Retro Systems On An HDTV - How To Hook Up Your NES, SNES, N64 or Other Retro System

Posted by Chris Evans at

One of the most common questions we get from customers is, "Will this retro system work on my new TV?" With updates in technology and the TV industry phasing out composite connections, unfortunately the answer is often, "It depends." 

The answer to this question depends on two factors: 

(1) What connections your TV has
(2) What connections the system has

Read below for a thorough explanation of the video connection types you will find on your TV and how they will impact your retro gaming experience.

Coaxial Connection:

What is a Coaxial Connection?

The first video game systems from Atari to Super Nintendo all came packed with RF cables which would connect to the coaxial port on the TV. The connections looked like this:



Can I use it on My HDTV?

Every TV I have used has a coaxial connection somewhere on the back. This is not to say that every single TV has this connection, but I have never seen one without it. The real issue is whether the TV can read an analog signal from the system. Usually, Any system from NES forward has a strong enough signal to show on the analog channel 3 or 4 on a new TV. Prior to NES, the RF signal was much weaker, and it varies from TV to TV whether you will get a signal. On my Insignia flat screen TV using analog channels, I can play all retro systems with a coaxial connection. I personally haven't owned any TVs that I couldn't get to play a retro system with an RF cable. I have had customers, however, that couldn't get analog stations on their TV and also couldn't get a strong enough signal from Atari and earlier systems to show up on their TVs.

Summary: If you have the remote control and can view analog channels on your TV, there is a strong chance you can play retro systems with an RF connection.

Composite Connection

What is a composite connection?

Starting with the Nintendo NES, video games used RCA composite cables like the ones shown in the picture below. These are recognized by their signature red, yellow, and white coloring.


Up until recently, many HDTVs either featured a composite video input or a backwards compatibility feature in the component video section. If your TV has a composite input like the one shown above, you're in the clear! Retro systems with composite video out will work on your TV. If your TV does not have this input, look closely at the component inputs to see if it has an input  like this:

 Image result for backwards compatible component input


These ports show compatibility with composite video in a few ways. First, if the ports say "AV IN" as shown above, your composite cables will work. Second, the yellow circle around the green port signifies backwards compatibility with composite cables. Third, the "Y/VIDEO" label over the green component port on the top example also signifies backwards compatibility. Keep an eye out for these signifiers when examining your TV to see if retro systems will work!

Component Connection

What is a Component Connection?

Component video is similar to composite video, and they are often confused with eachother. Most component cables include 5 RCA plugs and are the HD successor to composite AV cables. All new TVs have component inputs, but they may not have composite. Simply put, component cables output better video and sound. Component cables were not released until the PS2 era, but if you can get your choice of cables when buying a PS2 or newer system, always go component for your HDTV. It will look way better and make your life a lot easier. Here is a sample photo of a component cable:

Related image

Summary: Systems with component cables will work on your flat screen HDTV.

HDMI Connection

What is an HDMI Connection?

HDMI is the leading cable connection for high definition video. Every HDTV comes with an HDMI port, and new systems like PS4 and Xbox One ONLY come with an HDMI cable. No retro systems use HDMI, so this section will be very brief. The only purpose of mentioning this is that you may want to purchase an HDMI converter to connect your retro system to your TV. Here is a sample HDMI connection:

Image result for hdmi tv connection diagram


Other Options

So, your TV won't work with any retro systems. It isn't composite compatible, it doesn't have analog channels, and you can't plug component cables into your retro system. What options are left? Here is a short list of other possible solutions:

(1) HD Clone Systems
There are many systems on the market that can play your retro games. We offer several solutions on our site. On of our favorites is the Classiq II HD - an HD system that plays both NES and SNES games with HDMI and AV out PLUS controller ports for both! It is really a phenomenal system. Read more information below:

(2) HDMI Upscaler
Get a composite to HDMI upscaler for your TV. Don't go cheap! Go for a positively rated, middle-of-the-road upscaler that will get you started. I have countless customers complain about HDMI upscalers that never worked. We offer a great AV to HDMI converter right here at Off the Charts! This AV to HDMI converter takes the composite video plugs from your retro system (red, yellow, and white plugs) and converts them to an HDMI signal which you can run to your TV with an HDMI cable. 

(3) Buy Component Cables
If you have a PS2 or later system, you can solve this issue easily by buying some nice component cables for your system. They are very cheap for PS2, PSP, and some others. Gamecube is the only system with extremely expensive component cables, but you can buy a MadCatz multi-port component cable that includes Gamecube for cheap.

(4) Modify Your System
Some people modify their systems for VGA, HDMI, or other output types. This can be a long and grueling job or an expensive service to purchase, so this is only for the adventurous or dedicated retro gamers who want top notch video straight from their systems.

Hopefully this guide answers all of the questions you had about hooking up a retro system to your HDTV! Remember: if you can't figure it out, feel free to shoot us an email!

Best Wishes,
Off the Charts Tech Squad

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