TV connections wizard
By Andrew Laughlin
Confused over connections? Struggling with sockets? In this guide we'll explain the best ways to connect up your television, and get the best out of your home entertainment.
We've provided individual guides to all the boxes, gadgets and devices most people may own, but if you just want to know what a TV connector does, head to our TV connections glossary further down the page.
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Freeview or YouView boxes
To connect one of these boxes, take an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) cable and link it between the output on your box and the input on your TV. Hook up the box to an aerial cable to get the TV signal. If your box can support catch-up TV and on-demand video, such as YouView, connect it to the internet using either an Ethernet cable or wi-fi.
Sky or Freesat boxes
Make a connection between the box and the TV using HDMI, and then hook up the box to your satellite dish using the antenna connection marked satellite. If your box can support catch-up TV and on-demand video, such as Sky Anytime or Freesat Freetime, connect it to the internet using either an Ethernet cable or wi-fi.
Virgin Media boxes
This box talks to the TV via HDMI, but you’ll need an aerial RF coax cable going into the box to get cable TV. A Virgin installer will most likely do this for you. If your box can support catch-up TV and other web-based services, such as Virgin’s TiVo service, connect it to the internet using either Ethernet or wi-fi.
Connect the box to the TV via HDMI, then use the right cable depending on whether it’s Freeview (aerial), Sky/ Freesat (satellite) or Virgin Media (coaxial) to get a signal. If you've got a Freesat+ or Sky+ PVR, you should aim to have two inputs (cables) from your satellite dish to your box to handle both feeds.
USB recording device
If your TV has PVR functionality on board, you can add a USB recording device or hard disk drive via the TV's USB port, enabling you to record and even pause live television without needing a separate PVR box.
Home cinema or surround sound system
Link your home cinema surround sound system up to your TV either through the HDMI – you’ll need a connection marked ‘HDMI ARC’ on your TV for this - or using the optical digital audio connection. For the latter, make sure you connect the input on your audio device to the output on your TV. For more on this, please see How to set up a home cinema system.
Sound bar or sound plate
These speaker units are a popular way to improve your TV's sound. Attach one via HDMI or digital audio in the same way as a home cinema set-up. You can also sometimes link a sound bar via old-fashioned stereo phono cables – just ensure you connect the inputs on your audio system to the outputs on your TV.
Connect your traditional hi-fi system via a set of stereo phono cables. As with a sound bar, just sure you hook up the inputs on your system to the TV outputs.
Connect these up via the headphone output jack.
Blu-ray, DVD players, games consoles
These devices usually connect to your TV using HDMI (although some DVD players and games consoles can also connect via scart). If you have a ‘smart’ Blu-ray player or console, and you want to use apps or stream internet video, you’ll also need to connect the device to the internet via Ethernet or wi-fi.
Hook one of these older devices up to you TV using the scart connection if you want to re-watch those VHS tapes.
PC or Mac
You can turn your TV into a computer screen by connecting a PC or Mac using the VGA, DVI, HDMI or Display Port – depending on which sockets are available to you. If you have DNLA-compatible devices, you may be able to connect wirelessly. For more, please see What is DLNA?
Smartphones and tablets
If you fancy displaying videos or photos stored on your mobile device on your TV, you can often connect the two wirelessly using technologies such as WiFi Direct (also referred to as Miracast) or NFC – it really depends on the type of kit you have. You can also connect some smartphones to a TV via HDMI using a special MHL cable, although it rarely comes included with the TV.
Media streaming box
Devices such as Roku streamer or a Now TV box will connect to your router via Ethernet or wirelessly over Wi-Fi. You can then link them with the TV via HDMI. Other devices, such as Google Chromecast or Apple TV, enable you to share videos, photos or other content from your smartphone, tablet or laptop wirelessly with your TV.
USB flash drive
View photos or other media on your TV by connecting up one of these devices via the USB port. Some TVs also have an SD card slot, but that is rare these days.
TV connections glossary
Composite video: this combines a video signal (the yellow cable) with an audio signal (the red and white). It is the lowest-quality video connection on a TV.
Digital audio connection (coaxial and optical): there are two types of digital connections for surround sound - coaxial (copper wire) and optical (fibre optic), also known as TOSLINK. Both connections can carry stereo signals, but optical is the better option if you can use it.
DisplayPort: a digital output used on some Mac computers. It can carry both video and audio signals.
DLNA: this is an industry-wide standard for sharing digital media - such as photos, videos and music - between computers, mobile phones, TVs and other devices in your home. Find out more with What is DLNA?.
DVI port: a Digital Visual Interface connection allows you to hook up your computer to your TV. You may have to buy a HDMI to DVI cable first for this, and in that case you'll need to connect a separate audio cable from your TV (audio in) to your TV (audio out).
Ethernet port: if your TV doesn't have wi-fi capability, this port allows you to use an Ethernet cable to link a smart TV up to the internet via a wired connection.
HDMI: this high definition video and audio input is your best bet for connecting any HD equipment, such as Sky boxes and blu-ray players. If you're TV doesn't have enough HDMI ports for your needs, an HDMI switching box can add more. When buying HDMI cables, don't be tempted to spend lots of money - a £5 cable will do the job just as well as a £50 one. For more on this, please see our Buyer's Guide to HDMI cables.
HDMI ARC: this special Audio Return Channel HDMI socket is useful for connecting compatible home cinema systems and sound bars. It makes setting up your TV audio system much easier, plus you can control both your TV and sound bar/home cinema from the same remote.
HDMI MHL: Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) is a special connection for hooking up a compatible smartphone to your TV via a wired connection.
Headphone jack: use this to connect your headphones. Bear in mind that headphone volume and TV volume are often adjusted separately.
Near Field Communications: If you have an NFC-enabled smartphone or tablet, you can connect with a compatible TV by 'tapping' a special sticker, and then share content between them.
RF input: an aerial socket that allows the broadcast signal to be received by the TV's tuner.
Satellite antenna socket: use this to connect a Sky or Freesat set-top box.
Scart inputs: scarts allow you to connect older standard-definition equipment like DVD players. Scarts that support the high-standard RGB signal give the best possible picture quality. Some TVs come with scart adaptors included if they don't have the port built-in.
Stereo phono outputs: These red and white sockets allow you to connect your TV to a stereo amplifier and speaker system. Most new TVs lack these sockets, although you can sometimes use the headphone output, or a digital-to-analogue converter connected to the digital audio output, instead.
USB ports: most televisions have at least one of these for USB devices.
VGA input: the analogue, video graphics array input, sometimes marked 'PC' on the TV, lets you connect your PC or laptop to the TV. It's useful if your computer doesn't have an HDMI output.
Wi-Fi Direct: this wireless technology allows you to 'mirror' what's on your phone, tablet or computer on your TV by connecting to the same wi-fi network. It is also referred to as Miracast on some TVs.