Setting up a Nintendo 64 wasn’t supposed to be hard, but it can get tricky if you can’t find all of the cables. Cables from some other Nintendo consoles will work, but not always. Plus, TV sets have changed a lot since the 1990s, so an HDTV won’t have all the same options as an older TV, which makes it much more difficult. So here’s how to hook up a Nintendo 64 to a modern TV.
The Nintendo 64 was really designed to use composite video or S-Video, like a VCR. It shares the same square connector with many other Nintendo consoles, but a cable to use the Wii with HDMI, for example, doesn’t work on an N64. The N64 requires a different, more expensive converter for HDMI.
How to hook up the Nintendo 64 power supply and controllers
Let’s get the more straightforward part out of the way first. If you already know this stuff and just need to connect the TV, feel free to scroll down about five paragraphs.
The power supply module snaps into the back of the unit, in the large rectangular-shaped void next to the video connector. The power cord plugs into the wall of course.
Cartridges plug into the slot in the top of the unit. Never plug or unplug a cartridge with the unit powered on. Power off the unit first.
If your N64 malfunctions, check the door on the top of the unit just in front of the cartridge slot. There should be either a memory module or a dummy module in there. It’s usually red. If it’s there, try turning the power off, unplugging the module, then plugging it back in. When this module is loose, it can cause the unit to malfunction. This is probably the most common problem I see with N64s.
Controllers plug into the four ports on the top of the unit. Plug in controllers from left to right, up to four controllers for four simultaneous players. The color of the controllers is purely cosmetic; any controller will function in any port.
Beyond this point, hooking up a Nintendo 64 isn’t quite like an NES, but it’s closer to that than the newest Nintendo consoles.
How to hook up a Nintendo 64 to HDMI
Some newer TVs don’t have composite inputs. That makes connecting an N64 more difficult. There are various modifications to add HDMI compatibility to an N64, most notably a module called Ultra HDMI, but they require disassembly and some soldering. If you’re not comfortable doing that, there are various installation services available to modify your N64.
There are external solutions, such as the EON Super64 that plug into the unit’s video out port and provide a standard HDMI output to connect to a TV. This is more convenient, but expensive. Unfortunately you’re usually looking at spending $90-$150 to convert an N64 to modern HDMI.
The cheapest HDMI option is the Hyperkin HDMI adapter, which costs around $30. The quality is lower, but at 1/3 the price, it’s the best value option for casual use, and unlike the other solutions, it also works with the SNES and Gamecube. Some people have reported audio issues with this cable. If that happens, using a different TV set usually clears it up.
If there’s one specific TV in your house you want to use your N64 on, these are an option. But you may also consider buying a TV that has composite or S-Video inputs, whether new or secondhand. Small 720p televisions are starting to turn up in thrift stores, and are easy to find at estate sales.
Can you use a Wii component cable on an N64?
Some recent TVs have component outputs, which provide better quality than composite. While a component video cable for a Wii fits the N64’s video connector, they aren’t compatible. It’s possible to modify an N64 to use component video, but those mods have fallen out of favor due to the availability of HDMI mods, since HDMI provides better quality output and the cost and difficulty are comparable.
Connecting an N64 to S-Video
The highest quality connection you can use with an N64 without modifications is S-Video. Since many DVD players used S-Video, many recent-ish televisions, including LCD televisions, have an S-video connection. And many higher-end TVs in the 90s had these connections for use with high-end VCRs or game consoles that supported it, so this still gives a true-to-the-90s experience. S-Video is just an improved form of composite video, so it wasn’t difficult to build into equipment, but it fell into disuse once better options came available.
But in the case of the N64, it’s still a good option today. It’s simple and inexpensive. All you need to get is an N64-to-S-video cable (the same cable also works with a Super NES, Gamecube or Wii), then plug the cable into the video output of your N64, and plug the S-Video lead into the S-Video port on your TV and select S-Video on your TV using the remote.
On a flat panel TV, the output won’t be as sharp as a modern console that uses HDMI natively. But it also costs 1/10 as much and works with multiple consoles, so it’s probably the best value for the money.
Connecting an N64 to composite video
Composite was what a lot of us used in the 1990s with an N64, and millions of TVs have composite outputs, so this is an option likely to be available to many people. For this type of connection, all you need is an N64 composite video cable. One of these cables probably came with your N64 in the first place, or with another Nintendo console if you have one of those. These cables are also compatible with multiple Nintendo consoles, from the Wii back to the Super Nintendo of the early 90s.
Simply plug this cable into the square video output in the back of the N64, then plug the yellow video lead into the yellow RCA jack in the back of your TV, and the red and white audio leads into the red and white jacks in the back of the TV. If your TV doesn’t have two audio inputs, just use whichever one it has and leave the second one disconnected.
On some televisions, the set of component inputs does double duty as composite as well. On a TV like that, one of the jacks will probably be green and yellow. Try using that jack.
Just like S-Video, after connecting to composite inputs, select the composite input with your TV remote and turn on your N64 to play.
How to hook up a Nintendo 64 to RF
Last and least, you can hook up a Nintendo 64 to RF if you don’t have any other options. Most TVs can still accept the broadcast analog signal that the N64’s RF connection used. For this type of connection, you need an N64 RF video cable. This is another cable that works with other Nintendo consoles if you have one.
Connect the square end to the square AV output on the back of the N64, then connect the round end to the antenna connector on your TV. Connect your antenna or other video lead into the round antenna connector on the N64’s RF converter. Next, insert a cartridge and turn on your N64, then perform a channel search on your TV using its remote. Your TV hasn’t seen an analog signal on channel 3 or channel 4 since 2009, if it ever did, so you have to instruct it to look. After the channel search finishes, you’ll see your N64’s output on either channel 3 or channel 4.
If you can’t get your N64 to work over RF, you probably missed the channel search step, or didn’t have your N64 powered on when you performed the search.
With analog television becoming increasingly rare, this isn’t an option that we can count on forever. But on a TV that doesn’t have any other connections besides HDMI, this option is the one most likely to work.