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Feature: Retrofitting Your Console for the HD Age

Posted by Damien McFerran

How to give your Wii and classic hardware a new lease of life

While the relentless march of progress ensures that modern gaming consoles — and the televisions upon which they are played — are able to offer pin-sharp HD picture quality, it's worth sparing a moment to consider where this leaves older machines, as well as the humble Wii — which has yet to break through the 480p barrier, much to the chagrin of many Nintendo-loving A/V experts.

Retro gaming hardware presents a unique issue when you're looking to upgrade your TV. Classic machines like the Super Nintendo, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis and Neo Geo AES were built in an era where the concept of LCD televisions was the stuff of a madman's wildest dreams. Back in the early '90s the best you could hope for was a bulky CRT screen with RF, composite, S-Video and RGB SCART as your connection options. While many modern TVs continue to support such technology, the signals they deal with are starting to change, and this can cause headaches for retro players.

"Many of the latest model LCD, LED and Plasma TVs do not include 'legacy' analogue video and audio inputs," explains Chris Pinder of UK-based HD Cable, a company that specialises in supplying connectivity options for the HD era. "The vast majority of new displays are designed purely for the digital domain. Manufacturers want to reduce circuit board size and production costs by not including analogue-to-digital processors. Most likely, the number one issue for fans of SD devices will be connectivity sparseness on their brand-new, super-slim HDTV."

So what options are available to those gamers who refuse to ditch their beloved SNES consoles? "Up-scaling legacy analogue connection to digital HDMI converter boxes," says Pinder. "These take an SD analogue signal and convert it to digital so that it can be output over a HDMI cable in a format that your new HDTV will understand. The analogue video signal, usually around 480 or 575 lines of video content, is run through a process that 'upscales' it to 1080 lines. This process does not turn SD content into HD content as such, but rather enables it to be decoded and displayed optimally on a modern HDTV. The picture quality will always be clearer — loss of quality is not possible with the ADC processors that we use in our products."

It's not just dusty old retro consoles that can benefit from a HD facelift. HD Cable also offers a stepping-stone into the 1080p domain for Wii owners. "The best combination of products that a Wii owner can utilise to get the most from their Wii gaming experience is to use Wii Component Leads with breakout female audio connectors and a Component to HDMI converter," reveals Pinder. "That way, the user can send the game's audio to a separate HiFi or surround sound and upscale the video to 1080p for the the best possible picture on an HDMI-equipped display or projector."

Refreshingly, these components don't require complicated installation. You simply plug in your existing connection, hook it up to your HDTV with the appropriate cable and plug in the unit's power supply.

If you're nervously considering how to run your vintage gaming hardware on your shiny new flatscreen LCD TV set then it's well worth considering one of these options. Similarly, if you're looking to squeeze a little more detail out of your Wii's picture output, it's worth bearing in mind that solutions are out there.

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User Comments (42)

Mikau94

#3

Mikau94 said:

How much? Wait, you use a GameCube cable on the N64 and SNES. The Gamecube cable will work on an HD TV. So, now you can play SNES and N64 games on a newer TV!

SilverBaretta

#5

SilverBaretta said:

Quite a nice feature. I've always wondered if there was a solution to the extreme sloppiness of a retro console when hooked up to an HDTV.

Wolfenstein83

#7

Wolfenstein83 said:

I have read that since upscaling is not true HD, the conversion can sometimes seem like nothing has really changed for most people, or in some cases degrade the picture.
It has something to do with the fact that most decent HD-TV's already have built in upscaling.
Like for an example, I was playing a PS2 game that had progressive scan, but it looked blurry when I switched to that option, and looked better with the option off.
Even so, I might look into this if the price is reasonable enough, and if it will run on a US screen?
I just hope the next Wii or whatever it will be called, will finally put the HD issue to rest, and also be able to play DVD's too.
Which other consoles have been doing for two generations now, but I am assuming that is because the Wii is based on the Gamecube hardware.

Squiggle55

#9

Squiggle55 said:

this is pretty cool. My plasma tv still works with my nes and snes so I'm okay for now, but if our next tv has issues I know what to do.

WaveyChristmas

#10

WaveyChristmas said:

I'd still rather use my Retro consoles on a CRT SDTV.....CRT's still have the advantage with motion and no lag to speak of.

Maybe if this device eliminated Lag than I'd be busting out of my seat. Anyways as far as the Wii goes, I'd love to see some side by side comparison shots. Doesn't this device do the same thing that the HDMI Wii upscaler does?

