Damn, those are some FINE pixels you have there!!
Remember the time I blew up a TV because I plugged in the wrong console?
How about the time me and Andy played Resident Evil 2 in black and white for 2 weeks?
Remember when I was trying to play Dead Rising and the text was SO small I had to squint to read it?
Of course you don’t. You weren’t there. You didn’t have to suffer like I did! (First world problems, I know, I know) I’ve suffered many trials and tribulations over the years, trying to hook up different consoles. So I thought I’d put a little guide together for you guys. A crappy display can ruin your experience, but consoles set up right? They can bring out the best in a game. They can hold your attention and in my opinion, become more fun!
This post is by far my nerdiest one to date. I apologise for those of you that aren’t bothered, but this may just come in useful for someone starting up their own mancave!
First, let’s get to know our cables!
RF/ RF Switches
The bottom of the totem pole. The absolute worst way to connect any system to your TV. Sounds harsh, but hey, I know my wires. This was the way we first connected anything up. Atari, Nes, you name it. Even the PS2 can be connected using one of these. It fits into the Aerial socket of your TV and you’ll have to tune in the signal using your remote control. The result is a grainy image, prone to static and interference. Newer TVs may not even pick up these signals, because the frequency is too low! I’ve had my Atari and my Spectrum modded to display composite video, just to get away from this!
Ahhh these should be familiar. This cable with red, white and yellow ends (Left Audio, Right Audio, and Video respectivley) comes supplied as standard with several consoles, most notably PS2 and Gamecube. It’s reliable, and gives out a fairly decent picture. I have several consoles hooked up like this, mainly because switch boxes have no problem showing composite. And TVs have nice red/white/yellow sockets already installed. For the UK gamers, you can simply get a scart adaptor for around 99p. All three cables will fit nicely into one of these, which you can then connect to a TV or Scart selector.
One up from composite is S-Video. This technology came in around about the same time as camcorders did. Gives a nice clean video signal but you’ll still need red and white audio cables!
NOW we’re talking! The one advantage us Europeans get over the Americans is the SCART connector. RGB Stands for Red Green and Blue, and a system connected via RGB SCART gives an amazingly sharp picture. I have 5 systems currently hooked up with RGB, and the most telling was the Master System. The picture is sharp and the colours are so vivid, it was such an improvement I was blown away!!
The only issue comes when you try and connect too many RGB signals up at once. Some switch boxes just can’t handle it and you’ll get a black screen.
I’ve only heard this mentioned when people are talking about the Dreamcast. VGA uses the same connector as the old PC monitors use. It’s supposed to give out a nice clean picture but I’ve never tried it. You’ll also have to connect red and white audio cables separately.
I remember first using this for my Xbox 360. It was THE choice for HD graphics before HDMI became the standard. Most newer TVs have dropped the component sockets these days, but it’s a reliable source for High-Def graphics, especially in 720p. Older consoles like the original Xbox support component video, so it DOES still have it’s uses!
We connect EVERYTHING with HDMI these days, so you should know these cables well. If you want crisp, Hi-Def images on 360/Ps3 and up, this is the ONLY way to go!
Okay, now we’ve clarified that, let’s get on with displays
Older consoles are ALWAYS going to look better on an old-school CRT (cathode ray tube) TV. This is because these systems were DESIGNED with these displays in mind. Imperfections in a CRT display actually make old games look BETTER! The same game played on a HD TV will have all it’s original jagged edges and pixels will be much more defined as squares. CRTs have what I can only describe as a slight “blurring” effect making old school games look smoother. (And exactly how you remember them) The added bonus of using a CRT is that original light guns still work. Bang Bang!
Anything from the 360/PS3 onwards, you’ll want on a HDTV, preferably with HDMI or component connections. I find that certain older consoles are passable on a HD screen (PC Engine, original Xbox and 3DO are all hooked up right now and look fine) and HD is undoubtedly here to stay. You CAN use say, a 360 on an older TV, but fonts are tiny, and everything’s hard to read. Not recommended!
This is only if you’re getting serious with your retro gaming. A Scart selector allows you to plug multiple devices in at once, and a GOOD Scart selector will switch between these devices automatically, depending on which one’s powered on. I have two of these bad boys:
They cost a bomb these days (I think they’ve gone out of production) but they accept RGB, composite, and S-Video signals, and run flawlessly. These two little boxes sit behind my TVs, but can you imagine how many cables I’d have to swap between if I didn’t have them?!
(These rules don’t apply so much to current gaming, but are important if you’re going retro)
All games and consoles released in Europe have a video Standard known as PAL. Got that?
The American games and consoles are known as NTSC-U
The Japanese games and consoles are NTSC-J
Remember when I said I blew up a TV? That was because I was trying to feed an NTSC signal through a very old, dilapidated PAL TV. I didn’t know that at the time, but there we go. NTSC signals operate at 60hz (hertz), while PAL operates at 50hz. The extra 10hz was just too much for the old girl to handle.
Bottom line, if you’re planning on using an old CRT, google it and make sure it can accpet a 60hz signal. Games that run at 60hz are usually around 20% faster, with no black borders on the top and bottom of the screen. Pretty cool eh? Saturn and PS1 games were locked at 50 or 60 depending on what country they were released in, but from the Dreamcast onwards, games would usually give you a choice of either!
Also keep an eye out for consoles modded to run at 60hz (you’ll find them on Ebay quite easily) The speed and display increase are well worth the extra pennies!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide, as always I appreciate any feedback! Catch you next time!