ThinkBoxly is the personal developer blog of Lucas Chasteen, author, programmer, artist, and always learning. Read more

Monday, September 03, 2012

How to use ANY set of Headphones with Consoles

Even after six years on the market, it is still notoriously difficult to get game audio into a set of headphones from Sony’s Playstation 3. Despite having built-in Bluetooth connectivity, Sony has continually disallowed the use of normal wireless headsets with the console except for live chatting. While you are free to cough up $80 to purchase the official Playstation 3 headset, most of us would be happier to just plug in a normal pair of headphones and forego the steep cost of official gear. Today, we’re going to take a look at how you can do just that for $10 or less. Even better, although I’ll specifically be addressing the Playstation 3 today, the same technique can be used on an Xbox 360, Wii, or virtually any other console as well.

In case you happen to be reading this post because you’re wondering if perhaps you should simply cave and get an expensive, licensed headset instead of a workaround, consider this: the workaround we’ll be looking at today enables all regular 3.5mm headphones to work with your console, which means that should one set break, you can plug in the free pair you got on the airplane and keep gaming. You also have the option of using any Bluetooth headset for game audio (not chatting) if you’re willing to spend more like $50 instead of the $10 mentioned earlier. Overall, this method clearly provides the greatest freedom at the lowest cost.

Here’s what you will need:

1. RCA (Yellow, Red, White) Video/Audio Cable (free)

Though once the standard, these plugs have recently become throwaway items as much better solutions such as HDMI continue to take over. However, there is still a use for the (probably neglected) RCA plug that came with your console. Don’t worry; if you’ve got a Playstation 3, you can still use HDMI for video by changing just the audio output setting to “Audio Input Connector/SCART/AV MULTI”, since audio is all we need the RCA cable for. So take the console end of the plug, connect it to your PS3, and then hook the other end up to the next item on our list.

2. RCA (female) to 3.5mm (female) Adapter ($3)

You might notice something odd with this RCA plug, and that is that the yellow part is missing. If you are on a standard definition TV or just are not using HDMI, you’ll plug this yellow head into your TV. Otherwise, simply ignore it and plug the white and red heads of your console’s RCA cable into the corresponding white and red jacks on the adapter.

So far your results should look like this:

Now, you could be finished right here, if it weren’t for one small problem: normal headphones have no means of volume control. While you could just get a set of headphones with built in volume control, we really want to keep this so that any headphones can work with the setup and not just one specialized pair. Therefore, we have one more piece to this puzzle.

(Note: if you’re going the Bluetooth route, substitute the following product with a 3.5mm to Bluetooth emitter)

3. Headphone Splitter with Volume Controls ($5)

Now, even though this may be a headphone splitter, it’s actually not the splitting functionality that we care about in this case (though it does come as a nice bonus). What we need the splitter for is simply to address the issue of volume control. Numerous cheap splitters come with this functionality, making them a great option even though we might not actually need to plug in a second pair of headphones.

Well, you know what to do. Hook the splitter (or your Bluetooth emitter if you’re going wireless) up to the open end of the adapter…

…and now you can finally connect your headphones to the splitter that’s connected to the adapter that’s connected to the RCA cable that’s connected to your console.

Depending on the length of your headphones, the final product should give close to 10 feet of cord altogether, affording decent freedom of movement and distance from the TV. However, if it’s still not long enough, you can always stick a headphone extension cord between the adapter and splitter.

Now you can finally set the console to output audio through the RCA cable (if necessary) and you’re all set to enjoy gaming with the privacy of headphones. Let the late-night gaming sessions commence without fear of waking anyone!