Our princess is in another console
April 26, 2017 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Can I play a Nintendo Classic without a TV, using a laptop or desktop computer (a 2015 MacBook or a 2012 iMac)?

I don't have the Nintendo Classic yet, but let's assume I can get one soon.

Most discussions of the console are about using it on a TV, so I had thought that you absolutely need a TV. And I don't have a TV, so I figured I'm out of luck.

However, this Forbes article says:
You can also run the console off of USB power, which is awesome, so you can just plug it into your laptop and play it right there on your laptop screen (or desktop, etc.)
That's exactly what I would want ... but is that true, or was the author mistaken? Other things I've read make it sound like the USB only charges the console, and doesn't display the games.

I don't know much about HDMI, but my understanding is that a MacBook can have an HDMI "out," which is the same thing the console has — so they couldn't be connected to each other because the out needs to be connected to an HDMI "in." Right?

Is there any way to do this? Or is getting a TV my only option for using the Nintendo Classic?
posted by John Cohen to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I mean... what you can do with a computer is run an emulator. People have been running NES emulators for years. Obtaining the game files often requires going through less-than-savory channels, and not everyone likes that. It is illegal because Nintendo still owns the copyright on the data in the game cartridges.

But it seems like, given your hardware setup, an emulator would be preferable to you going out and buying a TV and trying to get your hands on the limited edition NES Classic.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 11:39 AM on April 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have a 2013 MacBook Pro for work, and a Nintendo classic. I'm assuming you can just connect the two via a regular HDMI cable, but I don't know for sure. If you can wait 4-5 hours, I can try it and report on the results.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:44 AM on April 26, 2017

You're right - the video goes over HDMI and you can't use your laptop or a 2012 iMac as a display (the HDMI ports they have are out, not in).

That said, though, you don't need a TV - you only need a monitor with an HDMI port. Here's one for $70, and here's a very highly rated one for $100. You could also hook up a Roku or other streaming device to a monitor like that if you wanted a mini TV solution that wasn't your computer.

And I agree with overeducated_alligator that you have everything you need to just get an emulator. The only advantage of the NES classic is that it's cute sitting on your shelf, it's actually not necessarily a great way (and definitely not the only way) to play these games. You can even get USB NES controllers (no endorsement of that controller/brand).
posted by brainmouse at 11:46 AM on April 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you really really want a Classic and not fiddle with emulators, with the MacBook, you'd need a video capture device, and on the iMac, it should have TargetDisplay Mode and an adapter (HDMI to Mini DisplayPort?).

I don't know what they mean by plugging it "next to the laptop" (because AFAIK only Alienware did a laptop with HDMI in), but it should be possible for someone to feed power to the console from a computer USB port, and connect it to a monitor (like brainmouse says, a lot of monitors have HDMI input).
posted by lmfsilva at 11:53 AM on April 26, 2017

I like the Classic because it comes with the classic controller, and 30 games, and is a dedicated device. It's basically just like using my Super NES in the days of yore (minus having to blow on cartridges). It's a pretty dang good deal for $60. And yes, it is adorable sitting on my shelf.

I will say that the Insignia knock-off controller works as well as the original (the Classic comes with one controller) but has a much longer cord. I have a 55" TV and it is a bit awkward to sit right next to it to play.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:55 AM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


A 100% legal way to play NES games with an internet connection is 8bbit.com. There, they own zillions of cartridges, and let you play them. This is legally the same as borrowing the e.g. Paperboy cart from your friend when you were 10, and Nintendo can't complain about that. Or so the theory goes.

The current understanding passed around vintage gaming circles is that it's not illegal to have ROMs of games that you have purchased. I know people who would never pirate media but have no problem downloading a ROM of Paperboy, because it's just a personal backup of media that they legally bought and still own.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:59 AM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the advice so far. Just to be clear, I'm only asking about the NES Classic, not any alternatives.
posted by John Cohen at 12:22 PM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the advice so far. Just to be clear, I'm only asking about the NES Classic, not any alternatives.

Laptops have video *output*, they do not take video *input*. You would need a TV or a cheap computer monitor that accepted HDMI *input*. Your understanding is correct.
posted by kbanas at 12:40 PM on April 26, 2017

You could probably use a video capture device to do this.
posted by disaster77 at 12:52 PM on April 26, 2017

If you go the cheap monitor route, don't forget to account for the audio. The audio will travel via the hdmi cable so the monitor will either have to have built in speakers or an audio out jack to hook up your speakers to.
posted by mmascolino at 12:53 PM on April 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

A lot of people are still under the impression that USB cable = computer peripheral, when a lot of devices like this just have them to be able to more easily get power when plugged into a TV, because a lot of TVs have powered USB ports relatively near the HDMI inputs. I think the Forbes writer is just mistaken, not in possession of any occult knowledge about how to operate this differently from usual.
posted by Sequence at 1:04 PM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

(Not that it matters but I think 8bbit only allows one player per cartridge per game that they own, making it exactly like borrowing from a friend. Also I think Nintendo would have shut them down last month if they had a legal means to do so. The site is famous, and Nintendo is not lacking in legal expertise or the money and desire to aggressively use it to defend their products. )
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:10 PM on April 26, 2017

Hit up a thrift shop; they often have cheap 4:3 LCD panels. (Make sure to check for HDMI)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:22 PM on April 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's a pretty dang good deal for $60.

Not anymore. (Via)

Currently going for $270 by Amazon marketplace sellers.

I will forever be kicking myself for not picking one up.
posted by invisible ink at 3:22 PM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

For those suggesting video capture devices, latency may make the games somewhere between 'harder' and 'unplayable'.
posted by neilbert at 5:28 PM on April 26, 2017

I paused my game of Super Mario Bros. 3 to write this comment. I've been playing the game on my NES Classic, which is connected to an Insignia 39-inch Roku TV.

Thanks to everyone who answered the question, especially those I marked best answer.
posted by John Cohen at 6:46 PM on May 7, 2017

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