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I was just given a pile of SNES games, and have no SNES to play them on, so I intend to purchase one. The problem is I have no TV - I play my consoles on a monitor. This should be fine, except that for the cost of the necessary adapters I could buy another console.

I'd like not to spend this much money. Is there an easier way, or cheaper adapters to output SNES video to a VGA monitor? (I don't care too greatly about quality loss, I just care that I have freaking video), or some kind of card I can put into my PC with software I can display the video with? My monitor is VGA.

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    Well, you have somewhat valid reason to just grab an emulator and the ROMs, but that is off-topic. Also, any game with battery backup will most likely not work, since those button cells have been in there for almost 20 years. – Nelson Jan 11 '16 at 6:41
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    @kelario Wait, so you already have an NES and a Sega Genesis, but haven't already solved this video problem? – Random832 Jan 11 '16 at 15:04
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    Another issue might be that even with a converter, you can't play light gun (super scope) games, and the experience of the games will be different. It might be worth seeing if you can get a CRT TV from a goodwill or something. – Random832 Jan 11 '16 at 15:06
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    @Nelson - The OP asks if there's "an easier way". That sounds like emulation would be on-topic and a valid answer. I second the suggestion, at any rate. If I recall correctly, the SNES uses a coaxial RF connector that no modern TV's or VGA monitors are likely to support. – aroth Jan 12 '16 at 0:18
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    @MrLemon The question is about whether a particular linkage is possible, and if there are any alternatives besides an adaptor. It's not asking 'what is the best hardware for X'. – fredley Jan 12 '16 at 10:58
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The original SNES, while certainly one of the pinnacles of the 16-bit era, doesn't come without it's issues. You might find that original hardware will be harder to wrangle, especially 30 years later when we're talking about second-hand consoles in unknown states of disrepair, analog AV inputs disappearing off modern displays, and proper upscaling solutions such as the OSSC or Framemeister being on the expensive side.

If you're looking to buy a SNES in order to just 'plug and play', my advice would be to skip buying an old SNES entirely, and instead get a more modern console that supports your SNES cartridges with more modern conveniences such as digital video output, save state functionality and so on.

What follows are two examples of consoles that take different approaches to the problem at hand:


RetroN 5 by Hyperkin

RetroN 5

  • Technology: Custom Android-based OS, Cartridges are ROM-dumped upon insert and played via software emulation.
  • Output: 720p HDMI (3x scale of 240p content)

Pros

  • Save states, Region switching, graphics filters and other functionality
  • Controller ports for original controllers
  • Supports a wide variety of consoles, SNES, NES, Sega Genesis (Mega Drive), Game Boy/GBC/GBA, and the Japanese Famicom and Super Famicom (basically the Japanese NES and SNES, but they have different cartridge widths).
  • Plays most, if not all the SNES games you have.

Cons

  • The 'RetroN' branded wireless controllers have some severe input lag. As a workaround you can use any original (or reproduction) wired controller.
  • Some inherent lag due to emulation.
  • HDMI only, no analog video output options built in.

I wrote more about the pros and cons of the Retron 5 on this post.

Hyperkin also offer the older Retron 2 (NES/SNES) and the Retron 3 (NES/SNES/Genesis), however from what I've been able to gather they use either S-Video or AV output, not HDMI.


Super Nt by Analogue

Super Nt

  • Technology: FPGA-based hardware reproduction
  • Output: HDMI 1080p/720p/480p

You may remember Analogue from their premium-priced, aluminum-chassis NES reproduction console, the 'Nt' (and later 'Nt Mini') that used real NES CPUs and PPUs on a redesigned board.

They have just announced and made available to preorder their SNES reproduction console, the 'Super Nt', that uses a Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) at its core. An FPGA is a customisable digital integrated circuit that can be programmed to act like another chip, or even many other chips - in this case, the entire SNES board.

Unlike the Nt Mini however, the Super Nt doesn't come with a hefty $400+ price tag, sitting at a much more respectable $190, making it a viable alternative to the casual gamer primarily interested in just playing games.

Pros

  • Zero inherent video delay (only what is produced by your display)
  • Original-style SNES/SFC Controller Ports
  • Support for firmware updates via SD card slot
  • Advanced video options - Scanlines, Scaler options, Pixel interpolation, individual Horizontal and Vertical adjustment and stretch.

Cons

  • HDMI only, No analog video output options built-in.
  • Not something that your average person would notice, but due to quirks with the original SNES's screen refresh rate not being entirely in-spec (60.08Hz), some tradeoffs needed to be made for compatibility with modern displays:
    • The SNt default 'Zero Delay' mode downclocks to a traditional 60Hz, meaning that games will run that ever so slightly slower, losing about 1 second every 10 minutes.
    • Setting the SNt to 'Frame Buffer' mode introduces a small amount of lag (as frames are buffered first), but runs games at their intended 60.08Hz refresh rate, droppping a frame every 10 seconds or so to align back up to 60Hz.
    • This is explained in greater detail by the RGB310 episode on the Super Nt by My Life In Gaming, relevant portion starts here

All-in-all, reviews for this device have been generally positive so far that I have seen, and certainly it is priced competitively when considering the price of original consoles + upscalers & converters. For someone that doesn't currently own a SNES this should certainly be a consideration.


