|Famicom AV Box, Console and One Controller (Not Shown, Second Controller, AV Cable, Manual and Warning Card)|
One of my first blog posts was about the Famicom AV, the final iteration of the 8-bit NES hardware. Released in late 1993, it was modeled after the NES Top Loader. Unlike the Top Loader, or the original Famicom which it replaced, it boasts the best composite video quality of any of the NES consoles. It completely lacks the video jailbars that are notorious on the Top Loader, quite visible on the Famicom and still can be seen in a small way even on the NES Front Loader.
It is much more import friendly because it does not use an RF adapter tuned to odd frequencies as in the Famicom (US Channels 95-96) and does not have the Famicom's hard-wired controllers. It retains compatibility with the Famicom Disk System and all Famicom expansion controllers and devices. It can play any US game with a pin converter and doesn't care about a lockout chip. These were the last systems Nintendo made, and they are very reliable and well-built. Fortunately, using one outside of Japan is easier (if not cheaper) than ever before, so with that I present an updated guide :
1. Power Supply
If you get a Famicom AV in the box, it comes with the console, two restyled "dogbone" controllers and the manual. It did not come with a power supply because it was intended to replace the buyer's existing Famicom. The buyer was expected to use his original power supply. The NES power adapter will not work because it outputs AC and is converted to DC in the console. It should never, ever be inserted. The SNES power adapter would work, but the connector is very different.
The proper Famicom or Famicom AV power supply adapter is rated for 10v DC, 850mA, center tip negative. Fortunately, the most convenient solution in the United States and Europe came, ironically, from arch-rival Sega. The power supply adapter for the Sega Master System and Sega Genesis/Mega Drive Model 1 fits in the Famicom AV's power socket and has the correct specs. These power supplies, or third-party adapters, are common enough to find. Radio Shack should have a suitable power supply adapter, and you should use an M Adaptaplug with it on the Famicom AV.
2. Controller Cables
The cables on the included dogbone controllers are only 3' long. This made some sense for a Japanese household where space is at a premium, but a US household has much more square footage. NES controllers are 6' long. One solution is to use NES extension cables, which are much easier to find today than they were 10 years ago. Another solution is to use the NES Satellite or Four-Score, which can act as an extension. The NES Satellite or Four-Score will NOT allow you to play as player three or four in Famicom games, they only work with NES games. You can play NES 4-player games on the Famicom AV with a suitable pin adapter.
3. Zappers and other Controller Port 2 Input Devices
While the Famicom AV's controller sockets look identical to the NES's sockets, there is a difference between them. The NES connects +5v, Ground, Clock, Latch/Output, D0, D3 & D4 on both ports. The Famicom AV's ports leave out D3 and D4. The standard controller only uses D0. The Zapper (including workalikes like the Konami Laser Scope), Power Pad, Arkanoid VAUS Controller all rely on D3 and D4.
Fortunately, the signals for the second controller port D3 & D4 are available on the 15-pin Famicom expansion port. You can solder a pair of wires from that port to their respective lines on the second controller port on the front of the Famicom AV. Here is a photo that shows the wiring :
Taken from : http://forums.nesdev.com/viewtopic.php?p=34665#p34665
One alternative is to obtain the Famicom equivalent of the Zapper, the Video Shooting Series Light Gun which looks like a western six-shooter : http://famicomworld.com/system/controllers/video-shooting-series-light-gun/ It is nowhere near as common as the Zapper. The Japanese version was never bundled with the console and only supported in five Famicom games, as opposed to fifteen licensed and unlicensed NES games.
The Famicom equivalent of the Power Pad is called the Family Trainer Mat and was only released by Bandai in Japan. It supports ten unique games, five of which found their way to the NES. The NES has one exclusive, Short Order / Eggsplode!.
Unfortunately, the Famicom Arkanoid controller will not work with the US version of Arkanoid, and the US version of the Arkanoid controller will not work with the Japanese versions of Arkanoid, Arkanoid 2 or Chase HQ.
If you want to make sure own adapter, you will need the end of a Famicom expansion port controller or a Neo Geo MVS Controller expansion cable and a NES expansion cable or controller socket. I would strongly suggest a continuity tester to determine what wire connects to which pin.
4. AV Port
While the Famicom AV comes with a stereo AV cable, if you buy a loose console, you can use any SNES, N64 or Gamecube Composite Stereo or Mono AV cable. The Famicom AV's audio is mono only, both the red and white jack outputs the same signal. No NES or Famicom supports stereo audio.
You may need an RCA splitter if you have a mono cable and your TV has stereo inputs. Otherwise you may hear sound only out of one speaker. S-Video and RGB-SCART (only) Nintendo Multi-out cables will show no video, the Famicom AV is composite only. There is no internal RF adapter in the system, but the RF adapter and cable that attach to the Nintendo Multi-AV Out port will also work or you can use an external RF adapter such as from Radio Shack.
