Retrogaming on original consoles in HDMI on a budget
My sons (10 and 12) and I have been enjoying Retrogaming as a hobby of late. Sure there's a lot of talk of 4k 60fps this and that, but there's amazing stories in classing video games. From The Legend of Zelda (all of them) to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, we are enjoying playing games across every platform. Over the years we've assembled quite the collection of consoles, most purchased at thrift stores.
Initially I started out as a purist, wanting to play each game on the original console unmodified. I'm not a fan of emulators for a number of reasons. I don't particularly like the idea of illegal ROM come up and I'd like to support the original game creators. Additionally, if I can support a small business by purchasing original game cartridges or CDs, I prefer to do that as well. However, the kids and I have come up with somewhat of a balance in our console selection.
For example, we enjoy the Hyperkin Retron 5 in that it lets us play NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, & Game Boy over 5 category ports. with one additional adapter, it adds Game Gear, Master System, and Master System Cards. It uses emulators at its heart, but it requires the use of the original game cartridges. However, the Hyperkin supports all the original controllers - many of which we've found at our local thrift store - which strikes a nice balance between the old and the new. Best of all, it uses HDMI as its output plug which makes it super easy to hook up to our TV.
The prevalence of HDMI as THE standard for getting stuff onto our Living Room TV has caused me to dig into finding HDMI solutions for as many of my systems as possible. Certainly you CAN use a Composite Video Adapter to HDMI to go from the classic Yellow/White/Red connectors to HDMI but prepare for disappointment. By the time it gets to your 4k flat panel it's gonna be muddy and gross. These aren't upscalers. They can't clean an analog signal. More on that in a moment because there are LAYERS to these solutions.
Some are simple, and I recommend these (cheap products, but they work great) adapters:
- Wii to HDMI Adapter - The Wii is a very under-respected console and has a TON of great games. In the US you can find a Wii at a thrift store for $20 and there's tens of millions of them out there. This simple little adapter will get you very clean 480i or 480p HDMI with audio. Combine that with the Wii's easily soft-modded operating system and you've got the potential for a multi-system emulator as well.
- PS2 to HDMI Adapter - This little (cheap) adapter will get you HTMI output as well, although it's converted off the component Y Cb/Pb Cr/Pr signal coming out. It also needs USB Power so you may end up leaching that off the PS2 itself. One note - even though every PS2 can also play PS1 games, those games output 240p and this adapter won't pick it up, so be prepared to downgrade depend on the game. But, if you use a Progressive Scan 16:9 Widescreen game like God of War you'll be very pleased with the result.
- Nintendo N64 - THIS is the most difficult console so far to get HDMI output from. There ARE solutions but they are few and far between and often out of stock. There's an RGB mod that will get you clean Red/Green/Blue outputs but not HDMI. You'll need to get the mod and then either do the soldering yourself or find a shop to do it for you. The holy grail is the UltraHDMI Mod but I have yet to find one and I'm not sure I want to pay $150 for it if I do.
- The cheapest and easiest thing you can and should do with an N64 is get a Composite & C-Video converter box. This box will also do basic up-scaling as well, but remember, this isn't going to create pixels that aren't already there.
- Dreamcast - There is an adapter from Akura that will get you all the way to HDMI but it's $85 and it's just for Dreamcast. I chose instead to use a Dreamcast to VGA cable, as the Dreamcast can do VGA natively, then a powered VGA to HDMI box. It doesn't upscale, but rather passes the original video resolution to your panel for upscaling. In my experience this is a solid budget compromise.
If you're ever in or around Portland/Beaverton, Oregon, I highly recommend you stop by Retro Game Trader. Their selection and quality is truly unmatched. One of THE great retro game stores on the west coast of the US.
For legal retrogames on a budget, I also enjoy the new "mini consoles" you've likely heard a lot about, all of which support HDMI output natively!
- Super NES Classic (USA or Europe have different styles) - 21 classic games, works with HDMI, includes controllers
- NES Classic - Harder to find but they are out there. 30 classic games, plus controllers. Tiny!
- Atari Flashback 8 - 120 games, 2 controllers AND 2 paddles!
- C64 Mini - Includes Joystick and 64 games AND supports a USB Keyboard so you can program in C64 Basic
In the vein of retrogaming, but not directly related, I wanted to give a shootout to EVERYTHING that the 8BitDo company does. I have three of their controllers and they are amazing. They get constant firmware updates, and particularly the 8Bitdo SF30 Pro Controller is amazing as it works on Windows, Mac, Android, and Nintendo Switch. It pairs perfectly with the Switch, I use it on the road with my laptop as an "Xbox" style controller and it always Just Works. Amazing product.
If you want the inverse - the ability to use your favorite controllers with your Windows, Mac, or Raspberry Pi, check out their Wireless Adapter. You'll be able to pair all your controllers and use them on your PC - Xbox One S/X Bluetooth controller, PS4, PS3, Wii Mote, Wii U Pro wirelessly on Nintendo Switch with DS4 Motion and Rumble features! NOTE: I am NOT affiliated with 8BitDo at all, I just love their products.
We are having a ton of fun doing this. You'll always be on the lookout for old and classic games at swap meets, garage sales, and friends' houses. There's RetroGaming conventions and Arcades (like Ground Kontrol in Portland) and an ever-growing group of new friends and enthusiasts.
This post uses Amazon Referral Links and I'll use the few dollars I get from YOU uses them to buy retro games for the kids! Also, go subscribe to the Hanselminutes Podcast today! We're on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, and even Twitter! Check out the episode where Matt Phillips from Tanglewood Games uses a 1995 PC to great a NEW Sega Megadrive/Genesis game in 2018!
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