How to Build an Atari Jaguar S-Video/Composite AV Cable

July 18, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Official S-Video cables exist for the Atari Jaguar, but they’re frustratingly difficult to find for a reasonable price.  They’re certainly not as bad as GameCube component cables, which can fetch over $100, but there’s really no good reason to pay more than a few bucks for any cable.  There are a few homebrew solutions scattered about, but reliably finding a seller that will quickly get you a cable is still harder than it should be.  What makes this even worse is that the Jaguar only comes with an RF connection by default, and it’s an especially AWFUL RF connection, too!

The solution?  Build your own cable!  If you already have the basic tools on hand (a soldering iron and solder is all you really need, though spare wire and electrical tape are nice to have, too), then all you really need is a few bucks for the right parts and some time.

So, let’s get started.  Here’s what I recommend you have on hand:

Tools:

  • A basic, 30ish-watt soldering iron (easily found at Radio Shack)
  • Solder, appropriate for high-tech devices (also easily found at Radio Shack)
  • Desoldering braid, for fixing mistakes (again, easily found at Radio Shack)
  • Black electrical tape, for making temporary connections and insulating wires (you probably already have this laying around)
  • Spare electrical wire (optional)

Parts:

  • A flat, 24-pin, dual-edge connector, .100 DIP. (This one from DigiKey works perfectly. Other people have used connectors from ribbon cables and blocked or cut off the extra connectors.  That’s janky, but works.)
  • A combo S-Video/Audio cable (or S-Video/Audio/Composite, if you want the yellow video connector, too.  I used this one from Monoprice and cut it in half to make two cables.)

That’s it!  Now, let’s get to work.  Get out your Jaguar and take a look at it from the back.  You see the connector on the right?  The wider one labeled A/V?  Yeah, that connector already has all the signals we need running through it.  We just need something that will pass that information on to the TV!  There’s even an RGB signal on there, if you’re so inclined (I’m not).

Here’s a handy pinout reference that shows what information each pin on the conector carries.  Imagine you’re still looking directly at the back of the Jaguar, then you can read what each pin is for.  The connector you bought from DigiKey?  That just provides a nice solder point for each pin.

Now, get out your cable and slice the connectors off of one end (or cut the whole cord in half, if you intend to use it for two cables).  You’ll see a number of wires inside, each responsible for carrying a different signal.  Additionally, each wire will actually have two components: a core signal wire, and a shielding/ground wire.  The ground wire will be wrapped around the core signal wire.

Strip a half-inch to inch of the covering off of each wire. Be careful!  This step was actually harder than I expected. Some of the signal wires are pretty thin and delicate, so I kept breaking them.  In the end, here’s what you should see:

  • Audio (Right) – Red + Ground
  • Audio (Left) – White + Ground
  • S-video (Chroma) – Color varies (mine was white) + Ground
  • S-video (Luma) – Color varies (mine was black) + Ground
  • (Optional) Composite video – Yellow + Ground

I needed some trial and error in a later step to figure out which wire was Chroma and which was Luma, but there are only two possibilities, so it’s not hard to figure out.

This is really all the information you need.  From here on out, it’s just a matter of soldering the right wire to the right connector pin.  Here’s how they end up connecting, based on the above pinout:

  • Right audio: 1B
  • Right audio ground: 2B
  • Left audio: 1A
  • Left audio ground: 1B
  • S-video chroma: 8A
  • S-video chroma ground: 4A
  • S-video luma: 8B
  • S-video luma ground: 7B
  • (Optional) Composite video: 11B
  • (Optional) Composite video ground: 10B

Now, it’s all about technique and just making the connections.  Thankfully, it’s not difficult.  This was only my second soldering project, so anyone can do it!

I found it simplest to solder about two inches of wire to each of the necessary pins on back of the connector.  This was much easier to handle than trying to solder the bulky cable directly.  You can use spare wire if you have it, but I just used a couple inches of stripped wire that I cut out of the cable itself.

Make a connection between the wires in your cable and the wires on the connector by simply twisting the appropriate ones together.  For now, secure each connection with a bit of electrical tape.

