How To Connect Your Old Video Game Consoles To A New TV

How To Connect Your Old Video Game Consoles To A New TV

If you’ve just rediscovered an old console in the back of your closet, or you’re newly into retro gaming and want the genuine experience, you’ve probably stood in front of your shiny new LCD or plasma TV with a console made in the age of CRTs, wondering what to do. Luckily, it’s not too difficult to plug everything in and get your game on. Here’s how:

Originally published on Lifehacker

Photos by Blake Patterson, William Hook, Michael Mol, and Greg Peverill-Conti

Use the Highest Quality Connector Available on the Console

The newest consoles use HDMI, but older consoles can usually connect to new HDTVs over either component video or composite video. Consoles like the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox all connect over component, and while composite is an option, you’ll get better video quality by going with component if it’s available on your TV.

Older consoles won’t necessarily support component, and in those cases — especially with older think the Dreamcast, the Nintendo 64 or the GameCube, composite is your best option. With even older consoles, S-Video may be your best choice. Bottom line: Use the highest-quality video connector on offer that’s also available on your TV. The only time you should worry is if your console uses a connector that’s not available on your TV.

Try Composite If Your Old Console is RCA-Only

With some consoles, such the original NES and several others from around the same 1980s time period, you may be get away with connecting your RCA cables to the red and yellow composite video ports on the back of your TV. Some older consoles, like the Sega Genesis, have full composite video cables, with all three red, white, and yellow connectors. If yours only has two, connect red to red and try the white one in either the white connector or the yellow one. As long as those cables aren’t actually carrying audio, one of them is almost always audio and the other is video — if you can get video in the yellow port and audio into the red or white port, you’re in business.

Go Coax For Older Consoles

How to Connect Your Old Video Game Consoles to a New TV

If the console you want to connect uses a connector that your TV just doesn’t have, you’ll need a converter or an adaptor that will connect to a port your TV actually has. The easiest way to do this is to connect via coax, since most modern sets still have one for over-the-air antenna connections.

Some of the older consoles, like the NES, Sega Genesis, and some older Atari models, use that old RF connector box that many of us remember and love. You can still use it if you want to and don’t feel like buying anything new. Just connect your single RCA cable from the console to the box, then connect a coaxial cable from the box into the cable or antenna port on the back of your TV. Switch the box to “game” when you’re using it, switch to the TV/Cable input manually, and don’t let your TV try to auto-tune its way to a signal. This article at Retro Games Collector goes into more detail about this, and can help if it’s still not working for you.

If you still have the box, great, but if you don’t, you’re not out of luck. All you need is a coaxial to RCA (female) adaptor. >. Just connect the RCA cable from the console to the female end, connect the male coax end to your TV, tune to TV/Cable manually, find the right channel and you’re off and away playing your favourite classic games. This method is actually easier than using those old switchboxes, so consider it even if you do have one.

How to Connect Your Old Video Game Consoles to a New TV

Get Around a Display Without Coax Inputs Using a VCR or DVD Player

How to Connect Your Old Video Game Consoles to a New TV

If none of the above options really work for you, you could potentially get around dealing with your TV entirely by going through a device already connected to your TV that has an auxiliary input. If you still have a VCR attached to your TV via composite or component video, or you have a DVD player connected via component or even HDMI, check the back. If it has an RCA or a coaxial input, you’re in business.

Just connect your console to the back of the VCR or DVD player using your preferred coax trick above. Then connect the VCR or DVD player to the monitor or TV using composite or component (whichever is better, or available), and set the device to its auxiliary port. You’ll lose some video quality because you’re running the signal through a second device on its way to the screen, but it’s better than having no signal at all.

These aren’t the only ways to get the job done of course, but they’re some of the easiest and most broadly applicable to the widest set of old consoles, from old school Ataris and Commodore PCs all the way up to not-really-old-but-still-retro consoles like the N64 and the Dreamcast. With a little time and attention to all the ports on the back of your TV, it should be a snap.


  • for the record composite is not the best connection for the gamecube and N64. Both support Component or S-video depending on region.

    The dreamcast can also be made to output VGA.

    Maybe do some research next time you make claims like this.

    • Meh, I think my NES and SNES look better on my 46″ LCD than they ever did on a CRT. The N64 however gives me motion sickness on an LCD.

      • I can’t deal with the lag you get from using analogue inputs on digital TVs. Makes the games unplayable, but on top of that every set I’ve ever used has made them look horrible too.

        • I just use RCA’s. Wouldn’t touch an RF connector. I find the simple graphics on NES and SNES scale really well personally.

  • Wow, this is spectacularly bad advice.

    If you want your vintage games to look as good as possible you need to invest in a convertor that can take an RGB signal and convert it to component. There are a few of these things around, they’re not expensive, (like this and then you need to invest in getting RBG SCART leads for your consoles.

    Nearly every console from the 16bit era up will support RGB SCART, with the exception of the N64 which requires some internal mods, and even then it’s a bit dim. The only time RF should ever be an option you settle for is with an original NES or Master System, but they can also be hacked to output better video.

    In the case of the N64 and possibly a couple of other older consoles opting for S-Video is the best option, and as stated above, a quality CRT with SCART inputs is always going to be your best bet.

    There are excellent resources for people who are serious about this online with how-to guides and suggestions for extra hardware if you use your google and spend some time doing a bit of research, a lot of learned people have achieved marvellous results in this field of the hobby and the information is out there waiting for you to find and use it.

    The graphics on vintage systems are beautiful, and running them RF or composite into a modern TV is like viewing the Mona Lisa through a webcam from the 90s.

    • I don’t know about other markets, but the PAL Aussie NES had a video and single audio port on the side. You couldn’t pay me to use an RF connector. Plus everyone I know has had their original RF connector die, they seemed to be the worst made part of the hardware.

    • Ditto to this. This guide is a complete joke since it doesn’t even mention RGB SCART which is not only the best quality video connection for older consoles but is hardly rare. The SNES, Sega Saturn, Sega Mega Drive and PlayStation all support RGB SCART out of the box and many others can be modded to output in RGB SCART.

  • This seems like way more useless hassle than it would take to walk to a second-hand store and buy an old TV for less than the price of modern cables.

    • Really? You couldn’t pay a second hand store around here to take a CRT. They had to make them free to dump at the tip because people were just dumping them on the side of the road.

      • Same here and my local council always books their mass curb side collection for the middle of winter. Heaps of recyclable electronics like crt’s and old pc’s get dumped on poeples front lawns and if you don’t grab one the second it’s put out it’s ruined within half an hour by the rain.

    • Good luck trying to find a second hand store that sells them, my local charity store wont even take crt tv’s as donations, only plasma’s and lcd’s they say.

    • Typical CRT’s nowadays are heavy, dusty/dirty, heat up, take up more space than a flatscreen, and use heaps of power.

  • Sad to see that the Nintendo 64 doesn’t turn out to well on HDTV’s, too blurry and somewhat washed out when I did it. One of my reasons for using an Emulator

  • One thing not really mentioned here is input lag. You can get a lot of converters and stuff, but I agree that things like components are generally the best option. VGA can be a bit specific but it can work too.

  • I bought a nice little analogue to digital converter to run my neogeo on a LCD. $30 off eBay works a charm. Takes composite or component including v-sync

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!