You might think that when Nintendo started offering games from classic systems on its various Virtual Console platforms that interest in original hardware might fall away. However, over a decade later we're instead seeing a strong reassurance of new products supporting ageing original hardware, often aimed at getting the best quality image from the system in question.
Recently we looked at the RGB-modded Nintendo 64 and we're currently putting an UltraHDMI modded system through its paces, too. Obviously, both of those options are for the N64 but also, crucially, they are only made possible by physically modifying the original system - which requires either some skill, or paying someone else to do the mod.
Hardware mods aren't for everyone, and we've looked at an HDMI mod for GameCube before; what makes the GC Video Plug n Play 3.0 totally different is that it's exactly that - plug 'n play - there's no hardware modification required whatsoever.
The unit is a small nylon and carbon fibre 3D-printed housing that connects into the Digital AV Out port on the back of any DOL-001 model GameCube. If you've ever used a component cable on your system then you will have used this port before, although it's worth noting that towards the end of the generation a DOL-101 system was launched without this port - naturally, double check your version before ordering this device.
The adaptor has a mini-HDMI port to connect to your modern TV; the one we were supplied with also came with a free cable. By default, games will run in 480i, but any of the games that support progressive scan can be triggered in the usual way by holding down (B) on boot to enable 480p mode @ 60hz (576i/576p @ 50 Hz on PAL GameCubes). Audio is also delivered through the HDMI signal as 16bit PCM @ 48KHz.
We tested the unit on an NTSC GameCube DOL-001 via a 55" Sony Bravia 4K TV alongside an original GameCube component cable and a modified RGB SCART cable. The picture quality from GC Video Plug 'n Play 3.0 is outstanding; it's significantly clearer and crisper than the analogue signal from the component cable, meaning our TV did a much better job of upscaling using the pure digital signal with the same settings.
One potential drawback of the device is the lack of built-in upscaling - you are really at the mercy of how good the upscaler is in your TV. To us, this seems perfectly acceptable, considering that the device is not a hardware modification - it's designed to only provide you with the best quality signal from an unmodified console.
Those that wish to dabble in a more controlled form of upscaling could look at using a Framemeister (XRGB mini) or similar, although the software does not officially support such devices.
That said, one benefit of the lack of upscaling is that the device introduces no extra lag, making it perfect for those dedicated Super Smash Bros. Melee players.
Another neat feature is the implementation of the on-screen menu which can be controlled by a standard TV remote control after a little configuration, rather than an awkward controller button combination.
There are a handful of useful options to choose from, including a basic line-doubler for interlaced mode and also scanlines with an intensity setting. Tweaking these settings allows you to tailor the device to your tastes and of course save your settings as the defaults whenever you boot up the console.
We tested the device on a range of different GameCube games, including the Game Boy Player(!), with the best results from those that support the 480p mode, the clarity of picture is fantastic. Using 480i we had mixed results with the devices built in line-doubler, sometimes the TV did a better job of de-interlacing so we expect you'll need to tweak these settings to find out which works best with your TV.
Overall we've been very impressed with the GC Video Plug 'n Play 3.0, whether you should purchase one basically comes down to the kind of setup you want with your GameCube. If you're a purist, you may wish to stick to an older CRT TV with a component cable (if you can get one). However, if you want to hook up your GameCube to your modern flat-screen it really is a no-brainer, especially considering this device will no doubt cost you less than trying to get your hands on a component cable.
Huge thanks to ZXP Cables for providing us with a unit to review and test.