How to play NTSC-J RF-only consoles on PAL televisions

Sometimes it’s difficult being a fan of Japanese games when living outside of Japan. If you’re in a PAL country, older RF-only NTSC-J consoles cannot ever display properly on PAL screens. You could possibly tune in a fuzzy black and white picture with no sound, at best. Even if your TV was NTSC compatible via other inputs (eg composite), it is  unlikely to support NTSC over RF.

You can mod most RF-only systems to output composite video or better, but personally I prefer  not to mod rarer or older consoles such as the SG-1000, Color TV Game 6, or some of my original Famicoms.

No modding for you!
No modding for you!

The traditional method was to use an NTSC-J compatible VCR which takes in the RF signal and outputs in PAL composite, but they’re getting harder to come by, are cumbersome, and you also end up with additional artifacting from the composite signal itself.

So here is a cheap solution, a $20 NTSC RF to VGA box – essentially designed as an external analogue NTSC TV capture card. It takes in RF (or composite via side inputs) and outputs in VGA plus 3.5mm stereo jack for audio, with various scaling options.

RF_4231  RF_4234

It can tune in these older consoles, and output via VGA, and the results are much better than I expected. The scaling, for what it can do with a fuzzy RF image, is quite solid. Options are selectable via an on-screen menu, and it even comes with a remote control.

RFTurtles_4203

And here are the results, Turtles 2 on on original Famicom to a 1080p Panasonic plasma.

RFTurtles_4204

RFTurtles_4205
The distortion lines are just from photographing the TV, it’s actually quite clean.

I’ve made a video of it running here:

The downside is that the tuner is NTSC-U, so still not 100% compatible with all Japanese consoles. I couldn’t get the SG-1000 working perfectly, the colours were off. However the Color TV Game 6 worked great, as did two different Famicoms, and a Super Famicom via RF.

It seems to have particular trouble getting sync with primarily plain background games. It eventually clicks and then stays in sync, but this can take a couple of minutes. However, in all these cases, sound is pretty much perfect the whole time.

Overall, it’s a pretty cheap solution to at least test RF consoles, and good enough to play many!

Update: I’ve since gotten a new TV which has no VGA input, but which has an international analogue tuner, so I no longer need or can use this box, but will hang onto it for possible future usages.

26 thoughts on “How to play NTSC-J RF-only consoles on PAL televisions

  1. jessicabridgeworth October 22, 2015 / 10:45 am

    I like your review style, D.Lo. Very authentic :). Would love to feature your reviews in our weekly curated email digest that goes out to thousands of people.

    Like

  2. xinyingho October 4, 2016 / 3:31 am

    I got the same NTSC RF to VGA box than you. But how do you plug a Famicom to this box? The console’s RF output plug is too big to fit in the box’s RF input plug. Is an adapter required?

    Like

    • D.Lo October 4, 2016 / 10:49 am

      Different countries have different TV plugs. So yeah you’ll need some kind of adapter. The Famicom itself just has an RCA sized plug, so something that connects your local aerial plug to that.

      Like

      • xinyingho October 4, 2016 / 5:18 pm

        Maybe I wasn’t clear enough. I’m also from a PAL country (France). And I’ve just bought the same MTVBox as in your pictures, thinking that this way I won’t have to search for a local aerial plug that nobody has anymore. But I can’t plug my Famicom or its original RF Switch to this MTVBox. Could you give me a link to the required adapter or at least the keywords with which I should search online?
        It seems like there are as many aerial plug standards as there are countries. So I really don’t know what to search for…

        Like

    • xinyingho October 4, 2016 / 5:39 pm

      I see. Thanks for your quick reply! I’ll first try to see at a local store then. I may be lucky 🙂

      Like

    • ybarz February 26, 2017 / 12:12 pm

      Would this NES rf switch would also work for my color tv game and allow it to be plugged into the mtvbox?

      I’m not sure to have understood everything, please tell me if I’m wrong.

      Like

      • D.Lo October 23, 2017 / 11:06 pm

        Most likely yes, but all setups are different.

        Like

  3. ilya kolodyazhny March 22, 2017 / 5:37 am

    Hi mate! Can you please tell me – which modern analog tuner is compatible with Famicom RF, and modern PC at the same time?

    Like

    • D.Lo March 22, 2017 / 1:13 pm

      Sorry no idea, my Sony 4K TV has a worldwide tuner, my Panasonic does not. Best to check by model.

      Like

  4. the-force April 27, 2017 / 4:15 am

    I hope you can help me. I ordered the MTVBox and connected it to TV and Famicom but I can’t get the image better than that:

    Any Idea?

    Like

    • D.Lo May 30, 2017 / 8:25 pm

      Hi, just try and fiddle with everything. Change the channel on the console (every console seems to have a switch between two channels) and try in every NTSC setting on the Mbox.

