Playing Today – The Nintendo NES


In our newest series of articles, we will delve into the specifics of playing retro hardware in more modern times. This article focuses on the Nintendo NES console.

The Nintendo NES, known as the Famicom in Japan, was a phenomenally successful games console, particularly in America and Japan. The console was on sale for more than twenty years in Japan and amassed a huge software library during that time. The NES is fondly remembered by many gamers who grew up in the 1980s and early 90s and this has led to a healthy market in second hand hardware and games.

NES console, as seen in Europe and the USA.
NES console, as seen in Europe and the USA.
Famicom console, as sold in Japan.
Famicom console, as sold in Japan.


Like other 3rd generation consoles, all NES games are displayed in 240p (NTSC) or 288p (PAL). As regular readers of our site will be aware, modern HDTVs almost invariably handle 240p/288p signals incorrectly. Using a CRT or an upscaler with the system is highly recommended.

AV Output

The redesigned top loading NES/Famicom.
The redesigned top loading NES/Famicom.

AV output options are limited on the stock hardware. The Japanese Famicom systems feature only RF output. This requires a television with an analogue tuner. Be aware that most PAL (European) televisions do not display colour pictures when tuned to the Famicom’s signal.

The US and European NES consoles feature composite output. The redesigned AV Famicom (top loading model) also features composite output.

RGB Modifications

RGB modifications for Famicom and NES hardware are now possible. The modification is somewhat complex and requires additional parts to be ordered. We do not currently offer RGB modifications for the NES/Famicom but we are considering it for the future.


The UK NES console uses a 9 volt AC power supply. While this power supply can be replaced with a third party unit that outputs DC, you should not use the stock Nintendo unit with other consoles. The reason for this is that most other units accept DC current only and feeding in AC current to a unit only designed for DC can damage it (however, the reverse is not true). Never try to power a Famicom unit with a NES power supply.

When shopping for a replacement power supply for your NES/Famicom hardware, observe the following specifications:-

The original AC Adapter for the Famicom and the Super Famicom has the following specifications:
Input: 100VAC 50-60Hz
Output: 10VDC 850mA
Polarity: Centre Pin Negative
Barrel Size: Outer Diameter 5.5mm; Inner Diameter 2.1mm

The Sharp Twin Famicom AC-Adapter is different. Its specifications are:
Input: 100VAC 50-60Hz
Output: 7.6VDC 1250mA (1.25A)
Polarity: Centre Pin Positive
Barrel Size: Outer Diameter 5.5mm; Inner Diameter 2.5mm

The Famicom Disk System AC-Adapter has the following specifications:
Input: 100VAC 50-60Hz
Output: 9VDC 400mA
Polarity: Centre Pin Negative
Barrel Size: Outer Diameter 5.5mm; Inner Diameter 2.0mm

For more information, see this page.


If you are not using a CRT, it is highly recommended to use an external upscaler with your NES/Famicom. This will drastically improve picture quality and in many cases reduce input lag too. As always, you will get the best results from an RGB modded machine. Few upscalers will work with a RF signal, so a hardware modification to output at least composite video is required for the Japanese unit. The XRGB3 will give a black and white image when fed a composite video signal from a PAL NES. The XRGB Mini is compatible however.

Regional lockouts and circumventions

The NES and Famicom are both region locked. A security chip inside most cartridges prevents import games from starting on unmodified consoles. Circumventing this regional lockout requires a relatively trivial hardware modification. However, there is no modification that allows a PAL console to be switched to 60hz or vice versa, meaning imported NTSC games will run at the wrong speed on a PAL machine.

Famicom cartridges are physically different to NES cartridges. To use NES games on a Famicom (or vice versa) a converter is required. Famicom to NES converters tend to be more costly than going the other way around.

Due to problems with legitimate (non-import) software not booting, Nintendo actually removed the regional lockout chip in the AV Famicom/NES 101 top loader.


Flash cartridges exist for the system, allowing ROM images to be loaded. These flash cartridges also circumvent regional lockouts in most cases. NES flash cartridges do not have 100% compatibility although the better ones are close. The most popular flash cartridge for the system is the Everdrive N8.


Many emulators exist for the Nintendo NES/Famicom. Emulation of the system can be an excellent way to enjoy NES games on an HDTV without resorting to potentially costly RGB modifications.

Some NES emulators are highly accurate, NES emulator Hygan is close to cycle exact, though requires a faster PC than many other emulators. Many of the better emulators have pixel shaders and other graphical effects that can be used to scale and enhance the graphical output past what is possible even with a RGB modified console and an upscaler.

If you decide to emulate the system, you may wish to use a NES to PC controller adapter. The models available from Raphnet and RetroUSB are reported to work well with minimal or no input lag.

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