Make a Composite Video Cable (Genesis, TI-99/4a)

Composite Video Cable

Sega Genesis (pic) There are two common ways of attaching the Sega Genesis to your TV. The most common way is by using an RF switch. An RF Switch is a little black box with a small cable sticking out of it that connects to your TV. A longer cable connects to your game system. The second way is with a composite video cable - these have yellow, red, and white RCA jacks that you probably see on the front of your VCR. You're probably familiar with composite video cables; all the newest systems (XBox, GameCube, PS2) come with composite video cables.

As most video gamers know, the picture from an RF Switch is painful to look at. The picture is usually very grainy. Frequently, an RF Switch needs to be wiggled to get a decent picture. Composite video is definitely the way to go with the Genesis. Today, we're creating a composite A/V cable that will work with 2 models of Sega Genesis and the Sega Master System. While we're at it, I'll show you the pin outs to apply the SAME technique to create a second cable - for use on the TI-99/4a. The information below applies to the style of Genesis pictured at left. Note the headphone jack - a dead giveaway that you've got the right Genesis for this cable.

There are several Sega Genesis models. Smaller Genesis models are called "Model 2" and "Model 3". They do not look like the picture above. If you own a Sega Genesis, "Model 2" or "Model 3", you'll know, because you'll have a teeny tiny connector in the back of your system (about the same size as an S-Video cable). Although these instructions won't work for you, you still have an option - CLICK HERE for a listing of eBay auctions for Genesis AV connectors. It's unfortunate, but these cables will cost you a bit of money ($10-17). Look for the words "Model 2", "Model 3", or "32X" in the description to be sure you're getting the right connector.

Side Note: "Model 2" and "Model 3" are misnomers - while commonly used, because the shape changed drastically, they are really the 3rd and 4th models of Genesis. But the topic of Genesis models and "lock out chips" is for another day. If you can find an "Altered Beast" Genesis - you grab that thing and run out of the store, screaming and elbowing your way out if you must.

Creating a composite video cable for the Sega Genesis is a relatively basic matter. You need:

  • The proper connector - a 5 pin din from Radio Shack (used to be Cat # 274-003a -- BUT, 42-2151 is the header they currently sell) *edit*  this is no longer avaliable from radioshack but if you try, you might get one, as of june 2006 it was under this address
  • A wire cutter / stripper
  • A dollar store variety audio cable (or something of better quality, if you must)
  • A soldering iron, and solder
  • A basic grasp of the laws of thermodynamics - BE CAREFUL with the soldering iron, it's damn hot.
  • Something to grip the connector with, as it will heat up really quickly. I recommend pliers, tiny vice grips, a soldering vice, or those nifty locking plier/tweezer things that they always use on E.R. (hemostats)

The 5 pin DIN (pic)
The Connector

The AV Cable (pic)
The Audio/Video Cable


To buy the parts for the cable, you'll end up spending about $5, maybe less, maybe a bit more. That price assumes you have some basic tools (listed above). Making your cable is cheaper than shipping from eBay, and the results are the same or better. The early Genesis models had a STEREO HEADPHONE jack up front - they weren't able to output a stereo signal from the connector in back. The connector/cable we are creating today will have one video connector, and one audio connector. Using a standard ($3-6) "mini-headphone to RCA" audio cable (also from Radio Shack), you can output good quality stereo from your headphone jack to your VCR or stereo system.

Creating the Cable:

Wires (pic) Step 1: We'll start with the ripping and tearing. This is always the fun part. Pick one end of the audio/video cable, and cut the RCA jacks off with your wire cutters. These jacks get tossed in the trash (or used in some other project if you're MacGuyver). If you just cut off 4 connectors, you've gone a little crazy with the wire cutters and need to head back to Dollar General. If you have one connector on each end of the cable, you did something wrong. Back to Dollar Tree. If you still have 4 RCA connectors, grow a pair and start cutting.

Step 2: Look at the wire that you just cut. You'll notice that the wire structure has a central conductor, and a metal braid around it. Going out from center, you'll have copper wire, plastic insulator, metal braid, plastic insulator. There might also be some string stuff with the metal braid, that's not important. The metal braid is your ground wire. The inner wire is your signal wire. Both are important. You should/must keep these wires separate.

