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Tech by VICE

How the Hell Does Netflix on NES Work?

Is the NES modded or is the cartridge? Is it all fake?

by Jason Koebler
Mar 11 2015, 3:15pm

​I don't know how the hell you get Netflix to play on an original Nintendo, but it's been blowing my mind for the last 18 hours or so. Netflix ​posted the video with painfully little explanation, which is driving me nuts.

I have tried in many ways to get in touch with the Netflix developers who did what you see above, but no one is getting back to me, so here are some wild speculations. If you have better ones, let me know.

This isn't Netflix

Instead, it's a Netflix simulation crammed onto a 256 kilobyte NES cartridge. This is my best, and most disappointing, theory. If it's an unmodified system, then the NES has no possible way of getting online. If this is true, then it's simply a reprogrammed "game" made to look like Netflix with a very short House of Cards demo. Still very cool, but no wizardry going on here—people have been hacking and ​reprogramming NES cartridges for a long time. This, sadly, is probably what's happening.

Raspberry Pi on the cart

People have done crazy things with the tiny Raspberry Pi computer. Is it possible to put a Raspberry Pi onto an NES cartridge and then modify it to constantly stream an updating, 8-bit version of Netflix onto a 256 kb cartridge and have it constantly flash away whatever memory it's not using? Maybe! I have no idea. Many people have ​tossed a Raspberry Pi into an NES, but those are emulators, using the NES merely as a shell. This theory seems unlikely, but it's the only way I can imagine an NES getting the internet.

The Teleplay

​The Teleplay was a mostly failed gaming modem for NES and the Genesis. I didn't see one in the video. I don't think this happened.

What's in the box?

Image: Netflix

An image posted by Netflix shows a shoebox with a LOT OF WIRES running from it to, maybe, the NES or the TV or maybe to nowhere, I can't tell. WHAT'S IN THE BOX, NETFLIX? WHAT'S IN THE MOTHERFUCKING BOX? 

I am a Netflix NES truther. Someone please help me. 

Update: A helpful commenter has pointed us to this ​HackerNews thread, where the devs confirmed my original theory *and* suggested that my Raspberry Pi idea was not crazy. Still kind of a bummer that it's not pulling video from the internet, however.

"The original plan we had was to stick a Raspberry Pi in the cart to handle networking and video conversion," one of the devs wrote. "Due to time and resource constraints we ended up building a standalone rom."

​More info is available here, and a technical paper is forthcoming.

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