Nintendo GameCube HDMI, Component & RGB Plug ‘n Play Solutions :: RGB316 / MY LIFE IN GAMING

[Try] When we released our RGB 200 series
episode on the Nintendo GameCube in early 2016, HDMI and other video output alternatives
were just barely starting to become a reality for the console. Since then, the GameCube landscape has changed
a fair bit, and we now have a variety of products that have the potential to beat Nintendo’s
official component cables in both price and functionality. So, let’s take a look at a handful of the
newest options for getting the most out of your GameCube. [Music: Matt McCheskey] [Coury] As was standard for the time, the
Nintendo GameCube shipped with a set of standard yellow, red, and white RCA cables – composite
video and stereo sound – a basic, but commonly available connection. The system’s Analog AV Out port is capable
of S-video in NTSC regions and RGB in PAL regions. However, this port only supports video in
the 15kHz range – for NTSC regions that’s mostly just 480i. If you want to ditch interlaced video for
progressive output, then you’re gonna need another solution. As luck would have it, the GameCube launched
with a “Digital AV” port on the rear of the console. This was originally envisioned to allow for
hardware such as some sort of 3D glasses or headset. Alas, the full potential of this port was
never realized during its day. Instead, Nintendo released a set of component
cables – along with the equivalent D-Terminal version in Japan – which uses special hardware
hidden inside the connector to convert the port’s digital video to analog YPbPr – more
commonly referred to as component video. Component video wasn’t yet a widely adopted
format. Due to these cables being sold only through
Nintendo, and the Digital Out port being removed from later GameCube systems, the component
cables are relatively rare and have since become a highly desired and valuable commodity. Since no other device ever used the GameCube’s
custom Digital Out port, producing a suitably molded third party connector would be a considerable
investment. But more crucially, someone had to be the
first to make sense of the GameCube’s digital signals. This work was done a few years back by someone
going by the name of “Unseen.” This was the beginning of the open source
GC Video project, opening the way for anyone to create and sell their own GameCube digital
out mods, alternatives to the official component cables, and HDMI adapters. Today a number of options exist and we’ve
got our hands on a few of the best-designed third party options for enhancing your GameCube
experience. While none of these are exactly inexpensive,
they do support useful functionality over the official component cables, and are also
vastly more affordable. In this episode we’ll be looking at the
GCHD and the GCHD Mark II by EON Gaming, the Carby by Insurrection Industries, and the
GC Dual by Dan Kunz… along with how they compare to regular GameCube and Wii output
through upscalers like the Open Source Scan Converter and the Framemeister. The GCHD and Carby products were provided
to us for review, while the GC Dual was a purchased kit installed by Jason of Game-Tech
US. For European customers, GC Dual is available
for installation through Video Game Perfection, where the Open Source Scan Converter is also
sold. It’s important to know that all of these
products are built on the same open source codebase originally produced by Unseen, and
for the most part have virtually the same features and picture quality. However, GC Video devices may have firmware
tweaks implemented by the manufacturer, and we’ll point out the differences when we
can. First, a quick overview of each… The $150 GCHD
by EON Gaming was not the first mod-free plug n’ play HDMI device for the GameCube, but
it was the first to be generally praised by the retro tech community for its safe and
secure design. Not to mention, it was widely available through
online retailers such as Amazon as a mass-produced product. The GCHD features a two-prong design to occupy
both the analog and digital ports for maximum stability. However it is a rather tight fit that requires
extra pressure to click into place, and we wouldn’t want to plug it in and out too
many times. But we do like the side placement of the HDMI
output, which helps minimize stress on the ports. This GCHD design is now discontinued in favor
of the Mark II model, which we’ll get to in just a moment. The Carby by Insurrection Industries is an
attractive smaller HDMI plug ‘n play that features an astounding reproduction of the
official Nintendo digital connector plug. It looks so good and clicks in just right. The Carby has an attractive price too, costing
only $75. While this unit is clear plastic and runs
on firmware 2.4a, Insurrection is currently transitioning over to selling units with 2.4b,
along with some additional shell options. Anyone interested in updating the firmware
may do so via the internal JTAG connector, or by sending the unit to Insurrection for
service. Since the Carby only occupies the Digital
Out port, it’s possible to simultaneously use HDMI alongside S-video on NTSC consoles,
or RGB on PAL consoles, as long the progressive scan mode is not engaged. While this does limit you to interlaced output,
it could be useful if say, you wanted to play on a CRT while sending a digital signal to
an HDMI capture card for a stream. Insurrection also let us borrow their component
cable development prototype. While this product is hopefully not too far
