Editorials and Features
Article by: MrCHUPON
Article: The Travelin' Gamer: Airborne and Hotel-bound Gaming Tips [Written 2008-05-28]
As someone who travelled to a godforsaken, boring area for 15 months with nary a happening bar, mall or any other local hangout within walking distance, and also as someone whose attention span is shorter than Michael Jordan's hair, I've often prepared my arsenal of videogaming goodness for the inevitable situation of boredom when neither "24" nor NBA basketball airs on television.
Here I'll discuss a few small tips for using both portables and consoles when travelling out of town. Those traveling to foreign lands will have to do some harder research - an NTSC/PAL converter as well as an AC Adapter converter will be necessary between regions.
On this subject, reader Domingo writes:
"[With regards to an] NTSC-PAL Conv: [the display quality] was sharp...not different than a regular connection in the US...no distortion of color or brightness which is the most important part.
If you're going to be abroad for a month or more, then buying the converters may be worth it but $100 worth of additional equipment is hard to justify for a short trip. Plus, finding the right stuff that won't harm your system is an additional task. Might as well just use your portable sparingly.
If you're thinking about buying the converters over there look at paying double the price. Lik-Sang is your best bet online but you have to anticipate when your trip is in order to have it delivered in time.
In regards to power converters, [if traveling from the US to Europe] you want a step-down converter. A good one would run at least $40. You want one with a fuse to protest from surges. If you don't use a stepdown converter you're subject to getting your sh!t fried. Not just your system but any appliance (one of my co-workers killed her cell phone by using a regular $10 converter). The one I bought probably weighed between 7 and 10 lbs... but there are probably lighter ones.
The main thing to pack is a power strip because you're gonna need more than one US outlet. So you could plug the converter to the wall and the strip to the converter."
Prepping your Portables for the Plane
Depending on the length of your flight, you may be all set with your portables... or you might be gasping for air as your last portable's battery runs the course of its charge. Here's a quick rundown of expected battery life for a few portables out there:
Gameboy Advance - Two (2) AA Batteries
Gameboy Advance SP - Rechargeable Li-Ion Battery
Gameboy Advance SP with Backlight - Rechargeable Li-Ion Battery
Gameboy micro - Rechargeable Li-Ion Battery
Nintendo DS - Rechargeable Li-Ion Battery
Nintendo DS Lite - Rechargeable Li-Ion Battery
Playstation Portable - Rechargeable Li-Ion Battery (User-replaceable)
Neogeo Pocket Color - Two (2) AA Batteries
For all portables, depending on how much you value the audio in your games you might want to consider turning down the volume. Though this hasn't been widely confirmed, I did notice some game journalists factor volume into their battery tests (the original Gameboy Advance was tested with both maximum and minimum volume by Electronic Gaming Monthly years back). This makes sense as, just like the brightness of a screen, the volume level of the sound being produced by the portable's internals will eat up an appropriate amount of power.
Hotel Room Hell
Once you're in your hotel room, it's quite obvious that you won't have to worry about anything anymore - you've got sockets to plug your portables' AC adapters into! To save some space in your bag, or just to decrease the number of things you need to track of, you can share the same model AC adapter between the GBA SP, the GBA SP with Backlight, and the original Nintendo DS. All other power adapters are NOT compatible, as far as I've read. Please shoot me an e-mail and let me know if you've experienced otherwise. For instance, you just might be able to share the PSP charger with another Sony product that you may have brought with you, but I haven't ever seen this done.
The amount of power sockets you'll have in your room may vary. In this day and age, many hotels should be providing quite a few given the amount of business travellers with laptops, Blackberry handhelds, and cellular phones. In my experience, the Marriott family hotels widely varies. I've seen as few as four easily-accessible ports to as many as eight, some of which are provided by a power strip. When I stayed at smaller-scale places like the LaQuinta Inn, I also had a power strip. Finally, there are at least two sockets in the bathroom. Just make sure you take your portables out of the bathroom when you shower, lest you splash water on them!
But now that you're in your hotel room, and you have this nice big television, you don't want no stinkin' portable. You brought your slim PS2, your Gamecube, or your (god forbid) humongoid Xbox or Xbox 360. (Hey, if you can fit those last two in your luggage, more power to you.) So, how to connect these?
