How to Connect a Retro Game Console to a Modern TV

With the likes of Nintendo’s NES and SNES Classic flying off store shelves, it’s safe to say that retro gaming is as popular as ever. From the early days of NESticle to the popular DIY RetroPie and RecalBox builds of today, video game emulation has enabled older gamers to relive their childhoods and younger gamers a chance to experience the classics.

As great as that is, video game emulation has some significant drawbacks. Laggy controls, glitches and poor color reproduction are all potential symptoms of emulation.

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If you’re a purist looking to recapture the thrill of the bit wars, then your only option is to get your hands on the real deal. So you dig through your closet and dust off your old console. You can practically hear the Super Mario Bros. theme song. There’s just one problem: there’s no way to actually connect the console to your modern TV.

Take a deep breath. There’s no sense in making a mountain out of a mole hill. Double check the ports on your TV. You may be able to connect your old console directly to your shiny new TV without any hassle. This will most likely be the case with systems that connect to your TV via RCA (composite), component or coaxial cables.

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RCA cables are designated by three pin connectors: one white, one red, one yellow. Component cables, on the other hand, are colored green, red, blue. If your TV has ports with corresponding colors, you’re in business. Be aware, however, that you may need to fiddle with the picture settings on your TV. Most modern TVs will default to a widescreen aspect ratio, which will result in a stretched out image. When playing your old games, you’ll want to switch it to a 4:3 aspect ratio.

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If your console uses a coaxial connector like the NES, you should be able to connect to your TV. This type of connection is common on older consoles, especially those from the 70s and 80s. Coaxial uses the antenna input on your TV to deliver both audio and video signals from your console. To get it working, you’ll need to tune your TV to the appropriate channel. Just remember to use the analogue, not digital, tuner of your TV.

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If your TV doesn’t have any of the ports mentioned above, you’re going to need to shell out for an RCA to HDMI adapter. These affordable boxes will take the analogue signal of your old console and convert it to a digital one that can be fed to your TV via HDMI. Furthermore, they’re super simple to set up. All you need to do is plug the red, white and yellow RCA cables of your retro console into the adapter and connect it to your TV via HDMI. There are tons of these on the market, and most are well under $20.

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Many video game consoles made after the 16-bit (SNES, Genesis) generation had the ability to output via S-Video. Generally speaking, S-Video is capable of better quality video output. That being said, you may find differing opinions online. If you’d like to use an S-Video connection, there are converters that will upscale the signal to HDMI. They work in exactly the same manner as the RCA converter mentioned above.

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Since S-Cart was much more common in Europe than in the States, this is more applicable to readers across the Atlantic. Of course, those Stateside always have the option of using an RGB to S-Cart cable. Either way you slice it, you’ll need to convert the analogue S-Cart signal to HDMI. Fortunately, S-Cart to HDMI converters are readily available online.

This method is likely to result in a whole mess of cables, leaving your retro game console looking like it’s on life support. However, if you’ve tried all of the above suggestions without any luck, this method just might be the ticket. If your DVD (or VHS) player has composite, component or coaxial inputs on the back, you can use them as a pass-through connection to your TV. Simply connect your console to the DVD/VHS player and change your TV’s input to the DVD/VHS player.

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Hyperkin’s RetroN series of video game consoles allow users to use their own retro game cartridges and controllers. For instance, the RetroN 5 is capable of playing NES, SNES, Genesis, Super Famicom, Famicom, Gameboy, and Gamboy Advance cartridges. Furthermore, you won’t have to faff around with converters as the RetroN outputs audio/visual signals via HDMI. For those of you with deep pockets, Analogue makes high-end modern versions of your favorite retro consoles. Purists may scoff as you won’t be playing your old games on the original hardware, but it’s one of the easiest ways to play your old games on your new TV.

What’s your preferred method of connecting your retro game console to a modern TV? Let us know in the comments!

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