable channels. the ('90s-era) TV's tuner worked just fine. Before I had the digital service, the same thing held for the analog service.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:17 PM on August 2, 2005

Best answer: Here's the deal-- your grandma's set was so old that it didn't even have a coax port. It had one of those funny adapters with coax on one end and two prongs for the uhf and vhf screw mounts.

You have a coax port so you're all set. A cable box has two coax ports-- one in and one out. The cable will come to the cable box from the wall and go into the "IN" coax port. A second piece of coax will come from "OUT" on the cable box and you need another length of coax to it.

If it is regular analog cable, you won't need even a cable box for most channels. A TV equipped with a coax port will be able to pick up the unscrambled channels directly without a converter. The coax from the wall goes directly into the TV (this won't work if you want HBO/premium channels).

The RF converter mentioned earlier is for hooking up digital pieces that require RCA or S-video ports to old tvs. The RCA out from the DVD (or what have you) goes into the RCA (red, white, yellow) ports on the RF converter. Cable can go in their, too. It all goes out to TV through an outbound coax port.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:52 PM on August 2, 2005

You can pick up cable boxes by the score at most Value Village/Salvation Army/Goodwill/Thrift Store locations.

Remotes are hit and miss but some come with them as well.
posted by davey_darling at 4:26 PM on August 2, 2005

What Mayor Curley said. An RF modulator is used to convert the separated composite-video and analog-stereo signals from various video-sources into a combined, coaxial, A/V signal; if the display lacks monitor inputs.

These days, it's usually used to run DVD to older TVs that only have coax inputs. However, in your case, you already have a coaxial RF input, as Mayor Curley notes.

I think you might be confusing your gramma's set (which likely lacked an Coax Rf input,) with yours. She probably had a 300-ohm spade-plug antenna-input only. The device to modulate that signal is a 75 ohm adaptor.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:02 PM on August 2, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks MC and PareidoliaticBoy. I should've been more clear. My set's coax port isn't built into the set; it is indeed one of those adapters which is attached to the antenna screws.

Radio Shack had an old-school converter, but it was ninety bucks, so it looks like either Value Village or eBay are in order. Thanks for the info, everyone.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 6:11 AM on August 3, 2005

Response by poster: In case anybody's wondering, I ended up accepting the donation from a housemate of a broken-down VCR which no longer plays tapes. However, its cable input and television output are still in perfect working order.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 9:04 AM on November 30, 2005

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