When you first start out on the road to importing video games and consoles, you are probably asking "What do I need?" and "What should I avoid?". This FAQ aims to address most of the queries people have about importing for the first time.
Q1. I know nothing about importing. Where do I start?
Okay, firstly you need to know that you can't just buy an electrical appliance off the shelf from Japan or America and expect it work in the UK. There are different power supplies and different television standards.
Secondly, you need to know that these barriers can overcome. Doing so is fairly easy as long as you follow good advice.
Q2. Okay, so what do I need?
Basically you will need a step down converter and a television or monitor that will display whatever signal console displays, be it RGB, basic NTSC, or the global HD standard on more modern consoles. We'll look at these step by step.
Q3. What's a step down converter?
In the UK, our mains electricity supply runs at ~240 volts. In the US and Japan it runs at ~110 volts. This extra voltage means that if you plug an import console straight into the mains, you will burn out the power supply or possibly the console itself. Obviously, this is not a good idea.
To circumvent this, you plug a step-down converter into the mains and then your imported console plugs into the converter. The converter then "steps down" the voltage from 240 volts to 110 volts.
Q4. Sounds easy. What else is there with converters?
Voltage is one thing, but you also need to take into consideration the power requirements of the console. This is measured in Watts.
Basically, different electrical appliances require different amounts of power. All UK appliances run on 240 volts, but a washing machine will require a lot more "Watts" to run than a clock radio.
As consoles have got faster and more powerful, their power requirements have increased. Each console has its own power requirement and will need to be supplied by this power to work. Step down converters have power ratings too, so a 100 watt step down will be able to power a 100 watt console.
However, we strongly recommend using a step down with a power rating of at least 30% higher than the power required by the console. It is not worth buying a step down of less than 50 watts, even for retro consoles.
Below is a table showing the power of the step downs we recommend for each of the main consoles -
|Console||Power Recommendation (Watts, W, VA)|
|Xbox 360/PS3||300 Watts|
You might be able to get away with less, but a less stressed converter will run cooler - no one wants carpet burns.
Some step downs have more than one output to allow the input of more than one appliance. These cost a little more, but can make good economic sense and take up less room if you have more than one console. The power rating of the stepdown must equal the total requirements of the consoles plugged into it e.g. A PS2 and an X-Box drawing power from the same stepdown will require a power rating of 250 watts if you fancy turning them both on at once.
Q5. What happens if I use a step down with too low a power rating?
The console will try to draw the amount of power it needs to run from the step down. If the step down is not up to the task, it will blow and you will have to replace it.
Q6. I have step-down and it's running hot. Is it okay?
All step-downs will generate a certain amount of heat, especially during long periods. If it's hot to the touch it's usually okay, but if the plastic is melting then you've got problems!
Q7. Don't US and Japanese plugs have two pins whereas we have three?
Correct, but the step down should also convert the three pins to two. If it doesn't, you will also need a three to two pin adapter plug. These can be bought cheaply from most electronic shops.
Q8. Can I use the converter the wrong way and send 500 volts through my console!?
You can buy step up converters, but these tend to be more expensive and you are unlikely to buy one by mistake.
Q9. Where do I get a step-down from and how much do they cost?
Q10. Can I just plug in a UK power supply?
You can provided the console has an external power supply and the console does not vary its power requirements by region. This is important as only Nintendo consoles tend to have external supplies. The PS2, PSone, X Box and DC all have internal supplies with a simple power lead. Using a UK lead will send 240 volts through the internal power supply blowing it to kingdom come and most likely crippling the machine instead. Don't do it.
Displaying a Picture
Q11. So how do I run the machine through my telly?
The best solution is through RGB (for retro) or HD. These are universal standards which all territories use, therefore bypassing any differences in television standards between them.
Q12. Sounds great, but what is RGB?
It's a standard for sending visual information. Rather boringly, it stands for Red, Green and Blue. More interestingly, it gives the best quality picture for an interlaced screen. More information on interlaced scanning and its opposite progressive scanning will follow in this FAQ.
Provided the console can output RGB and your telly can support it, you will see a full colour full screen display from your NTSC console.
Q13. That's sounds easy? I thought it was more complicated than that?
Sadly, it is. Firstly, not all consoles support RGB. Secondly for those that do, not all games will support RGB. Thirdly, RGB is supported in the UK through a socket called a Scart which is a European standard. As a result consoles released in the US and Japan do not come with Scart leads. And finally, RGB leads can be expensive. Imported Gamecubes will not work with a UK RGB lead and require a special converted lead.
Q14. I knew there was a catch. How do I get around this?
Okay, this is where things get a little more complicated. The UK uses a television system called PAL, the US and Japan uses a system called NTSC. The two systems are not compatible; an NTSC console will not work on a TV that only supports pure PAL.
However, manufacturers are now including NTSC in their TVs as standard in the main.
Q15. So all modern TVs support NTSC?
Not quite. There are two versions of NTSC, one is referred to as NTSC 3.58 and the other if NTSC 4.43. It is NTSC 3.58 that is needed to run imported consoles. Unfortunately in a perverse way, some TVs that tout themselves as NTSC compatible only support NTSC 4.43.
Q16. So if I have a TV that supports NTSC 3.58 I can play an import console without RGB?
Yes. All you need to do is decide how it is best to connect it, which comes later in this FAQ.
Q17. I've tried it, but I only get a black and white picture?
Sorry, but your telly doesn't support NTSC 3.58. However all is not lost.