Other considerations

There are other retro console reproductions out there as well, such as AT Games' Retro Consoles, but I haven't tested them thus I can't speak for their quality.

The recent SNES Mini, while an 'official' machine from Nintendo, only supports 30 or so inbuilt games, so those with original cartridges are out of luck.


Conclusions

There is certainly no shortage of options out there for playing SNES games. Original consoles on Analog TVs, or HD TVs using upscaling solutions are as authentic as you can get, but setting all this up certainly isn't cheap or easy, and making the space for it all might not be a viable option for many.

Modern options such as the above consoles make it easier and cheaper for your average gamer to enjoy retro games, and with the advances in both the emulation and FPGA spaces, the gaps in compatibility and quality are rapidly closing. It's certainly worth a look into if you are looking at playing retro games in the modern age.

Note: I am not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned.

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    @kelario FWIW, the same company sells devices that emulate only the NES for $30, or NES+SNES for $45 (just check the shop on the site Robotnik links). These may be a better fit for you -- provided they have monitor-compatible output, which is not clear to me from the descriptions. – Raphael Jan 11 '16 at 9:48
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    Note: to convert HDMI to VGA (through DVI) you will need an active converter, as HDMI only converts to DVI-D (digital only), but passive VGA converters will need a DVI-I/A input (DVI with analog component). Active converts are of course much more expensive than passive ones. If you simply do a passive HDMI->DVI->VGA one you will not get any output. – SztupY Jan 11 '16 at 10:49
  • @SztupY - I dunno, I've had success in the past with devices such as this one which is only $25 in Australia - that's not overly expensive – Robotnik Jan 11 '16 at 13:49
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    @Robotnik what you linked is an active converter (also indicated by it's price, as a passive one would sell around $2) – SztupY Jan 11 '16 at 14:06
  • @SztupY - Well there you go! I just always figured 'expensive' was $100+ :) – Robotnik Jan 11 '16 at 14:07
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There are a variety of computer cards called TV Tuner Cards, many of which include TV Capture functionality - older ones often have the Cable or Composite-In you'll require (this is how I played Majora's Mask the first time).

TV Tuner/Capture Card (Red/White audio leads are meant to be combined and go through the 3.5mm jack).
TV Capture Card

There are also apparently USB versions now. First I've heard of these.
USB TV Capture

Both cards and USB sticks can be found at your favorite online stores (at least one was selling a USB Adapter for $8!). You may be able to find a used card at a used goods store, too.

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    Unfortunately, these will all add some pretty noticeable lag, – Ross Ridge Jan 11 '16 at 7:05
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    I've looked into the USB stick version. I've heard they're meant for video capture and not streaming from the console, and that attempting the latter results in horrible video. – kelario Jan 11 '16 at 7:06
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    Yes, most of these capture cards and the like add lag to the video stream - from milliseconds to seconds - so I would not recommend playing games streamed to a PC this way. – MC ΔT Jan 11 '16 at 7:09
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    The USB one makes sense, because you're just offloading the video processing to the CPU. – Nelson Jan 11 '16 at 7:40
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    I personally have a couple of these USB adapters, they are garbage. And as @kelario stated they are intended for video capture like if you wanted to hook up a security/video camera. – C-dizzle Jan 11 '16 at 13:28
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Unfortunately going from Composite to VGA is not a simple process. VGA has 3 channels (RGB), while composite has only one channel. To go from composite to VGA, you have to do this:

Analog (Composite) => Digital => Digit processor to split the channels => Analog (VGA)

Although cheap converters seem to be available (Amazon search for "composite to VGA"), you may need to look at the frame rates and response time for playing video games. It will mess up your gaming if you jump 2 seconds after pressing a button.

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    Splitting the color and sync signals is easy enough to do in analog circuitry. The real problem is that most VGA monitors won't lock to interlaced video PAL/NTSC timings so you need a framebuffer to receive complete frames and re-output them with timgs suitable suitable for the monitor. – Peter Green Jan 11 '16 at 15:41
  • How do you split color signal from a single wire using purely analog circuitry? – Nelson Jan 11 '16 at 18:45
  • I guess it depends on exactly how you define "purely analog", the signal path is analog but there are switching elements involved in the control path. First you seperate out the sync pulses based on their length. Then (at least for PAL) you sync your color oscilator to the colorbursts (which come at a known timing relative to the sync pulses). Then you use that color oscilator to QAM demodulate the chroma subcarrier. Finally you have some analog signal processing to convert from YUV to RGB and to deal with the phase alternation between lines. – Peter Green Jan 11 '16 at 19:07
  • @Nelson: Composite video came out in the 1950s and we've been using it to power analog TVs since then. The old RCA antenna/cable wires are just composite signals on a carrier frequency (meaning they were actually a bit more complex). And really, anything you can do digitally, you can do with analog components. Digital is really just analog that's playing nicely on "macro" scales, after all. – MichaelS Jan 11 '16 at 23:26
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There's no cheap way of connecting an SNES to a VGA monitor. The SNES can output Composite video (the yellow cable, poor quality), S-Video (round cable with four pins, sharp image with a slight amount of color bleeding) and 15khz RGB (perfect quality). Unfortunately the RGB output can't be fed directly to a VGA monitor - these generally have a minimum resolution of 640x480 while the SNES outputs 256x240.