off, production prototypes with molded strain relief were not ready in time for this video. Insurrection’s plan is to use 75 ohm coaxial
cable with BNC connectors for those with professional equipment, but these can be easily and cheaply
adapted to RCA for standard component connections. Insurrection is selling their GameCube Digital
connector parts so that others may use them in their own custom GC Video projects. [Dan Kunz] I got a GameCube and I was kinda
wanting to mod it. I was like, kinda looking for a good HDMI
solution, and just was not really happy with the current method. So I kind of set out and started designing
my own board and then that’s where it kind of went from there. [Coury] Dan Kunz is one of the current superstars
of the retro modding and open source hardware design community. Known online as Citrus3000psi, Dan has put
considerable time into creating hardware based around GC Video. His flagship design is the GCDual, an internal
mod that retains stock functionality of the Digital Out port while adding HDMI output
as well as component and RGB to the Analog Out – both being fully capable of 480p. A separate adapter can be used for connecting
Wii component or SCART cables to tap into these higher quality analog signals. Digital and analog output work simultaneously,
which we’ve found very handy for playing on a CRT while capturing HDMI video for a
stream. [Dan Kunz] GCDual is now open source, so anybody
can make one, if they know how. [Coury] Much more recently, EON Gaming has
announced a partnership with Dan Kunz to produce what is essentially a plug n’ play version
of the GCDual with additional features. The GCHD Mark II features a similar design
to its predecessor, with an easier, but still secure fit. The second prong is not simply a dummy port
– it now taps into the analog stereo signal for additional output options. The most obvious addition is a Wii-style A/V
port. This port supports Wii component cables and
Wii RGB SCART cables, both of which can handle 480p video if your connected device can accept
480p over component or RGB. A new 3.5mm jack serves as a dual-purpose
stereo output and mini-TOSLINK output for flexible analog or digital audio independent
of the video output. Dan Kunz has developed his own branch of the
GC Video firmware to account for the additional functionality and a few other features. EON tells us that they’re positioning the
GCHD Mark II as the ultimate GameCube output solution that they’ll never have to top
– all features and all connections in one device, costing the same price as the original
product. If the firmware is ever desired to be updated,
the Mark II is much easier to open compared to its predecessor. We do have some concerns regarding the build
quality, and the plastic in general feels much less robust compared to the first GCHD. Nonetheless, we’ve been happy with the device’s
performance, especially for analog video, which we’ll go over in detail a bit later. Because the Mark-II is expected to replace
most of the demand for the GC Dual mod, Dan Kunz is not planning to continue to offer
kits or installation for GC Dual, but do-it-yourselfers can always create their own GCDual by purchasing
PCBs through OSH Park. We really love what all this means for the
GameCube scene. While the GCHD Mark II covers virtually all
possible needs for the GameCube power user in a single device, Insurrection’s separate
HDMI and component solutions allow consumers to pick and choose. From our point of view, there’s no wrong
choice here. [Try] While the gist of GC Video operation
is the same as what we saw with early mods in our RGB 207 episode, let’s spend a little
time looking at some of the features and functionality common to all GC Video products when using
HDMI output. Specifically we’re looking at the system
menu on the Carby here, which can be operated by an included infrared remote, or trained
to work with universal remotes. GC Video is designed to be inherently free
of input lag. While digital TVs and monitors will have varying
degrees of lag that will impact your experience to some extent, GC Video provides the lowest
possible baseline of latency from the HDMI output. Always research input lag when shopping for
a new TV – many are quite fast. RGB Limited Range should match the settings
on your display. This is the scale that the display uses as
a reference point for how all colors should look. Limited Range is the preferred standard in
the TV world, while computer monitors are likely to favor Full Range. Neither is tangibly superior to the other,
and should look identical as long as your display or capture card settings match. If the black levels in the graphics look washed
out, or dark details are crushed to black, then either your GC Video device or your display
has a mismatched range setting. Note that digital GC Video technically operates
in a modified DVI mode that can send audio and additional information over an HDMI output. “Enhanced DVI Mode” must be selected in
the menu to use digital audio. Most displays should accept this mode, but
if not, you’ll need to fall back on an external audio solution instead. For example, with the Carby, you can use standard
GameCube AV cables for audio, which is also what you have to do with the official component
cables anyway. This is not possible with the first edition
of GCHD, but with the Mark II you can simply use audio from Wii cables or the built-in
