Until the current generation of consoles, Nintendo has always pushed out standard-definition home consoles. Basically, from the NES to the Wii (excluding the Virtual Boy because it was . . . special), these iconic consoles have used AV cables for output. This means that, although there are many great classic retro games, their graphics tend to look slightly fuzzy and outdated by today’s standards.
But who cares about all that technology history stuff? You’re here to learn how to record all this stuff! I didn’t come up with this recording method, but I hope I can explain it better and save you from hunting for hours on forums for answers.
I’m gonna say it now, but I’m sorry: you will not be able to obtain footage from any of these consoles that looks crystal clear, ultra HD. Due to the nature of these consoles and the games they run, you won’t be seeing amazing-looking gameplay, even after doing some tinkering. That said, there are some absolutely great-looking, but older games such as Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Now let’s lay out the different ways people have found to record their retro consoles. First of all, you can use a capture card. This is probably the most common method, and there are many choices in this category. There’s options such as the Hauppauge line of capture “boxes” which I personally don’t have experience with.
So what do I use? Personally, for my needs I have a cheap little AV-to-USB converter like this. There’s a lot of mixed reviews on these things mentioning broken audio, cheap builds, Chinese knock-offs (EZcap and Easycap. Wut?) and more. I figured that for a couple bucks, it was worth the risk, and, honestly, it does what I need it to do, not much more.
This thing is a no-frills kind of gadget. To make things simple, here’s what to do: get your console’s AV output cables and match the colors to your Easycap’s inputs (the fun part). Yellow is video, red and white are audio. Next, plug your Easycap into your computer or laptop via a USB port and there you go!
But there’s a problem with this. Your gameplay will show up on your computer all ready for recording after opening up a recording program (will cover that later) but you won’t see anything on your TV. Now there’s two things that could be going on: your TV is broken and you need a new one (please don’t sue me), or you need some splitters. Most likely (and hopefully), it’s the latter of these two. Don’t worry, though. Just go online and order three of these cheap AV splitters,
While you’re at it, buy two spare AV cables that are a good length, if you don’t already have extras (from an old VCR player or something).
As a word of warning, here is where we get into the slightly more complicated part. I may not have done the best job describing this process with words, so hopefully the pictures can help.
(This sounds kind of complicated but trust me, it’s pretty simple!)
Now, instead of plugging your console’s output directly into the Easycap, you’re gonna plug it into the splitters like this:
At this point, you basically want to match colors again. This time you’re taking three of the splitter outputs (one from each individual splitter) and plugging in an AV cable to the corresponding colors. You plug the other end of that cable into your TV:
Do this with a second cable, except the other end of this one should be plugged into your Easycap, which will then be plugged into a USB slot on your computer:
The software that it came with was pretty bad, so I decided to use OBS with it. OBS is free and versatile and I would highly recommend it. All you’ve gotta do here is choose video source as “video capture device” and there you go. You can scale/add borders too if you want. But things just weren’t that easy for me. Maybe it was the fact that I was using Linux . . .
So, I eventually came up with the clever idea of using a program which basically displays the video source from the Easycap on my computer monitor. This one is called TVTime. I then set OBS’ source to record that window instead. And voilà! That worked nicely.
Something important to note is that these games weren’t all made for widescreen. You know those old videos on YouTube that are all squarish? Yeah, those aren’t widescreen either. So why am I bringing this up? Well, in order to add another layer of quality to your videos, there’s a couple of things you can do to work around this fact.
Option number 1: You can stretch the aspect ratio to 16:9 in a video editing program. Now, this will end up distorting the image which to some can be annoying. Personally, I think that if done well, stretching a 4:3 aspect ratio video can work, but that’s just me.
Option number 2: Add a border around gameplay to fill up the empty black borders. A handful of YouTube channels I watch do this and my mind just kinda gets used to it. This can be a great way to show off your mad art skillz or slap some channel branding onto your videos.
I’d recommend trying both of these to see which one floats your boat.
So that’s one way to do things. So how do all those YouTubers get smooth-looking gameplay for their videos? Most likely, they’re using an emulator. This essentially means playing the games on a PC by tricking your computer into thinking it is a (for example) Wii and it’s playing Wii games. Then, they just record their computer screen with something like OBS.
This is a shady area here, and I have some strong opinions against it. I’m not going to bore you with that, but let me say this: just because you own a game doesn’t make it okay to emulate. If you like it so much, don’t hold your money back from the company who made it. I’m tempted to go on with this topic, but one final thing: I DO NOT support game emulation. Please don’t do it!
There are definitely other ways to record gameplay off of older Nintendo systems. The NES Classic Edition for example, makes it easy with its HDMI output. There are also converter cables and mods that can change things up. However, this capture method of using a cheap AV-to-USB converter is what I would recommend. Have fun, and feel free to ask questions about the process!