Believe it or not, you now have a functioning S-Video cable!  Go test it in your Jaguar.  Make sure to note which side is the top of the connector!  It will fit upside-down, but obviously won’t work like that.  You should see a beautiful, clear picture with stereo sound the moment you turn the system on.  If you don’t see (or hear) that, then make sure your connections are all secure and to the right pins.  Also make sure there are no exposed wires crossing each other. I accidentally mixed a few connections up the first time, so give yourself a little time for trial and error.

Once you have a working cable, go back to your workbench (or dining room table, in my case) and melt some solder on each of the twisted connection points to make them more permanent.  Wrap all the exposed wires in electrical tape to prevent signal crossing.  Finally, wrap the whole thing in even more electrical tape to create a makeshift housing that will protect the wires from general wear and tear.  Don’t be shy with how much tape you use here — the more the better!  Some of the connections are very delicate, so you’ll want to protect them.

The end result?  Well, the device itself is ugly, but the picture it supplies sure is beautiful!

Videogames Hardware Handbook

January 30, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Videogames Hardware HandbookI’m a big fan of Retro Gamer magazine, despite how expensive it is to get here in the US (it’s a UK import).  It’s a fantastic classic gaming mag, jam packed with lots of great content in every issue (the typical issue is 114 pages, with virtually no ads).

One of my favorite parts of the magazine is their recurring “Retroinspection” feature.  With this feature, they give an overview of a particular gaming platform. They go into its history, its strenghts and weaknesses, relevance in the marketplace at the time, and oftentimes even interview key players involved with the platform in some way.  These articles are a great introduction to the different platforms that are out there, and the “Perfect Ten” portions where they recommend 10 games everyone should play are a great way to figure out where to start when exploring a new system.

So, when Retro Gamer released a compliation of past Retroinspections over the holidays, I knew I had to have it — especially considering how interested I am in collecting hardware.  Videogames Hardware Handbook: The Game Machine Collector’s Manual covers a 22 year timespan from 1977 to 1999 and covers everything from consoles to handhelds to odd British 8-bit computers that we never saw over here (but are crazy popular over there).  You get info on all the platforms you’d expect, like the Atari 2600, NES, Genesis (or the Mega Drive, as they call it), plus some of the more obscure, like the 3DO, Jaguar, NEC PC-FX, and 8-bits like the ZX Spectrum and Dragon 32.  Basically, it’s 256 pages of pure content covering 35 different platforms.

Unfortunately, though, it’s not comprehensive.  Since this is a compliation of past articles instead of fresh content, anything that wasn’t already covered in a Retroinspection isn’t included.  So, no Colecovision, no 32X, no Neo-Geo, and no PlayStation.  Nevertheless, if you’re into retro game collecting, I’m finding it a fascinating compliation and a great value.

Note that I’m in no way affiliated with Imagine Publishing and this isn’t a paid ad or anything.  I just really like Retro Gamer magazine and this special edition.  I want everyone to know about it!  And I want it to sell well enough that they make a second volume covering all the platforms that weren’t included in this edition…

The Catch-Up Post: SMS Badass Edition

May 24, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

SMS BadassWell, it’s been a couple of months since I posted, and I mentioned that I’d be instating a moratorium on classic game purchases after the Midwest Gaming Classic.  Did I stick to it?  In fact, I did!  I went the month of April without making any classic gaming purchases.  My wallet thanks me!  (Though I did have to pick up Mario Kart on the Wii because, I mean, c’mon… It’s Mario Kart.  It’s not a classic game, anyway, so I win on a technicality.)

But since I only had a one-month moratorium and I haven’t posted in two months, that means I have about a month’s worth of catching up to do.  Let’s start off with the Midwest Gaming Classic.  For those that didn’t attend (probably most of you), I really highly recommend this show!  I had a ton of fun.  I got to see all kinds of cool games and had a chance to play around in the museum with some interesting systems I’d never experienced before (like the FM Towns Marty and Nuon).  On top of that, there was a nice lineup of speakers.  I had a chance to hear a bunch of cool talks from people like Walter Day of Twin Galaxies/The King of Kong fame, Sushi-X and Trickman Terry of EGM fame, and Ben Heckendorn of “can turn any system into a portable” fame.  And, best of all was the vendor area, where I amassed the following:

