Hook All Your Game Consoles and Multimedia Up To Your TV

Aug 10, 2003

The Bottom Line Use a switcher box like the ones from Pelican and Mad Cats to flip from one to the next with the touch of a button.

Do you have a game console (or two, or three), DVD player, VCR, stereo and other mutimedia devices and want to hook all of them up to one TV? Until someone comes up with one machine that truly does it all (a PC with good video and sound cards does, sort of, but a screen big enough to see across the living room is a bit pricy, plus you've got to crank the volume to drown out the case fan on most high end systems), most of us can answer "yes".

The old solution was to get a VCR or, more recently, a DVD/VCR combo machine that has lots of plug-ins for video and audio input. With the ones I've seen, the best you could do was to hook up the VCR, one console and your stereo. What you wound up with was a somewhat complex mass of wires hooked up in a way that took several steps to switch between components. You had to have the VCR turned on, switched to "TV", the channel set to "Video 1" or something and all the plugs in the right holes to get your console to play through the VCR into the TV.

Now, there is a much better solution: the component switcher box. There are several brands of these out there, but the main players are Pelican and Mad Cats (both of these companies make great add-ons for all three next-gen game consoles). I looked at several and there are all sorts of iterations and levels from simple two component switches up to ones that let you hook up five machines at once. Some are totally manual, requiring no power, while others have remote controls (and higher price tags) to do the switching.
I decided to go with a manual model from Pelican. It lets you hook up five different devices with either the RCA plugs (those round jobs with the little metal stub that sticks out and that split left and right sound and video into separate plugs) or S-video plugs (look like the pre-USB plugs for computer mice). It is small, just long and wide enough to plug everything in and have room for nice thumb-sized selection buttons on the front. The buttons make a click and a iridescent blue indicator appears (a sliding thing in side the box, not a light) on top of the box above the button to let you know which one is selected. The only bad thing about the button system is that you have to go by feel in the dark as the indicators and button lables do not glow or light up. It comes with snap-in lables for just about every console and A/V device you can think of, even Dreamcast.

Hooking it up is as simple as setting up the devices in your entertainment center, threading the input cables from the devices to the box and plugging them into the color coded holes on the back of the box. The slots for each device are numbered on the front and back so you can tell which one to plug it in to. The set of holes on the far right (looking at it from the back) is the output for the TV.

I recommend plugging in the video jack to the TV but sending the audio signals to your stereo (if it has RCA plugs) or to a set of surround sound speakers (Logitech makes a set of great sounding, yet affordable computer speakers that you can use with RCA plugs). I also recommend using gold plated plugs as much as possible. They don't cost much more than the regular ones but they retain a better signal for these adapter situations (every time you put something between the source: DVD, game console, etc. and the TV or stereo, you get some signal loss).

I've used this setup to hook my Gamecube, Xbox, PS2, DVD/VCR combo and surround sound speakers up to my TV for several weeks and have been pretty pleased with it. I don't mind not having a remote for the switch box (go too many remotes anyway) because I'm up there at the 'center loading game discs or DVD's anyway. Using the gold plugs, I've noticed no video nor audio quality loss over directly plugging each of the devices into my TV one at a time. Though it was made for multiple game consoles, it could be used to switch between any devices that use RCA or s-video plugs, so it could be a low-cost alternative to getting a stereo reciever, if you don't have one already, to plug multiple sound sources (dual tape decks, turntables, CD changers, etc.) into one set of speakers.

This little gadget is black with PS2-styled grooves on the sides, so it blends in well with your gaming hardware, especially if you sit it on top of a PS2.

About the Author

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Member: John Enfield
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About Me: A Certified Computer Tech. Studying ornamental horticulture. Christian, bookworm, gamer & movie buff.

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