analog stereo and mini-TOSLINK output. If for any reason you wish to tweak the picture,
controls for brightness, contrast, and saturation are available. Unlike advanced video processors like the
OSSC and Framemeister, we’re pretty much looking at 480p output, not 720p or 960p or
1080p or 1200p. But 480p tends to be handled reasonably well
by modern TVs if the source video is high quality. 480p is after all the highest native resolution
supported by the GameCube’s games, so you just have to keep realistic expectations and
remember that these games can never look like HD remasters or the Dolphin emulator when
played on original hardware. Your preferences for linedoubler and scanline
settings are stored on a per resolution basis… all modes that the GameCube natively uses:
240p, 480i, 480p, and their PAL equivalents. For 480p, the linedoubler is disabled, meaning
you cannot double 480p to 960p as you can with the OSSC. Scanlines might be neat in 480p mode if you
use the official Game Boy Player software – although you can do much better for Game
Boy games, and we’ll get to that in just a bit. When it comes to 480i, line doubling means
that each alternating field of 240 lines is doubled, creating a flickering effect – often
called “bob” deinterlacing – that approximates the look of interlacing on a CRT television. If you hate the flicker, then turning on scanlines
could make a 480i game look approximately like 240p, or you could go even further on
the interlacing simulation with alternating scanlines. The look of bob deinterlacing isn’t for
everyone, but the reason for it is simple – it’s fast. This implementation of bob deinterlacing allows
GC Video devices to maintain lag-free operation with interlaced input, but if you just can’t
tolerate it, you can turn off the line doubler for 480i. This will send a digital 480i signal to your
TV instead, which will then perform its own motion adaptive deinterlace – the sort of
deinterlacing you’re probably more used to, but it can have visual errors and will
be a bit laggier. 240p is not particularly common in GameCube
games, but some compilations of older games do use it, and it can be forced through the
use of homebrew software. Keeping the line doubler on to output these
games as 480p probably looks better than your TV’s own handling of 240p over HDMI… if
your TV accepts that signal at all. The scanline option is pretty much made for
240p, since its purpose is to approximate the look of scanline separation that occurs
with 240p on CRT displays. The popular Framemeister upscaler has two
HDMI inputs which can be interesting when paired with GameCube HDMI output. While I’ve not had much luck getting 240p
to work directly through HDMI this way, if you leave the line doubler on to send 480p
to the Framemeister, you might be able to do some interesting scaling with a little
effort. Native 480p content is not likely to be improved
much by the Framemeister, but you could get some benefit by passing digital 480i through
to the Framemeister to let it handle the deinterlacing. I don’t fully trust the Framemeister’s
color handling with the HDMI inputs, but this is certainly worth experimenting with. A very minor “chroma shift” error that
manifests with digital and RGB output was corrected with GCVideo firmware 2.4b. While it can be seen along test pattern edges,
we found it to be virtually invisible when looking for it in an actual game scenario. With the Carby, you might have to crank your
volume up just a bit higher than expected – a bug in the current base firmware is reducing
digital audio levels, but a temporary fix is implemented in the custom Mk-II branch. The changelog can be viewed in the NEWS file
contained in the GCVideo Github, but most of the recent tweaks have minimal tangible
impact on features or picture quality, so we feel that the average user shouldn’t
worry too much about updating unless some truly transformative revisions are released. Homebrew software on Wii U is a popular alternative
method for playing GameCube games via HDMI, although sadly you cannot use real game discs
this way. This is archive footage from our GameCube
RGB 207 episode provided by Alex from Pause Break Reviews. However, the Wii U is not considered to scale
480p to 1080p all that well, so you might want to experiment with setting the system
itself to 480p output, but keep in mind that we have not yet tested Wii U homebrew for
ourselves, so our information is limited. If you’re unsatisfied with how digital 480p
looks when coming directly from GCVideo HDMI output, then you might consider pairing one
of the analog GC Video solutions with an all-purpose gaming video processor such as the Open Source
Scan Converter. The OSSC can do pretty much everything that
GC Video HDMI can do, and more. Most notably, for 480p, the input can be doubled
to 960p output if your TV can accept the signal. We really love this crisp look for 480p content,
but others may prefer a softer scale. In addition, the OSSC can perform 4x output
on 480i content, and up to 5x on 240p. The Framemeister is also excellent at handling
240p, and does a superb motion adaptive deinterlace for 480i. The Framemeister is considered less good at
handling 480p, so in that case you’re probably better off just sending HDMI directly to your
TV from your GC Video device rather than routing through a Framemeister. Do note that the linedoubler settings apply
to analog as well as HDMI output, so the linedoubler must be disabled if you’re connected to
