How I Set Up An Awesome Retro Gaming Hub

There's something quite special about retro gaming, but having space and the setup to use multiple retro systems does take some effort. Here's how I set my collection up.

Image: Chris L

I never actually planned to become a retro game collector. Actually, I don't like the "collector" tag all that much anyway, because it tends towards the darker side of retro gaming where "collectible" titles gather dust in delicately sealed packets. I have a large number of old games and the systems to play them, not simply to stare at them.

There's an issue with having a large number of games to play, however, because you need to have a system set up so that you can play them when the whim hits you. In my case that's most days, and recently I did a tidy up of my games consoles to bring them into line and make them more accessible. To be specific, I now have (deep breath): Atari 7800 (which I found by the side of the road), Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Master System, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Megadrive with Mega CD, Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation, Nintendo 64, Sony Playstation 2, Microsoft Xbox, Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo Gamecube, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii. Twelve consoles into a largely decrepit Philips LCD TV that doesn't actually have that many inputs.

Get organised and limit cable clutter

The first step to setting up a decent retro gaming system concentrated around a single TV has nothing to do with the consoles or the TV.

It's to do with the furniture. There are any number of TV cabinets you can buy, but most only have one or two apertures for snaking cables through. For older games systems especially, these are woefully inadequate, as you'll not only run out of space, but risk a spaghetti style cable cluster when you do so. I favour an open backed cabinet style to enable cables to snake through without trouble. My own cabinet is of a style that I don't think IKEA make any more (and of a name I cannot recall) but it's roughly analogous to this Gettorp unit. If I wanted to go absolutely retro in my furniture I really should use a couple of sheets of particle board and some bricks in classic student style, but I'm not convinced such an arrangement would carry the weight properly.

Remind me again why we need Call Of Duty?

The next issue to face is cable clutter. While HDMI has its downsides in terms of inbuilt DRM, it's a much less cluttered approach than having separate audio and video cables for every single thing, not to mention a slightly thicker and thus less tangle-prone profile. There are all sorts of solutions to cable clutter that can involve tying cables together, and it's very much a question of how you plan to access devices as to how you tame the little sods. My own solution revolves around the positioning that they take going into multiple switches and inputs, which segues nicely into...

Switches are your friends

Outside of the Xbox 360, which uses the sole HDMI port, everything else connected through was switched in one way or the other. For the 8-bit systems and the 7800, that involved RF coaxial cables running through each other, with the Atari plugging into the switch for the Master System which itself plugs into the switch for the NES. That needed a little tweaking to find the lineup that introduced the least static fuzz to images, and if I'm honest, it's still something of a work in progress.

Everything else runs through three composite switching boxes running in serial, with a diagram to indicate which position relates to each individual console. Again, that's a somewhat involved wiring job that came down to a certain amount of juggling based on the condition and length of cables, as well as the purchase of a replacement switching box when it became clear that one of my older switches was intermittently glitchy. One upside here is that switching boxes for composite inputs are quite cheap.

Composite on an LCD TV? Are you mad?

Quite possibly, but that's not the point here. One of the realities of setting up something like this and having it workable, acceptable to other people in my house and affordable was that I had to make a few compromises. There are some systems in that lineup that are component-level happy, but the component inputs on the available TV aren't at all reliable any more. For those systems that wull handle it, I've utilised S-Video rather than composite for a slightly cleaner image, but I can otherwise live with what it's pumping out.

In an ideal world I'd have many of these systems going into a dedicated CRT, but my budget constraints — not to mention space — are already pretty stretched, so for now, a slight compromise is the best I can do.

Don't forget somewhere to store the controllers

In an era where wireless controllers are the norm, it's all too easy to forget that classic consoles used wired controllers, or if you were very stupid, expensive RF-based controllers that never worked very well.

Also the Wavebird, one of the all-time greatest controllers in the history of the known universe, right up there with the Saturn Nights controller and the classic SNES controller.

Still the best sports game of all time.

There's no point in having systems set up if you can't play them, but that many systems and controllers can quickly become tangled clutter. My general solution, because there's only one output TV anyway, is to use a soft-topped box stool to store the controllers in, with cables gently wrapped up with rubber bands. It makes them easy to get out of the box when needed, keeps them organised and safe, and allows me to easily get on with the gameplay.

Couldn't you do all this with emulators?

Leaving aside the thorny issue of legality when it comes to game ROMs... nah, bugger it, someone will ask the question, so here you go: You're not allowed Game ROMs for titles you "own" in Australia, and here's why.