TTGlider

#11

TTGlider said:

External upscalers have been around for a long time, but I have to hand it to these guys. Targeting retro gamers (and to an extent, Wii users), is a clever choice. Thanks for the profile!

Objection

#12

Objection said:

Always good to see devices and workarounds to give those great older consoles some fresh/extended life.

JakobG

#13

JakobG said:

@1: These methods don't make the image sharper, they just give you an option to connect old video sources with HD-TVs. No one said the graphics would improve, and upon thinking just a bit about it, one would know it is not possible.

premko

#14

premko said:

LCD connection reciepe: S-video cable for N64 (because it doesn`t use the rgb), component cable for WII (equals games for gamecube) and basic gamecube euro cable for SNES (if connected with RGB cable there are some problem with white color-I think it would be better to use second S-Video cable,but most of the LCDs have only one port).
Plus if you want to connect nes with chinch there is still one euro slot free.End of story and the old school games look really nice.

Big_A2

#15

Big_A2 said:

@1.Otaku: You didn't see any pictures of TVs in this article. Don't talk about what you didn't see.

Besides, retro consoles through composite cables look like crap. An upscaler or RBG cable is essential if you want your retro games to look decent on a HDTV

@13.JakobG: Um, no, they do make the image look sharper.

Sean_Aaron

#18

Sean_Aaron said:

@Big A2: What Jakob is saying is correct: you cannot add additional detail to the source signal that isn't already there. The digital zoom on your mobile phone camera isn't equivalent to the optical zoom on a proper camera either.

I suppose it could "fill-in" the lines which might make for a smoother-looking image - and I'll warrant that when I'm playing classic arcade games in MAME, I don't have a problem with it - but it's not actually improving the signal, just adding noise that doesn't look bad.

I see no use for upscaling if your TV has compatible inputs; better the modest investment in a TV calibration tool like DVD Video Essentials. In the future I expect we'll all be using some kind of converter box as these legacy ports disappear from our tellies, in which case we'll just have to live with whatever "image improvements" the manufacturers put into them.

madgear

#19

madgear said:

I can tell the difference between HD and standard definition but can barely tell between real HD and standard through HD components unless I get really close to the screen.

It means I've still held off buying Blu Ray - my standard DVDs through HDMI look great. People always have a go at me for saying that but I honestly can't tell too much - just doesn't make that much of a difference to my viewing.

nick_gc

#20

nick_gc said:

£60?! No thanks. Quite happy with 480p on my TV. Games looks absolutely fine and I thought SMG2 looked stunning. Of course 1080p looks better but there's nothing wrong with 480p. At least, there isn't on my 37" Plasma.

Lotice-Paladin

#21

Lotice-Paladin said:

My Goodmans is alright displaying Mega Drive, Wii, 360, PS2 AND PS3 through FAV, AV2, Pb, HDMI and AV1...now I need something to hook up the S-Video input. XD

PALgamer

#23

PALgamer said:

Haven't had a problem with my Wii using components cable (shame there are some games that don't use 480p) on a 55" LED TV (it also has Svideo and Scart inputs), maybe some lag in games like NSMB but turning on game mode fixed that.
What really surprised me that these new TV's really come packed with all the extra features you would need: Digital TV/SAT decoders, media centre capabilities, streaming video, PIP, etc. I was getting ready to buy an HD sat decoder, standalone HTPC... but the TV is more than enough! Maybe I'll get a laptop to use as an HTPC.

retronewbie

#25

retronewbie said:

What would really be great is if devices like that could display scanlines like emulators do on LCD screens.

i8cookie

#26

i8cookie said:

A standard SD CRT is best for displaying Wii graphics. Will probably buy a new HD tv soon but might hang onto my 27" widescreen CRT for playing my old consoles.

Don't think I'd buy a telly that has no scart or av. Hopefully this box is pointless and I will never have to fork out for one

Peppy_Hare

#27

Peppy_Hare said:

Read a review on an upscaler a short while ago. The conclusion: save your money as it introduces artifacts and doesn't provide an appreciable difference in video quality. One's best A/V option includes a component cable and surround sound setup.

DamoAdmin

#28

Damo said:

@i8cookie - Mark my words, in the next few years you still start to see SCART sockets slowly disappearing from TV sets. As HD takes over, SD connections are going to be phased out and that's when boxes like this will become essential for retro gamers.