To get RGB output you need a JP21 cable (also referred to as Japanese SCART, because it's physically identical to European SCART cables which have 21 pins, but the wires are hooked up differently).

If you want to use a real SNES the options are:

  1. Acquire a CRT TV. It shouldn't be hard to find one, e.g. on craigslist. Most people would rather have a flatscreen these days so you might even get one for free. This is your only super cheap option.

    • Pros: Cheap, no lag, 100% accuracy.
    • Cons: Poor video quality, especially since small TVs are unlikely to have S-Video.
  2. Acquire a line-doubler/video processor. The best of these for VGA is the XRGB-3. This'll accept the RGB output of the SNES and double the resolution to 640x480 with practically 0 lag and no blurring, while outputting VGA. Alternatively the XRGB-Framemeister will scale up to 1080p (again without any blurring) while outputting HDMI with only a small amount of lag. See this site for more information and alternative upscalers/processors.

    • Pros: Pixel-perfect video, zero or very low lag, allows you to use regular computer monitors. This is the best option for hardcore enthusiasts with a lot of money.
    • Cons: The XRGBs are very pricy, upwards of $300.
  3. Acquire a PVM monitor. From what I understand these are old high-end monitors that weren't available to the average consumer. These will accept the SNES's RGB signal directly but you'll probably need a JP21 to BNC adapter.

    • Pros: Pixel-perfect video, no lag.
    • Cons: Hard to find, probably won't be cheap, not useful for anything else.
  4. Buy a cheap composite/S-video to VGA converter.

    • Pros: It'll let you connect to a VGA monitor?
    • Cons: Video quality won't be any better than with a CRT TV, possible lag, could probably acquire a CRT TV for the same amount of money.

If you want to use an emulator your options are:

  1. Use higan emulator.

    • Pros: Unlike other emulators, has no known bugs. This is as accurate as you can get without using a real SNES.
    • Cons: Requires much faster processor than other emulators.
  2. Use a fast emulator like snes9x on your computer.

  3. Use an emulator-in-a-box like the Retron 5.

You can dump your cartridges and use real SNES controllers with a retrode but it's pricy ($80).

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Absolutely doable. Is it viable? Different question entirely.

A fairly cheap purchase of S-Video to VGA adapter will do what want, however every other option mentioned thus far is a better way of doing it.

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In my opinion there are 2 best ways to play those games:

  1. Connect real SNES to real CRT TV (or a broadcast monitor, or an old 15kHz-capable computer monitor). Because this is the only way to get zero lag and full authenticity. Also, light gun games and old 3D glasses work. Connection options may vary. Here, in Europe, almost any TV has RGB SCART input that also supports S-Video and composite. In my opinion, even composite is enough for SNES games, just avoid the RF input. You can easily plug red and white audio line outputs into a separate amplifier if your TV only has mono audio. When moving to RGB through S-Video the image gets sharper and the colors become less muddy but, in my opinion, it doesn't always make the experience better. I'll probably get more downvotes, but this is true. The artists who made the art of those games never expected the graphics to look the way it looks with that $300 Framemeister. The ability to see every pixel of a dither pattern is hardly an improvement.
  2. Using an emulator on your PC, tablet or game console. This approach will typically yield smaller lag and better picture quality than connecting old console to a modern HDTV or an upscaler. Also, many useful features, such as gameplay recording and playback, savestates, CRT shaders etc. There are USB adapters for any old gamepad you can find.

About other options:

Most HDTVs or cheap converters are unable to process the video produced by old consoles correctly. It is 240p 60FPS instead of expected 480i 30FPS. In addition to lag, there will be various problems with moving or flashing parts of the picture that may be quite annoying. This is why specialized video upscalers exist. For CRT TVs there's virtually no difference between 480i and 240p, except more pronounced scanlines in 240p mode.

Connecting real console to a modern TV or to PC monitor via upscaler is just an expensive method to obtain emulator-quality image in the best case, and a lot of lags and processing artifacts in the worst case. Don't expect random upcaler to work, some of the more expensive video processors are totally unsuitable for gaming. This is the primary source for the information on the subject: retrogaming.hazard-city.de (due to downvotes I'm unable to post more links)

I dislike Retron and advise against using it. It is just an emulator running on small Android-based computer put into a fancy case equipped with cartridge readers. Only difference between it and other dirt-cheap android devices is that it has cartridge dumper circuitry and prevents you from running your own ROMs. It has quite a few issues and the SNES emulator, in particular, is laggy. Source: http://retrorgb.com/retron5review.html

Also this: http://www.libretro.com/index.php/hyperkins-retron5-continuing-licensing-problems/ They are selling FOSS emulators for money, against the license.

It gives you nothing but emulation anyway. And it's not the best kind of emulation you can get. There are much better emulators available for free.

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