STOP. I hope you've purchased RF adapters for your consoles, because not all hotels allow you to simply plug in the red, yellow and white connectors into the TV. Worse, there isn't even any native Xbox 360 support for RF cables. Luckily, Sarju Shah from Gamespot has a solution (http://www.gamespot.com/features/6139690/index.html): "...you'll have to spend around 20 to 30 dollars on an RF modulator that converts composite or S-Video signals to RF."
The RF adapters offer the absolute worst in terms of quality, but considering how some hotels run their operations, it may be your only option. Instead of plugging colored cables into sockets, the RF adapter uses coaxial cable plugs. They're the same plugs that run from your wall to your cable box; if you remember your old school NES days, you'll be instantly familiar with the RF plug.
In the hotels that I've stayed at, none of the television remotes let me access the TV's system Display menu. In other words, I couldn't switch between - for example - Cable, Video 1, and S-Video (or, I wouldn't be able to if S-Video were even available). If you're lucky enough to be able to access the menu, great - you're pretty much good to go as long as you have the proper cables. Most likely they'll be the red-yellow-white composite combination that's most common. (The only time I ever used a component cable on the road was when we stayed in a house for the Sundance Film Festival, which did provide an HDTV.)
However, as I've said, in most cases you'll be restricted to using the clunky ol' coaxial cable. But there's another catch - many hotels stick a little shell around the coaxial cable so that you can't just easily unscrew it. It's a little black, round cylindrical object that blocks access to the cable connector itself from your fingers or a small wrench. They want you to, of course, use their modes of entertainment (i.e. pay for on-demand content) rather than bringing your own DVD player or VCR to satisfy your needs.
Nuts to that. All you need are simple house keys, and you've thwarted the hotel's evil plans. Given, of course, that the coax cable used has flat edges like in the example below and isn't rounded:
So, if you're unfortunate enough to have that little "coax cable boot" attached, when you look at the back of your hotel room's TV you'll see the little black cylinder surrounding the connector next to the back surface of the television. The end that's practically touching the TV has a little hole just big enough for the coax connector to peek through so that the wire can be screwed on. You can't see this part yet. What you can see is the end farther from the TV - feel it with the tip of your finger (or just look at it) and you'll find that it's hollow.
Here's a picture of the boot. Note how it's impossible to get a thumb and finger in there to unscrew the coax cable.
Now, take your house key - hoping that it's small enough to fit in the hollow end (it should be) - and jam it in. That's right, jam it into the hollow end. Start rotating the flat end of the key around the circumference of the connector counter-clockwise. With any luck, the flat end of your key will line up with the flat area of the coax wire's connector and the torque will cause the wire to unscrew little by little. You may need to take out your key and reinsert after a partial turn. (The little cylinder will rotate along with you, and that's fine; that facilitates the counter-clockwise motion.) Make a note of the photos below.
The red outline represents the flat edges of the coax cable.
The blue line represents the cross section of your key as it's inserted into this little boot.
Notice how it lies flat alongside a flat edge of the coax cable.
The bright green line represents how you should turn the key.
After turning slightly, this is where you should be.
Notice that you should've successfully been able to nudge the coax cable loose by a little.
The key is STILL lying flat against the coax cable's edge, but since the edge it's lying against has moved,
so has the flat edge of the key. You can take out the key and re-insert it back to the flat edge on the right to make another turn,
or you can contort your hand to just keep going.
When the coax cable is finally loose, you'll be able to yank it out with ease, and the cylinder will fall off - revealing the tasty goldmine underneath that is the TV's coax connector. Now, all you do is plug the wire into your RF adapter, and plug the RF adapter's own coax plug onto the TV, and you're set. RF adapters usually work on both channels 3 and 4 via a small switch that lets you differentiate between the two - see which works best with the TV in your room, and have at it.
I was hoping to get pictures of the cylinder-and-coax setup when I went on a trip this week, but I was (un)lucky enough to not have the cylinder waiting for me in my hotel room - they left the coax connector exposed for unscrewing. If any of you travel in the near future, and encounter this little beast, take a picture of it from behind the TV from as many angles as you can and drop them off here. Be sure to also notify us of any other challenges playing your consoles or portables you've had while flying out of town and staying in a hotel room, and if you have 'em, your solutions to those challenges.
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