5. Flash Carts
The best flash cart for either the Famicom or Famicom AV is the Everdrive N8, which has a 60-pin Famicom version. No need to fiddle around with converters as with a NES PowerPak or Everdrive N8 NES version. The Everdrive supports expansion audio, Famicom Disk System images, the common mappers. and several Japanese-only mappers. It also has a battery for saving games to RAM without turning off the cartridge. It does not add nearly to the jailbars in the video output, unlike the PowerPak.
6. NES-to-Famicom Cartridge Converter
The NES uses a 72-pin cartridge connector, the Famicom uses a 60-pin cartridge connector. Unfortunately, most of the ones available on the market are not fully compatible with certain NES games. Lazy and cheap converters tie Famicom pins 48 & 49 together. These are three of them :
This what most, but far from all, Famicom or NES cartridges do. Some NES cartridges (MMC5 games, Gauntlet, Rad Racer 2, After Burner) that do advanced things with the graphics name tables need the pins separate and fail to work when they are not. Additionally, the Everdrive N8 and NES PowerPak need those pins separated. You will have to cut the pins and wire them up to the appropriate pins.
This is the best converter I have found. While it needs the mod, it fits well inside a Famicom AV.
1. Fixing the Cartridges that use advanced Nametable Mirroring methods
Most Famicom cartridges tie pins 48 and 49 together. Similarly virtually all NES cartridges tie pins 57 and 58 together. When they are tied together, regular nametable mirroring methods are available. Nametables are the name given to the tile maps for the backgrounds and the NES has enough internal RAM for two. When separated, the cartridge can add additional nametables with RAM inside the cartridge or map Character ROM directly to nametables. The following NES cartridges have the hardware that can or does take advantage of this :
Bandit Kings of Ancient China
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
Nobunaga's Ambition II
Romance of the Three Kingdoms II
Castlevania III is the only game on this list to have a licensed PAL release. In addition, the PowerPak and the Everdrive N8 require these pins separate as well. There is also a reproduction NES cartridge of Rocman X by Sachen (which may have originally been a Famicom cart) which requires this mod to run in the converter. More advanced experimental and hobbyist NES boards will require it. There are more Famicom cartridges that use ROM or RAM nametable mapping or require the pins to be separated, including all MMC5 games and all Namco 129/163, Konami VRC6 and Sunsoft-4 games and Napoleon Senki. Any reproduction or pirate NES cartridge of those games will also need the mod as well.
The fix is simple enough, first cut the trace on the Famicom cartridge edge between pins 48 and 49. Next, solder a wire from NES pin 58 to Famicom pin 49. Finally, solder another wire from NES pin 57 to Famicom pin 48.
2. Adding Expansion Sound
The NES PowerPak and Everdrive N8 NES Edition support expansion audio. They use NES pin 51 to output the expansion audio. Because the NES had no official method of routing expansion audio, the PowerPak decided to use the otherwise unused NES pin 51 and the Everdrive followed suit. Any NES reproduction cartridge of a Famicom game like Gimmck! or Just Breed will also follow suit. NES pin 51 connects only to the unused expansion connector on the underside of a front loader, and a resistor can connect that pin (pin 3) to the pin (pin 9) with 47K resistor that will mix the cartridge audio with the internal NES audio.
Fortunately, the Famicom does not need a mod because it has a pair of pins, 45 and 46, which allow a Famicom cartridge to mix in cartridge based audio. If the cartridge hardware does not support external audio, these pins will be connected together. If it does, then it will separate the pins and mix the internal Famicom audio coming in from pin 45 with the cartridge audio and send the mixed signal to cartridge pin 46. From there it goes directly to the Famicom's RF unit or the Multi AV of the Famicom AV.
This mod is really easy, but you will be using 10K resistors to perform the connections. First, cut the bridge between Famicom pins 45 and 46 on the converter. Next, solder a resistor from NES pin 51 to Famicom pin 46. Finally, solder a second resistor from pin 45 to the leg of the resistor nearest the Famicom pin connector. If you find the resulting audio not to your liking, you can use potentiometers instead.
One minor issue with the Famicom AV is that it does not support the microphone on the second controller of the Famicom. You can find a list of games that use it in this thread : http://www.famicomworld.com/forum/index.php?topic=2355.0
In most instances, the microphone only has marginal use at best, but there are three or four Japanese games that require using the microphone at some point to progress.
An alleged issue is that expansion audio from those cartridges which contain it supposedly drown out the internal audio. Non-AV Famicom with earlier circuit boards have been said to have louder internal audio output, but Famicoms with later circuit boards have quieter internal audio. In my opinion, there is little in the way of solid, concrete evidence to support this. In fact, the audio circuits seem to be the same regardless of Famicom or Famicom AV console used. Additionally, there is no apparent difference in the loudness between the 2A03G used in later Famicoms and the 2A03H used in most Famicom AVs. There is a difference between the 2A03E used in the earlier Famicoms and the late Famicoms, so expansion audio will be a little more punchy with the Famicom AV. However, it is a mistake to believe that expansion audio drowns out internal audio in the Famicom AV.