WaveyChristmas

#29

WaveyChristmas said:

Thank god Wii2 games will be native 1080p...Well, they better be! Nintendo better not skimp out and give us 720p games instead or I'll be incredibly furious.

And there aren't any 'native 720p' sets around, they're all fixed which results in scaling...I don't understand WHY they have to be fixed, why don't these displays 'display' 1280x720 istead of 1024x766 or 1366x768, it's ridiculous. a native 720p set would be absolutely perfect for PS3/360 owners, but alas they have to put up with all of that scaling BS, as do Wii owners on their hdtv's

rjejr

#31

rjejr said:

I'ld rather buy a WiiHD than 1 of these. Nintendo needs to do it. Or at least add HDMI. I have a 2 yr. old set with 5 HDMI but not enough other connections for my Wii, PS2, and Panasonic dvd recorder. I've had a Wii since launch and a PS3 and a 52" 1080p tv for 2 years. I played the new Lego Star Wars demo today, no way I'm buying that on Wii. I had to buy component just to be able to play Lego Star Wars on the Wii, it was unviewable before. We also played a ton of deBlob on Wii but will be getting the 2nd on PS3. I honestly have no problem with the way Nintendo games look, Kirby was brilliant (the cotton was lifelike on the digger levels), as was Donkey Kong, SMG2 and NSMBW. It's like Nintendo programs on a different system. But I will not buy a game on Wii if I can get it on PS3.

SmaMan

#32

SmaMan said:

Hmm, neat stuff! I hate the look of my SNES/NES on my Samsung flat screen. It's so bad that I actually brought my old CRT from my home up to my apartment just for my retro consoles.

As far as for my Wii, my component cables look fine on my Samsung. I've never had any input lag problems whether retro or new consoles, but I noticed it has a "game mode" that reduces the input lag but degrades the picture quality.

Ren

#33

Ren said:

I call BS on the idea that upconverting Wii component signal to HDMI will make any difference. It's only 480p and component is already dividing the color signal and can deliver HD quality so your device can display it through its own upscaler. I can see all the crisp jaggies on my giant TV already, and I love it; beyond that the content has to be upgraded.

For retro consoles, though, thats a cool device.

StarDust4Ever

#35

StarDust4Ever said:

All of the HDTVs I've ever seen include component and composite connectors. My flat panel computer monitor has connectors for composite in addition to 15-pin analog, DVI, and HDMI. Analog connectors are not going to disappear any time soon. However, new standard definition CRT TVs (they all come with equipped digital tuners now) are getting harder to find as LCD displays become ever cheaper. This may present a problem for NES Zapper enthusiasts.

Sean_Aaron

#37

Sean_Aaron said:

Well here was me thinking I was sorted with my RGB SCART socket, but wouldn't you know my plasma cannot handle the Jaguar's RGB output and I end up with an image shifting colour and sharpness levels, meaning I need to use SCART-2 - the non-RGB one - in order to play my Jaguar. I may as well have bought a composite cable!

So it looks like even if you have the ports the limitations of your telly may decide things for you otherwise. At least now I have a source; whether I can justify £60 for RGB over HDMI is another question...

Sean_Aaron

#38

Sean_Aaron said:

Biting the bullet and ordering one of these. The good thing is the SCART-HDMI converter integrates the audio, so no need for a breakout cable - though there is 3.5mm audio out jack if your telly isn't hooked up to a receiver.

Now I just need to hope this sorts the issue!

Sean_Aaron

#39

Sean_Aaron said:

Well, I had mostly positive results. I still get an image flicker, but it's not as pronounced and doesn't last as long so I can live with it. Here's hoping any future set I get can deal with the RGB SCART signal from the Jag better!

Mach-X

#40

Mach-X said:

@29 uh turn on 'native' in your aspect options. it plays pixel for pixel leaving a small box around native 720 material

FlaccidSnake

#41

FlaccidSnake said:

i decided to go n buy this. got the scart to hdmi upscaler. plugged my snes into it. what did i get? an even worse picture!!

randomtirepatch

#42

randomtirepatch said:

Howdy all. I'm also trying to make my SNES work with a new television (a Magnavox flatscreen), and I bought one of the GameCube cables that plugs into the "multi" port on the SNES. It doesn't work, however. My SNES, while quite old, worked just fine on my old tube television, and the new TV is just showing a blue screen, not the kind of screen that would indicate it is picking up a faulty feed from a broken SNES. Any suggestions?

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