How to connect a Commodore VIC-20 to a TV

Connecting old computers and consoles to not-as-old televisions is frequently a challenge. Sadly, the VIC-20, Commodore’s runaway bestseller from 1982, is no exception to that. Here’s how to connect a Commodore VIC-20 to a TV.

Unfortunately, there are fewer options for connecting a VIC than there are the slightly newer and more common C-64, but I’ll walk you through the options you do have.

The VIC-20, priced at $299, was the first computer to sell more than a million units.
The VIC-20, priced at $299, was the first computer to sell more than a million units.

On the VIC-20, the video connector is the 5-pin DIN connector on the back of the machine. If you’re lucky enough to have the old cables, the cable that has a DIN connector on one end and two RCA connectors on the other end will work with most TVs, old and new, because it’s a composite cable. Just plug that cable into the composite inputs on your TV and you’re good to go. If you don’t have the cable, you can still buy one from Ebay.

And, unfortunately, Commodore ditched the five-pin connector soon after the C-64 got popular. So if you have a Commodore monitor cable and it has three RCA connectors on it, it won’t work with a VIC. It won’t even fit the VIC’s video plug. Don’t try to force it in.

If you don’t have a Commodore composite cable but happen to have an Atari XL video cable, it will work. For whatever reason, Atari used the same video connector as the VIC-20 on the XL and the pinouts are close enough that it will work. But if you have an Atari cable with three RCA outputs intended for the XE series, don’t use it. One of the RCA connectors connects to a pin on the VIC-20 that carries +5 volts. Plugging that into your TV will damage it.

If you don’t have the cable but you have a VICmodulator, you can still use it, but you’ll probably need an adapter. The modulator has an RCA plug on it that won’t work if you plug it into a composite input on a TV (even though it fits perfectly). But with an inexpensive adapter you can plug it into the antenna input on your TV and it will work. Search on Ebay for a female RCA to male F adapter, but be sure the connector has the right plug to connect to the antenna and to accept the RCA connector from the modulator. It’s easy to accidentally buy the opposite of what you need.

The same adapter works to connect an Atari 2600 to a newer TV. So if you have one laying around for an Atari, you can use it on your VIC. The modulator displays on either channel 3 or 4 on the TV, depending on the position of its sliding switch.

Of all of the available options, a composite cable will give the best picture. A tube TV will give a more authentic 1980s experience and will likely be more tolerant of the VIC’s video signal. But a VIC will usually work on an LCD TV if that’s all you have. LCD TVs can be a bit picky about their video signal. So if the picture doesn’t display well on one of your TVs, try another. You may find it displays better on another one.

Also, once you have your VIC-20 connected to a TV, here’s how to connect a disk drive.

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