Often enough you see lots of web pages instructing you how to play import games on you existing console, such as modchips or disc swapping. But what about when you want to play actual import consoles? Very little info on that. Which is why I had to research this a lot myself when importing consoles from abroad. I thought I’d share so not everyone has to go through the same ordeal
Basics of “wall socket” electricity from around the world
So here’s the quick and short version:
The US and Japan use 110V AC electricity at 60Hz. Basically, when you have a lower voltage (the 110V), you need more current to run the same amount of power. In other parts of the world 230V is used with 50Hz.
However, things are a bit more complicated than that. Not only are the voltages different, so are the plugs that connect the devices to you wall outlets. Here are the basic ones in use around the world (Japan uses the same as the US):
Missing from that picture is one more very important plug – the small standard euro plug (normal non-fused euro plug at the wall socket end, small symmetrical plug at the device end):
There are others, such as the fused US plug and the Australian plug, but for now this is enough. (Aussies use 240V btw)
Differences in consoles
Now that we have the basics down, let’s get down to business – playing import consoles from around the world.
The 2 basic types of consoles
So basically it boils down to 2 types. The ones that have an internal power converter and the ones that don’t.
All of the consoles actually work on DC power, that has to be converted from the AC power that comes out of your aforementioned wall sockets. Sometimes this makes it easier to play imports, often it makes it a lot harder…
Nowadays since we all use a myriad of electric devices, such as cell phones and mp3 players, there are a lot of cheap universal chargers for sale almost anywhere. These are great for import gamers, since many consoles will work fine with these! An example:
The Sega Genesis/MegaDrive and the MegaCD will work quite happily with one of these aftermarket chargers
Will work with this
Just make sure that the voltage and current figures on the universal charger match the device you’re trying to use it with. This usually does not have to be exact, just the same ballpark will do. The TG16 also has this standard plug, I don’t have a picrure of it since my TG16 is still unopened in it’s factory box
This is not however the rule. Some consoles have an external power converter with a proprietary plug. Nintendo does this a lot.
Nintendo 64 has this
Which actually hooks into the console itself
The GameCube has this (upper right corner, just under the handle). The power converter is an external brick which has a lead to this connector.
With these consoles, you can play the import version just by using a power converter for a console from your own region. So if you live in France you can use a local Sega Megadrive power converter with a US Genesis or Japanese Megadrive. Same of course with the N64 and Gamecube. This is because the console itself uses DC and the converter outputs the same DC to the console every time, no matter wheter it has 110V or 230V input from the wall socket.
Problem solved!(?) Well not quite. As I mentioned before, there are 2 types of consoles and the second variety is where you will have some issues.
The consoles pictured here use an internal power converter (there most likely are more, these are just the ones I own)
The Playstation 2
Here you will need some type of external conversion of the 110V/230V AC to play consoles from the US/Japan if you live in Europe (or Australia) and vice versa.
One of these will set you back around 10 euros and will enable you to play any US or Japanese console. Remember that the Sega CD will need its own power so you will need either 2 of these or US extension cord. For a fun exercise try to find a US extension cord in your local shop if you live in Europe
In the US and Japan a 110V->230V converter will cost around the same. You don’t need to get the large desktop devices that cost a hundred dollars or more. The consoles you will need these for use a small amount of power and the smaller converters will do just fine.
One other detail that can potentially help you is this. In the UK they use the exact same power as the rest of Europe, they just have a different plug. The Dreamcast, Saturn, PS1, PS2 (fat model at least) all use a standard small euro plug at the back, so if you buy a UK console in another European country, just go to the local hardware store etc. and buy a standard euro lead for it. Will cost you around 2 euros. Of course it’s the same thing in the UK, so vice versa there.
Also, for the proprietary plugged Nintendo etc. devices, you can buy a conversion plug to change the UK plug to the European one. Costs around 2-3 euros and here is a picture of one:
Here we again find the same differences. The US and Japan use NTSC for their television and Europe uses PAL (with France being the exception with their SECAM). This is not that big of an issue anymore, since most of the flat panel (LCD/plasma) TVs can do both with no problem. If you are using an older CRT television (which you WILL need if you want to play light gun games) then it is a bit more of a hassle. Some manufacturers did multistandard TVs and this is your best bet. Sony almost always had this and I highly recommend one of the last (-96-99) 50hz Trinitron TVs if you can find one. These will play absolutely anything (50Hz, 60Hz, NTSC, PAL, even SECAM) with no problems. Just make sure your TV is multistandard!
On top of that there is still one more difference! The antenna lead. The US has these screw-on type of connectors:
And the Europeans use these plug-in types:
So for this you will also need a converter if you do not have a composite connection from the console to the TV. This issue will come up with the NES toploader that has no other video outputs except RF.
So that’s about it for me. Hope this was of help and make sure to check for these before buying a console from another area to make sure you can play it!