      Like

    • D.Lo July 23, 2018 / 12:38 am

      That’s probably not the best way to go honestly, better to get an RGB cable and RGB capture device.

      Like

  5. Michele August 1, 2018 / 12:57 am

    D.Lo I need your help! I bought the same converter as yours to see if I could get sound to come out from my Color TV Game Racing 112 and, surprisingly, sound does come out of it! But now if I switch to NTSC colour mode on the converter box, colours show up but the image is distorted and it goes back to B&W immediately…how can I fix this? Do you mind sharing the settings you used with your Color TV Game 6? I’m having the opposite issue now, before using the MTVBox I could get colours to show up but no sound at all, now I can hear the sound effects but can’t display any colours…

    Thanks in advance,

    Michele

    Like

    • D.Lo August 1, 2018 / 1:52 am

      Hi Michelle

      Unfortunately I wrote this years ago and in the meantime my Panasonic plasma died and I have nothing with VGA input anymore. So I can’t help anymore, sorry about that!

      Like

  6. Mkushrom September 27, 2018 / 6:40 am

    Hi D.LO

    I’m thinking about purchasing the MTVBox you posted. However, my TV is a CRT that doesn’t have a VGA port, so I’d have to use a SCART adapter to plug it in. Did you notice any input lag on the Famicom? I’m afraid that all these signal conversions may make the console too laggy to play.

    Like

    • D.Lo November 3, 2018 / 7:32 pm

      Hi,

      Unfortunately I wrote this years ago and in the meantime my Panasonic plasma died and I have nothing with VGA input anymore. So I can’t help anymore, sorry about that!

      Like

  7. Mkushrom September 27, 2018 / 4:33 pm

    Hi D.LO

    I’m thinking about buying an MTVBox like yours, have you noticed any input lag while playing the Famicom?

    Thanks!

    Like

    • bmp02 January 29, 2019 / 2:46 am

      Hi, I’ve bought this box myself recently, and don’t notice any lag at all.
      So seems like the perfect solution, if it would just work. Unfortunately the image I get (tested on two Famicoms) is extremely bad, and if I change settings to be able to hear audio, the image gets even more messed up.

      I’ll do some more testing with a direct coax cable instead of the NES RF box, and another power supply. If that helps at all, I’ll post it here hoping it’s of any help to anyone googling this subject and always ending up here 🙂

      Like

      • bmp02 March 14, 2019 / 8:20 pm

        Bought a connector to be able to use a coax cable instead of RF box, it does make a difference. Colour locks after like 20 seconds, then looks good. However, sound still is a big issue, too noisy and distorted to accept.
        So I gave up on it, have tested all options I could think of, with several consoles, tv’s, rf boxes, no solution found unfortunately. Guess I’ll have to av mod it after all.

        If anyone ever finds a good solution after reading this, please reply! Thanks.

        Like

      • D.Lo March 14, 2019 / 8:51 pm

        Hi, unfortunately I cannot help as I no longer have anything with VGA input.

        It obviously worked well for me, as per the video. Perhaps the firmware in more recent versions was changed and they no longer behave the same way, or maybe units sold in different areas behave differently. These are cheap Chinese boxes with no real documentation so who knows.

        Composite isn’t much good for modern displays either without a scaler like the Framemeister or Retrotink, since most TVs handle 240p analogue output extremely poorly.

        Ultimately I’ll probably get a small Japanese CRT myself for these consoles for ultimate authenticity, but that’s obviously not really an option for most people!

        Like

        • bmp02 March 14, 2019 / 8:59 pm

          Thanks for your reply!

          I definitely see it has worked well for you, and do also believe the MTV Box might have changed internally in recent years, resulting in this not to work well anymore.

          Also, after testing with so many different options, I believe a bit of luck might help as well. I remember testing one specific combination of tv, console and rf box giving both good (good enough for rf) video and audio quality, only the tv wasn’t mine, and couldn’t hold the frequency somehow, after switching off and on I’d have to search for it again. It’s some tricky stuff 🙂

          I know composite isn’t great at all, but I do own an OSSC, and this console honestly isn’t nostalgically dear to me enough to spend the money on an RGB mod, which I have done on the original NES.

          Anyway, I’ll keep an eye on this thread 🙂

          Like

        • D.Lo March 14, 2019 / 9:24 pm

          Yeah of course the issue with the OSSC is no composite input, so simple AV mods are not enough.

          Like

        • bmp02 March 14, 2019 / 9:27 pm

          Can’t believe I forgot about that, thanks for pointing out!

          Like

  8. bmp02 March 14, 2019 / 9:28 pm

    Composite to MTV Box VGA to OSSC though

    Like

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