How to play retro game consoles on new TVs
By Tom Middler
I’m lucky enough now to have built up a pretty big collection of retro games, but one thing that didn’t come with me through the years is my big old TV (I don’t mean like a 50 inch flat screen, I mean the proper heavy old TVs with the huge back part). Problem is, those chunky CRT TVs are still the original and best way to enjoy old video games; after all, they are the screens older consoles were designed to be seen on.
Having some - or even a lot - of free time on my hands lately, I decided I wanted to dust off my retro games collection, but without hauling in a huge old TV. Like most people, my modern flat TV doesn’t have the Composite or S-Video ports that you need to plug in an old games console, so I had to look for a new solution to my very first-world gaming problem.
Tom Middler / Radio FM4
The fix used to involve paying hundreds of Euro and sending away your flimsy old gaming device to have plastic surgery to give it an HDMI output (or doing some very fiddly DIY); a good option, but only one for the most hardcore of retro gaming enthusiasts. What about someone like me, who has some old games on the shelf, and just wants to get a hit of nostalgia every once in a while?
Now, there’s a decent solution for the more casual retro gamer too. In the last few years, “AV to HDMI” adapters have been flooding the online marketplace, and happily the quality and prices are getting better all the time. These things are essentially a little box of tricks which converts the AV signal from the old console into the HDMI signal that your new TV requires. So… for around €20-€30 it does what it says on the box!
You’ll need to wade carefully through the reviews and pick the right adapter, as an “HDMI to AV” adapter for example looks almost identical but does the opposite job, and will not help you out. Also, know your consoles well, because it’s a complex market. Early 90s consoles like the Super Nintendo will need an “RGB to HDMI” adapter to work best, mid-90s stuff like PS1 or N64 needs “AV to HDMI” and so on, so do a bit of reading on the subject before you part with your cash.
Tom Middler / Radio FM4
There’s a hint of trial and error about the process, as it seems that none of these adapters are bullet-proof or guaranteed to work with all TVs and consoles. However, with a bit of luck, a small and cheap piece of technology will allow you to access your whole retro collection in its original form, with the authentic controllers and no laggy emulation going on, all on your regular flat TV. Nice!
The AV to HDMI adapter will need a USB power source, and with the original composite cables, the adapter power lead, the HDMI cable and the TV leads, you’re looking at a lot of unsightly wires lying around, but as a temporary measure to get that dose of nostalgia it’s a price that’s probably worth paying for many retro gamers.
In fact, the main problem with making retro gaming so easy might be your rose-tinted spectacles. Having a fond memory of the older games is one thing, but these adapters do not improve the quality of the graphics in any way, they just allow them to be displayed on your modern TV or monitor. The best you can aim for is original lo-res graphics with clear, crisp colour reproduction (as opposed to washed out displays on a projector screen) and lag-free button inputs. If your expectations are too high, you might forget that retro games have aged probably even faster than you have.
Whilst many 2d games managed a timeless graphical appeal, early 3d era titles like those on the PS1 or N64 can look foggy and almost unplayable in 2020. Unless you’re prepared to battle longer load times, some simplistic gameplay devices, unreliable memory cards and ugly spiky polygons, the retro experience might be too authentic for a casual gamer that’s used to the modern luxuries of 4K TVs.
The joy of retro gaming though, is in rediscovering those games which have stood the true test of time and still play brilliantly in 2020, and don’t worry, there are plenty out there. Whilst there may be easier ways to emulate old games, nothing in retro gaming beats the relief of slotting in an old Nintendo cartridge and seeing that it still boots up properly!
Tom Middler / Radio FM4
For those who are prepared to give it a go, „Super Mario 64“ is just one example of precise game design which still looks good almost 25 years after its release. Exploring Peach’s castle in the search for power stars is still challenging and addictive, and it’s not hard to imagine what a seminal moment in gaming it was, when one of the most famous mascots of all time suddenly sprang out of a warp pipe in 3d for the first time ever.
If a simple AV to HDMI adapter gives more players the possibility to relive magic moments like that, or even teach newer gamers about the ancestors of today’s greatest games, then it’s definitely a good thing for gaming in my book.
Publiziert am 08.04.2020