Return of the TV Tuners

One of my original objectives in creating this site was to discover and share dead features of old consoles which can, at least partially, be brought back to life. For example, the Sega Saturn NetLink can still be played long-distance over analog telephone lines and many online games for the Dreamcast and the PlayStation 2 can still be played on either their original servers or private servers. Onto the point of this article: many handheld devices of the past, like the Game Gear and the Turbo Express, had a TV Tuner add-on which they would use to display analog broadcasts from the major television networks. Unfortunately, after the United State’s switch from analog to digital television transmission, it would seem that these old TV Tuner add-ons would become useless.  Not so!  Of course its still not possible to pick up a usable signal everywhere you go, but with a few (relatively) cheap purchases, its easy to broadcast your own analog signal to pick up on any TV Tuner around the house.

Blonder Tongue Analog BroadcastMost of the specifics for this guide are from Phil’s Old Radios, “Creating a Home TV Transmitter“. Links to other useful guides on analog broadcasting can be found at the end of this article. The first and most important thing you’ll need is called an “agile modulator”: “modulator” because it “modulates” the audio/video signal it receives in order to transmit it, and “agile” because it can transmit on different channels. There are many different brands, but they should all work similarly, and the recent switch to digital broadcasting means that these analog units can usually be found for relatively cheap, $50 or less, on eBay. Like the guide on Phil’s Old Radios, I’ll be using a Blonder Tongue AM60 unit (pictured above), but the process should be similar for other units. You will also need a TV antennae, so if you don’t still have one laying around, you can pick up a cheap one like this. Most TV antennae sold now are marketed for the new digital “HDTV” broadcasts, but ones resembling the old “rabbit ear” antennae as pictured below should still work to transmit analog signals. You will also need a special adapter: male coaxial (or “F”) to female RCA (or “phono”), as explained below.

analog3 TV antennae

Blonder Tongue backAs can be seen in the picture to the left, hooking up a source to the agile modulator is reasonably simple. Anything that can output with composite connectors, like VHS and DVD players or even video game consoles, can be used as a source. Because the agile modulator has separate “Video In” and “Audio In” jacks, an RF connector as found on many VHS players and early video game consoles cannot be used if you want to transmit sound as well. Theoretically, an S-Video connector could probably be used, but you would have to find an “F connector” to S-Video adapter. The source must be connected as shown below, with the previously mentioned adapter used to connect the yellow video composite cable to the coaxial-type “Video In” port. The “IF In” port must also be connected to the “IF Out” port as shown. (IF stands for intermediate frequency). My model came with the small coaxial cable shown, but any standard coaxial cable should do. Finally, the antennae is connected to the “RF Out” port.

DIP switch cardAs mentioned previously, the transmitter is called an “agile modulator” because it can transmit on many different standard television channels, though only one at a time. Blonder Tongue units which have been used in television stations are usually stamped with its corresponding channel on its front, but it can easily be changed. My unit’s transmission channel wasn’t even the same as the channel stamped on the front when I first got it. All Blonder Tongue units should have a special pull-out card located on the front, along with a series of DIP switches. The card will show the correct arrangement of the DIP switches to broadcast on your desired channel.

Following are some pictures showing the signal quality displayed on a television set connected to a separate antennae and on a Game Gear through its TV Tuner add-on. I wasn’t able to get a great range for a decent video quality, only a few feet from the transmitting antennae really, but the audio was great even for much further distances where it could actually be useful. In future, I hope to find a way to better amplify the signal to actually be useful throughout the entire house, but for now its at least a very unique way to play The Wind Waker!

Game Gear TV Tuner TV Broadcast

Note: Because of the differences in television broadcasting between countries, the specifics of this article apply only for electronics designed to be used in the United States. It is most likely possible to devise a similar set-up for use in other countries, but a different agile modulator will most likely be needed in order to work for TV tuner add-ons for the desired region.


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