Q18. What if I don't have a telly that supports NTSC 3.58
Don't panic, you can still get around this. Your telly will need to have a 60 Hz option else it just won't work at all. 60 Hz means the screen will update 60 times a second. NTSC runs at 60 Hz whereas PAL runs at 50 Hz. If your telly only runs at 50 Hz, then it's time to replace it, else you'd better give up on that imported console (sorry). If you see a picture that "rolls" up and down the screen, your TV is 50 Hz only.
You can check by looking in the manual or contacting the manufacturer. If you are still not sure or have lost the manual, use or borrow a friends Dreamcast and use the 60hz test on a game such as Sonic Adventure or Phantasy Star Online. Note that if your telly supports NTSC 4.43, then it definitely supports 60 Hz. Likewise, if you got a black and white picture before, it also supports 60 Hz.
Most modern TVs will support 60 Hz, but it pays to make sure.
Q19. I'm sure I have a 60 Hz TV, but it's not doing proper NTSC. What can I do to play imported consoles?
You will need a type of converter. You can either use an NTSC to RGB converter or a NTSC to PAL-60 converter. This will give you a full colour picture, but at a price. The conversion process takes some of the quality off the picture, so that it can look blurry and the colours washed out. Some people can't tell the difference whereas others think it looks awful. Some converters are better than others.
Q20. Hmm. That doesn't sound very good?
Don't worry, most modern TVs will be fine!
Q21. So back to this RGB thing then. Do all TVs have it?
No, but most modern tellies do and all new models will. If you're TV has a scart socket it is almost bound to have RGB, but always check to make sure. Note that if your TV has more than one scart, it is likely that not all will support RGB, so if one doesn't try another.
Q22. What if I want to connect my console to a monitor?
Then things get slightly easier. There are no conflicting standards. If there is cable available, and your display can use it, it will work.
Q23. Great! What will the quality be like?
That depends. The Dreamcast can output VGA (the signal used by PC monitors) using a dedicated DC VGA box and gives a superb image using a monitor, even better than RGB on a telly. However, consoles such as the PS2 cannot out put VGA and the boxes use a conversion process.The result is usually less than spectacular and far worse than RGB.
Some clever clogs have released cables that produce a pure VGA signal for the X Box and Gamecube. It only works with games that support progressive scan (see later), on the X-Box this is most titles, on the Gamecube about half (Super Monkey Ball and Resident Evil are two that do not).
Q24. I've heard about something called component. What's that?
Component is best described as the US and Japanese equivalent of RGB Scart. In fact, it is different to RGB, but the picture quality is virtually identical.
The Gamecube, PS2 and X-Box can all be connected via component. Component leads for these consoles are not sold in Europe and will have to be imported.
Q25. I thought component was supposed to be rubbish?
No, that's composite. The two are often confused with one another.
Q26. Can you get TVs with component connections in the UK?
Most HD sets support it and some old CRTs If your telly does support component, you can simply plug a PS2, Gamecube or X-Box straight into the telly. Older consoles like the SNES don't support component out of the box.
Q27. My TV hasn't got component. Can you get a component to Scart converter?
Yes, but only proper studio equipment which is very, very expensive. You'd be better off buying a new TV.
Q28. Consoles such as the X-Box and Gamecube support EDTV and more recent consoles HDTV. What are these?
EDTV and HDTV are TV standards that increase the resolution of the standard TV image and gives much better picture. It's the equivalent of increasing the resolution on your PC monitor.
Q29. How do I find out more about HDTV?
Have a look at our HDTV guide (once it's back up!)
Q30. Why don't you see many CRT HDTVs?
As the technology of LCD and plasma improves, it's cheaper for the manufacturers to make them. Consumers have moved away from the bulky CRT design in favour of flat screens.
Q31. What is progressive scan?
Progressive scan can be used by some Gamecube and X-Box games and more modern consoles. More detail is included under our TV guide, but basically it is the opposite of an interlaced picture. Interlacing is the process carried out by the vast majority of TVs to display a picture, each frame that is displayed is only half the image separated down the screen. The second frame then displays the second image, like so:
Progressive scan works by producing the whole image in each frame, unlike interlaced which does the following:
Progressive scan can give a much better quality image than a standard interlace picture.
Q32. Yep, that sounds good. So come on, what's the catch?
The catch is that progressive scan is more or less only available on projectors, LCDs and plasma TVs. Most CRTs are left out in the cold.
Q33. What's the best way to connect my console to my TV?
Refer to our guide for information on connections.
If you are using RGB then it has to be an RGB Scart lead. If you are using component, then it has to be by (unsurprisingly) a component lead. Then VGA or HDMI.
Q34. Are all Scart leads RGB leads?
No, definitely not. It needs to an RGB Scart lead to get the benefits of RGB, other wise it will be composite. Note a lead with three phono plugs going into a scart block is a composite lead.
Q35. Will an RGB Scart work if I can't use RGB?
Yes, but it will just be a composite picture.
Q36. If I'm not using RGB or Component, which is the best way to connect?
S-Video. If you don't have a TV with an S-Video input at the front, most TV's with a second scart will take an S-Video input through this. You'll need an S-Video to Scart adapter which can be picked up for about a fiver from places like Comet. This is usually the preferred option, as it stops having wiring trailing round the front of the TV.
Next best is composite and last of all in terms of quality is RF (The standard old aerial lead). Note that with RF, the sound will be mono only.
Thus concludes our FAQ. If you have any questions, no matter how trivial, please feel welcome to post them here at our technical forum. We hope that you found this FAQ useful and feel free to comment. We hope that this will dispel some of the inaccuracies about importing and we hope that if you do decide to import, you will do so with good advice behind you.
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