Step 3: Strip back the outer most layer of plastic to reveal the braid, about 1/3 inch. Gather the braid together, to form a pseudo-wire. The inner wire will need to be stripped about 1/4 inch.

Step 4: Decide which color you want the video wire to be. Make sure you have the right wire traced from the connector all the way back to the bare wire, and label it if you must. This decision isn't hugely important, but it might save you some confusion later.

Step 5: Next, we'll have a look at that 5-pin DIN connector. Take it out of the package, and take it apart. You'll have 4 pieces. When you take it apart, it has a 5 pin spindle (which has the pins on one side, and solder cups on the other side), a top metal piece, a bottom metal piece, and a black hood/cover. Set the hood and the 5 pin spindle aside - these are what we're working with.

Step 6: PUT THE BIG BLACK HOOD/COVER ONTO THE WIRE, so that you can slide it into place once you're done soldering. After this step there will be no way for you to put the cover back on the wire, so you need to do it now. The skinny end points away from the bare wires, and the fat end faces toward the bare wires.

Step 7: Here's where we solder. You will be placing the wires into the "solder cups" - the indentations that you see in the 5 pin spindle, and pictured below. The inner-most wires, the signal wires, go into the top pins. Solder these wires into the appropriate cups. You chose a video wire above - make sure you solder it into the correct cup.

Proper pin-out (pic)

Step 8: Join the two ground braids by twisting them together. This will make what looks like a slightly thicker wire. Solder the braid into the bottom cup. **Make sure that none of the conductors (ground to signal) are touching each other. In other words, no bare metal OR SOLDER from the signal wires should be touching the bare ground wire (or visa versa).

finished (pic)
Here are the wires soldered into the connector.

Step 9: Once the wires are in place, put the connector back into its housing (the two metal pieces from Step 5 that you didn't work with). You'll notice that one of the metal pieces has a small bar that is right next to the wire. This slightly curved bar is meant to be "crimped" to the base of your wire. Give it a quick squeeze with the pliers. That makes sure that you won't yank the wires out when you attach/release the connector from the Genesis.

Step 10: Slide the black plastic cap / hood into place. It will snap shut onto the case when you've slid it far enough. You are done!

The pin-outs for the TI-99/4a are different. You'll want to keep the "ground braids" separate, rather than twisting them together. Looking at the diagram above, reading pins from left to right: Audio, Ground Braid 1, Ground Braid 2, Video. The 5th pin is blank.

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janderson123, 12/13/2006 6:11:07 PM
Score: 0  
Note that the "stereo" output from the headphone jack is not true stereo with a L/R audio split but merely the same sound coming from both speakers instead of one. Most TVs now will spit out the mono sound to both speakers if you plug it into the white audio jack by default. If not you can also get a Y-Splitter cable adaptor wich will let you plug one cable into 2 inputs.
chadtower, 12/20/2006 9:21:21 AM
Score: 0  

You need to insulate those conductors so they don't short into each other as the wire gets stressed and flexed. This type of construction will fail eventually and it probably won't take much of a twist to get those shorted. I'd recommend heat shrink tubing, since you're actually soldering anyway, but a careful job with electrical tape would at least be better than hanging strands like in that picture. Liquid electrical tape would probably be ideal here.

EDIT:  Adding a couple more thoughts.  The best way to do this is probably to presolder each wire, just a bit, and then insert into the connector pin.  That way you don't have to add any solder when making the mechanical connection.  You just have to heat the joint and the solder you added previously will run toward the heat.  It's a cleaner way to do it and probably easier for a beginner.  If you don't get quite enough solder for a good mechanical connection that way you can then add a bit more to the joint afterwards.  Most of the time this technique works pretty well for larger items like this, particularly if the metal surface is large and tends to sink heat away from where you want it.
larsoncc, 12/20/2006 11:12:40 AM
Score: 0  
The stereo from the headphone jack is stereo, you can hear it fade left/right in Revenge of Shinobi... I've had my stereo hooked up like this for a long time. It's real stereo. Of course, I have a "pre-copy protection" Genesis (1st gen)... maybe that has something to do with it.

Edit - now you're making me paranoid.  I'll check this tonight.  I'm about 90% sure that it's stereo out of the headphone jack, I could almost swear it.

