The Tandy 1000 is easy to connect to a television. That was part of its original design. It worked better from a marketing perspective than a technical perspective, but that’s one reason it was successful. It can work better today than it did in the ’80s. Here’s how.
Connecting a Tandy 1000 to a modern TV
Composite jacks were still a relatively new feature on televisions when the Tandy 1000 appeared. In the ’80s, the composite jack on a Tandy 1000 was arguably more useful for connecting to a monochrome monitor than to a TV. I’ve heard anecdotal stories of people using Tandy 1000s with TVs, but everyone I knew at the time had a monitor of some kind.
Even if it was more useful for monochrome, the RCA jack can output composite video in color. So you can absolutely use it with a TV that has composite inputs. On some models, you can also connect the sound. If it doesn’t default to color, hold down the F2 or F12 key when powering up. Which key works depends on what model and what revision of the BIOS you have.
What plugs to use to connect a Tandy 1000 to a TV with composite video
The composite jack on a Tandy 1000 is labeled video, and it can be red or black depending on the model. It is an RCA jack. Run a standard RCA cable from this jack to the composite input jack on the back of your TV.
If there is a second jack for audio, which the desktop models frequently had, you can run a second RCA cable from the audio jack to one of the audio inputs on your TV. Your TV will have two because it can support stereo sound. The Tandy had mono output. You can use an RCA y splitter to connect the audio to both the left and right channels. The all-in-ones like the HX and EX have a headphone jack. You can connect that to your TV’s input with a 3.5mm to RCA cable. To be honest I don’t bother with the audio because the speaker in the Tandy isn’t any worse than the ones in most TVs.
How’s the quality?
The display on a TV could be better, but for playing Tandy games, which most frequently used a resolution of 160×200 or 320×200, it’s usable. And presumably that’s what you would be using one of these machines to do today. For a quick nostalgia fix, you may find it’s fine.
If you’re willing to spend some money, there is a better option.
Connect the monitor output from a Tandy 1000 to a modern TV
Using an MCE2VGA adapter, you can convert the RGB output from a Tandy 1000 to VGA. This gives a much cleaner signal, if your TV has a VGA input. You can buy an MCE2VGA on eBay, and also from a number of other suppliers, since it is open source hardware. I provide an eBay link, but if you are willing to do some searching on your own, you can probably find a better price.
Plug the monitor output from the Tandy into the converter, then connect the converter to your television’s VGA input. Or any VGA-compatible monitor for that matter. For audio, if the TV or monitor has speakers you can use the same types of cables I outlined in the previous section, or just skip it. The built in speaker in the Tandy 1000 isn’t bad.
The display may be a bit more quirky than using a modern computer on that input, and it may or may not be as good as an original CRT, but Tandy CRTs are extremely difficult to come by these days, and can be more expensive than the computer itself. Using a TV makes the computer usable until you find a better option. That was part of the Tandy 1000’s brilliant marketing in the 1980s, so we might as well take advantage of the capability today.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.