That issue out of the way, why yes, you could emulate old systems if you so chose using (*cough*) legally free game images of your choosing. But there is something to making the commitment to sit down and play a specific game that will, in my experience, draw a lot more fun out of the experience. When you're sitting in front of an emulator with hundreds of game images, the opportunity choice can be overwhelming, and you could always do something else on the same computer.

Popping a cartridge into a system is a choice to make, and you'll play longer and, I find, enjoy for a greater span of time.

Now if you'll excuse me, these cowboys won't shoot themselves.


    No picture of your setup?

      That's what I was wondering too - without the pics the article is really just fluff.

        Simple, honest answer: Post last week's Sydney storms, there's a tree through my house right now.

        Retro consoles are safe, but shifting stuff from damaged rooms has meant that there's boxes and stacks of stuff in front of the consoles. Would make for a dull photo.

          That sucks, I hope the consoles are ok...and you of course :P

            I was flicking between tabs and had to do a double take at your comment. I was like AYEEE!!!!! I HOPE THE CONSOLES ARE OK, WHAT ABOUT HIM!!

            Then I finished reading and yeah....carry on

          Ouch! I'm curious why you chose to omit this information, as its that kind of flavour that makes these articles personal and interesting (see anything @markserrels has written). Would've also laid the groundwork for part 2 when you get everything back up and running.

          Last edited 27/04/15 5:05 pm

            It's still running -- I just can't easily get to it!

            And as for why it's not in there, it originally ran on Lifehacker last week, where I was doing a stint of guest contribution (as happens from time to time) exactly when the tree came down :(

            After that, I was a little busy.

    Totally agree that Athlete kings is the best sports game of all time!! Long live the Saturn!! Plus if your not retro gaming on a CRT telly your doing it wrong!!

    I have an NES, SNES, N64, Gamecube, and PS2 all hooked up alongside my Wii, Wii U, PS3 and PS4. The old consoles are all positioned in my entertainment unit under my TV, and they are all running through an XRGB Mini Framemeister unit. No unplugging and cable swapping required. NES and SNES both use RGB, and the N64 uses S-Video (sine I haven't yet modded an RGB kit into it yet). Gamecube and PS2 both use component cables. The picture from all of them is crisp as iceberg lettuce.

    I don't collect consoles anymore, but I have enough laying around still in service that I have to put work into properly managing them. Probably the best bit of advice is don't be afraid to mod and get creative. Just because your TV cabinet only has one hole in the back for cables doesn't mean you can't get a power drill with a hole saw attachment and pop a few more neat little holes in the back. Attaching cable tie holders to the back keeps things neat. Running a single cord into the back with an individually switched/surge protected power board screwed down is smart. A bit more advanced, but a lot of the older cables like RF cables can be replaced with custom length cables you've made yourself.
    Often you're better off taking the original shelves out and making an insert that divides what was two wide shelves into six smaller pidgeon holes. The beauty being aside from just being neat and tidy you're now able to bolt a holster to the side of the insert to hold the NES Zapper or a game pad without actually modifying the original cabinet.
    When you really start getting creative you can do some weird things. A TV cabinet or modern looking shelf system is nice for a few consoles and a DVD player, but if you've got a huge collection you don't want people just running up and poking you might be better off converting a wardrobe. With the right cable setup it doesn't even have to be close to the TV. All your consoles, a few draws for accessories, controllers mounted on the doors. Then another on the other side of the room for the carts themselves. Basically what Batman would do minus the black and Bat symbols. It's a lot of fun working on these sorts of projects and they're pretty practical too.

    Sorry, but I had to...
    Between my fiance and I we have...
    N64 (X5, She's a pokemon addict so she has some special editions)
    Wii (x3)
    Wii U
    Ps3 (x2)
    Xbox (x4, cough... 2 for emulators... cough)
    Xbox 360 (x2)
    Xbox One

    and then there's the handhelds

    Gameboy (Ye Olde Brick one)
    Gameboy Color (x3, More Pokemon Spec Eds)
    Gameboy Advanced (x2)
    PS Vita (x2)

    I have a disability that gives me too much free time... Not ONE Sega system...

      I cant even...

    I have three goddamn NES I need new cartridge drives for :|

      and i would gladly relieve you of a broken nes!

      a bit of work, but ive done it before for a friend....

      have a crack at it, its not hard.

        Yea, was a lot easier to just play when I wanted than set the time aside to fix them haha. They'll get fixed eventually. I still have the original box with kmart price sticker on mine.

