Soggy Cupcakes by Kevin Rohrbaugh

HD Gaming for Classic Console Snobs

The work to create the high definition video (HD) spec began the same year that Nintendo released the Family Computer. It took twenty years for HDTV to become the norm, with high definition video output arriving on game consoles in late 2005 (Xbox 360). Consoles from the Magnavox Odyssey to the Nintendo Wii output only standard definition (SD) analog signals.

Using SD consoles on HD displays often yields poor results. New TVs are increasingly designed with digital video in mind, often including lower quality components for the processing of analog input. This, combined with the poor signal quality of RF modulator and composite video connections, can lead to a muddy, disappointing picture.

Emulation is the typical solution to the problem, but I like playing on original hardware. Since I don't have the space (nor any interest) in having a CRT set just for retro gaming, I decided to go for the least practical solution: a video scaler combined with the best output option for a given system.

The first bit of equipment necessary is the video scaler. There are several options, but the most common setup typically involves the Micomsoft XRGB-Mini. While the hardware comes highly recommended, it has several negatives: The device is only sold in Japan, includes poorly translated English menus and a Japanese-labeled remote control (English overlays available on ebay.)

The video scaler provides the high definition digital input, but getting a clean signal out of classic consoles often requires more than purchasing electronics. For systems that predate component video, the best option is typically RGB via a SCART cable. Some classic systems, including most Sega consoles, output in this format without modification. Others, such as the NES, require extensive modification and custom chips. For more details regarding the options for various consoles, the RetroRGB site has lots of information.

As an example of the end-product, the following videos were captured using an Elgato Game Capture HD from my NESRGB-modified top- loader NES, upscaled to 1080p with the XRGB-Mini.

A video scaler solution is not cheap and is likely to require modifications to at least some of your game consoles. Admittedly, it's an impractical approach for a pretty esoteric "problem". That's in no small part why I find it an interesting and fun project.