I also agree with Tower - there are better ways to construct this cable, the devil is in the details. But this is a sufficient quick and dirty way to do it. You can make a more sturdy cable, sure - on the other hand, none of mine have failed, and I've used them for years. Your milage may/will vary. I have big hands that shake a lot. This is about as good as it gets for me - thank God I don't have to solder for a living.

One last note - the part number for the 5 pin din plug should be considered a moving target. You can get the part from Digikey or other sources. But I know that Radio Shack either carries a different model number or doesn't carry it.

Wow - this is article # 174. Talk about a blast from the past.
chadtower, 12/20/2006 2:13:21 PM
Score: 0  

This is from memory but I'm pretty sure the headphone jack on the Genesis model 1 is real stereo.  It's the only way to get real stereo from an unmodded Genesis 1 from what I can remember.  It's the stereo audio that is the difference between the 8 pin mini-din connector on the Genesis 1 and the 9 pin mini-din connector on the Genesis 2.  They eliminated that headphones port and added the stereo to the mini-din AV port.
larsoncc, 12/20/2006 4:42:32 PM
Score: 0  
Yeah, that's EXACTLY how I understand it. But when I test this out tonight, I'm definitely going to dig into my library to find a specific example. Maybe ThunderForce 3?
chadtower, 12/21/2006 9:52:47 AM
Score: 0  

I was never that big a Genesis gamer so I'm not going to be much help as to which games are real stereo.  I was always an NES guy back then.
janderson123, 12/27/2006 1:52:56 PM
Score: 0  
I never really owned much in the way of Genesis games but even when I had a Genesis 1 ooked up via the headphone jack I don't think any of the games I played has an audio split, just same sound from both sides.  Maybe a handful of games did use it?

I have the Sega Genesis Collection for PS2. I'll have to listen and see what those games are doing... if they're just ROMs or if they did any reprogramming to them.
Anonymous, 2/23/2008 7:14:49 PM
Score: 0  
you got that from radioshack!? ru kidding? back in canada when we had a radioshack they never sold cool stuff like that! STRONG
Anonymous, 7/11/2008 12:51:26 AM
Score: -1  
[This Comment Has Been Hidden because its score is too low.]
Anonymous, 12/22/2010 12:30:21 PM
Score: 0  
I just wanted to comment that this works like a charm for the TI-99/4a. I used a 5-pin DIN connector and heat shrink tubing from Parts Express. I used a cable with 1 video and 2 audio connectors. After stripping the wires and separating the ground and signal wires I twisted the wires from the two audio cables together and used a small piece of heat shrink to hold them together. I also used chadtower's suggestion of protecting the wires with heat shrink to prevent shorting. For soldering I just got a little on the tip of the soldering iron and applied it to the wire/cup then added a little more if necessary. One little problem I ran into was that the insulation on the cables was so thick that it wouldn't fit into the DIN connector, so I just shaved a little off of each wire with a utility knife and voila!
Anonymous, 1/20/2011 9:45:23 AM
Score: 0  
it seems like alot of BS to go through just to make an RF switch? has'em for 2 bucks and if that fails theres always Craigslist which Im trying now.
And to say its painful to look at to play the system with the RF Switch is just gay. Weve been spoiled and dont relize what joy these games and systems brought us as kids. But thats just my 2 cents
Anonymous, 10/5/2013 2:28:49 AM
Score: 0  
It's a trying game.
It's a trying game. And I've died alot aladery. But I haven't really gotten mad at the game. Even though its very trying, its never unfair or cheap, the controls are so solid, that when I die, I know its my fault. Its really about trial and error. Granted, I'm still in the beginning of the game, I made it to the second world, and I'm sure I haven't even experienced how trying this game will get. But so far, I reckon this game is brilliant. Not for the faint of heart though.
Anonymous, 12/19/2014 10:59:57 PM
Score: 0  
I cant get sound out of it
I did the cable acording to the instructions and i do get video but no audio comes from it. Any thoughts ?
Anonymous, 7/14/2017 7:44:16 PM
Score: 0  
Model 2
Any way to make this work on a model 2 genesis? I didn't buy a connector but ran jumpers from each pin of the av out and connected composite video to the inside wire of an av cable and ground to the outside. No video. I just bought this console so there's a chance it's an internal problem and not the cable. It could also be the fact I'm trying to use a modern TV. Lots of variables. I used this pinout:

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