        Last edited 28/04/15 11:54 am

    After years of juggling inputs and consoles I just turned into an emu. It's so much easier and has a comparable nerd factor, as the bonus space allows for more useless techno junk. Or He-Man toys. I is big on them.

    Ha! Only 12? You've got a LOT of catching up to do... Wait until they start multiplying. I swear, they breed. I've got four NES consoles, as many SNES systems - and I've lost count of the Playstation's I've got. I've counted five so far, but I think there's one more... lurking, waiting. For what, I dunno, but I'm in no hurry to find out. I doubt it'd be anything good - it may feel slighted over how much time I've been spending playing Dragon Quest IV on the Famicom.

    I've refurbished all of them myself, too; used to actually have a small business onselling refurbished U.S. consoles to Australian customers, but gave that up when the dollar crashed.
    Who's going to pay the same price as a new PS4 for a refurbished NTSC NES?

    I've even got a Sega Nomad modded to support Master System games (Phantasy Star!), I have LED modded Game Gears - you name it, I have three of them! Of course, I only buy what I will actually use - I detest the notion of keeping unopened, new in box stuff just lying around.

    I've even bought a few brand new, unopened old retro games - and opened them, and played them. That's why they were made in the first place!

    In fact, I even have... uh, wait? Where did... where did all my friends go...?

    Oh, yeah... That's right. Oh well.

    (Goes back to playing Sonic Jam)

    I was really surprised not to see one mention of SCART to HDMI or SCART to COMPONENT. Whilst doing whatever is easiest for you or within your present budget is, of course, your prerogative, once I saw RF being used I just couldn't believe it. I really don't mean that in a negative way; it's just that many of those consoles (depending on what models you have) are capable of SOOOOO much more. They can look better than you've ever imagined, honestly. CRTs have a bit of nostalgia to them for us who took advantage of them, but the consoles' RGB signals offer way more than your standard tube TV can provide. Plus there's the whole 50hz vs 60hz debacle that comes into play when importing. Many of my friends still use a dedicated CRT, but the idea that that is an ideal setup is a seriously long-running fallacy. Check out this video by Adam Koralik (a knowledgeable soul), which sums up a lot of the reasons why your unit could benefit from some SCART to HDMI love in the future. Thanks for sharing. It's always interesting to see how creative people can be with their setups. I just wish someone had showed me the light in terms of SCART's capabilities years ago, so I thought I'd pass it forward. Good luck with the renovations and I hope your house can be easily mended, buddy.

      ooo, last I looked they were like $60, now N64/SNES SCART cables are only $10!

    I own every PAL nintendo console and an xbox360, a ps3 and an xbox one as well as a gaming pc all hooked up to my 48" tv. Works pretty well. I found out that all the older nintendo consoles other than the NES were compatible with the component cabel that came with the gamecube so I bought a couple of extra of those then wired the NES through to gamecube into an av selector (allows 4 for inputs) which went into my tv then used the wii on composite. Then for the more modern consoles I have them all on hdmi leading into a 4 way hdmi switch box into my tv. Then had my pc hooked up with hdmi to my other hdmi slot.

    Now for power I have I have all of the consoles that are on the av selector plugged into one extension lead and all of the newer consoles plugged into a different one. I then just switch which extension lead is plugged into the wall depending on what I want to play.

    All together it works great and looks pretty cool. I have all the consoles and controllers in a big open backed cabinet made up of cubes (4x4 cubes) similar to this
    And then have my limited edition statues etc along the top and my tv on a desk with my pc to the side of it.

      Any tips for the old Nintendo plug component cables? Just checked ebay, cheapest is a genuine Nintendo cable for $370!

        the NES just uses a normal component cable (the ones with red white and yellow on both ends) just plug the red and yellow ends in and leave the white out; you loose one half of the audio but the NES doesn't exactly have surround sound anyway so you still hear everything out of one speaker. So you would be fine with just something like this:

        I assume that's the console you were talking about as the SNES and N64 both can just use the gamecube cable which can be bought pretty cheap off ebay.

          Nah was looking for one for my N64/SNES. Have a Y splitter on the NES to get around the mono problem, still mono, but comes out both left and right channel.

            ok for the n64 snes just get the gamecube video cable as it works on them so get something like this:

    Wouldn't having a PS2 and Wii negate the use of the PS1 and the GameCube due to full hardware based backwards compatibility?

      Not really; some peripherals (like the Gazebos Player) aren't compatible, nor are certain video modes - for example, the PS2 can't display PS1 games over component cable.

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