  • Dracula X: Rondo of Blood (PC Engine CD): Probably the crown jewel of the show for me.  I picked up the best “traditional” Castlevania game ever, and at a pretty good price.  I’d never played it before, but it totally lived up to the hype.
  • Rotary Controller (Jaguar): A fantastic hand-made rotary controller for the Jaguar.  It breathed all new life into Tempest 2000.  I will never use the D-pad again!
  • Sega Master System (Hardware) and games: I was always curious about the Master System, so I bit the bullet and finally picked one up.  Hooray, new hardware!  It’s always exciting to have a new library of games to explore.  I started off with Alex Kidd in Miracle World and Alex Kidd: High-Tech World.
  • Rad Racer II (NES): Man, I loved Rad Racer on the NES.  I had vague memories of playing Rad Racer II once, but always wanted to pick it up and give it a real playthrough.  Honestly, it’s kinda disappointing.  It didn’t quite live up to the original, but oh well.  At least it was cheap.
  • The Need for Speed (3DO): There was a small showing of 3DO games at MGC, and this mint copy of The Need for Speed is my first true complete 3DO game.  It even has the advertising inserts!  I gotta say, those longboxes are total overkill.  They’re oddly appealing, though.
  • Instruction Manuals (NES): I’ve had a barebones copy of the original Mario Bros. (the arcade game, not SMB) for the NES since I was something like 10 and finally got a manual to go along with it.  I also picked one up for R.C. Pro-Am, since I got a cart-only copy of that not too long ago.

Okay, so that covers it for MGC.  I will definitely be returning next year.  There was so much cool stuff that I wanted…  But enough of that, I also made a few other purchases, the biggest of which was:

  • Sega Master System Lot (hardware and games): After getting a Master System at MGC, I went home and hit up eBay to expand my collection.  I found a nice deal on a big lot of stuff, which included another system, a couple extra controllers, a light gun, a bunch of games, and (most importantly) a pair of the SMS 3D glasses.  Games in the lot were After Burner, Black Belt, Choplifter, Enduro Racer, Ghost House, Hang On/Safari Hunt, Maze Hunter 3-D, Sports Pad Football, and Zaxxon 3-D.  My favorites of the bunch were probably Maze Hunter 3-D and Ghost House with honorable mentions for Enduro Racer and Zaxxon 3-D.  The rest are pretty mediocre, quite frankly.  I think the SMS is going to take some digging to get to the truly good stuff.

And, finally, I hit up old reliable, Pre-Played, for a few random additions to the collection:

  • Missile Defense 3-D (SMS): This is a neat lightgun game that makes use of the 3D glasses.  It’s a pretty cool effect, shooting at 3D missiles that are popping out of the screen at me.  Not to mention I look like a badass with both the glasses and phazer in tow! (See the picture above).
  • Blaster Master (NES): This game really deserves more praise but never really gained the public awareness to become a favored classic.  It’s something of an underdog, which is probably part of why I like it so much!  For those not aware, it’s a fantastic shooter where you split your time between side-scrolling and overhead sections.  Commandeer a tank in the side-scrolling sections, or hop out at any time to head out on foot.  Enter caves to switch to an overhead view.  The game has a nice, quirky, light-hearted feel to it, too.  I mean, the story involves chasing after your pet frog after it’s grown to humongous size after being exposed to radioactive waste…
  • Golgo-13: Top Secret Episode (NES): This is a unique game that mixes all kinds of different play mechanics like side-scrolling action, horizontal shoot-em-up, FPS, and “sniper modes” and wraps them all up in a spy/espionage plot.  Very interesting overall, but the controls in the side-scrolling sections suck.  Not bad for 99 cents, though!

And, most recently, I grabbed a new NES 72-pin adapter off eBay to resolve the damn blinking problem that every NES ever has.  I should have done this years ago, it works beautifully!

Whew, okay, that about does it for now.  But as you can see, I’ve added a ton of games to my collection without actually writing any new reviews.  I’ve become resigned to the fact that I’ll probably never review all of them at my current pace.  So, don’t be surprised to see a slight format change soon that will allow me to get reviews up much faster and more frequently.