a 15kHz device, such as a standard definition CRT. Of course, there’s also the age-old question:
why not just play GameCube games with component cables on a Wii? This is certainly a decent and affordable
way to get better picture quality from GameCube games and it still pretty much counts as original
hardware (although you’re missing out on the Game Boy Player). That said, Wii video output is generally considered
to not be as good as GameCube. Certain later Wii hardware revisions do feature
better video output than early models, but eventually GameCube support was removed from
Wii consoles altogether, and even the better Wii systems are not quite as crisp as GameCube
when held up under a magnifying glass. Since the OSSC’s 480p 2X mode lets us do
some real pixel peeping here, the most interesting thing we’re seeing is that both the later
Wii and the GCHD Mk-II analog output appear to turn in cleaner image quality along certain
contrasting color edges, although the later Wii is indeed still not as sharp as GameCube. Take a look at the differences in artifacts
along the contour of Mario’s hat, which is messiest with official component cables. Advanced users could probably hide this with
per-system OSSC sampler settings, but as it stands here, the the official GameCube cable
fares less well. Honestly it’s pretty hard to see this from
a normal viewing distance and is probably mostly only relevant if you have a particular
need to capture the best possible image from these consoles. And furthermore, these issues with official
component could very well be masked depending on your connection method – when hooked up
directly to my older 1080p HDTV, these 480p sources are sampled and upscaled in a fairly
pleasing way. It’s pretty much a wash here compared to
what we saw with the OSSC. Likewise, if you’re a CRT user, expect similar
results among analog options. But what is surprising is that all available
GCVideo HDMI solutions appear to give us similar color edge artifacts to the official component
cables. Not that the HDMI output is bad, we’re way
over-analyzing here, but it does seem to mean that the newest analog methods earn a narrow
overall win here, at least for OSSC users. And while we’ve mostly been looking at component
– Coury’ll explain why in just a bit – the Mk-II’s 480p analog RGB output is also excellent
and looks virtually indistinguishable from its component… good news if your retro setup
revolves around RGB. For the GCHD Mark II, you might be able to
use Wii component or RGB cables that you already own, or you might have to buy an extra set. We didn’t see any particularly tangible
differences between official component, Monster brand component, and a few other brands we
had on hand. We’re also aware of HD Retrovision Wii component
cables in the works, which contain no fancy circuitry, but are simply a new high quality
option designed to their meticulous standards. The Mark-II is plug & play with RGB cables
built to the proper PAL Wii cable specifications, with no attenuation required. Which of course this is a perfectly valid
option for NTSC, the cable itself has nothing to do with PAL, it’s just that normally
NTSC region Wii and GameCube systems don’t have RGB. In practice, minimal analog video noise appeared
visible with any Wii cable we had on hand to try, component or RGB. At this early stage of development, we observed
that the prototype Insurrection cable is slightly clipping highlight details and crushing shadows. In fact, we ran into a very similar issue
with an early production sample of the GCHD Mk-II, which just goes to show that making
this stuff isn’t magic and that analog video takes extra work to get right. Insurrection tells us that they refuse to
release their cables until they’ve dialed in the correct video levels, and we expect
that they can achieve that goal, since we’ve already seen this problem resolved with the
GCHD Mk-II. EON’s retail units that we’ve tested have
the complete range of detail that GameCube games are expected to display. It’s possible that there could still be
errors in the open source code contributing to these challenges, and if so, we would like
to see these fixes make their way back into the GC Video project. We greatly appreciate both EON and Insurrection
for allowing us to examine and give feedback on these products before release. I mean, you know, we want this stuff to be
good too – so thank you to all who have contributed to these devices, and to GC Video, because
we’ve seen that it CAN be better than official component cables – something we frankly did
not expect. So it’s worth it to do it right. Of course, playing Game Boy, Game Boy Color,
and Game Boy Advance games through the GameCube’s Game Boy Player is a huge feature of the console
for a lot of people. For the past several years, a homebrew project
called Game Boy Interface has been considered to be a vastly superior option for running
the Game Boy Player hardware compared to Nintendo’s official boot disc software. A few options for using homebrew software
with GameCube include using a special boot disc such as an Action Replay along with an
SD card media launcher that goes in Memory Card Slot B, or exploits using certain games
that can allow for the loading of homebrew software that has been directly installed
on a GameCube memory card. Game Boy Interface comes in a variety of flavors,
currently named by its creator Extrems as “Standard,” “Speedrunning,” and “High-Fidelity.” Each is a balance of compatibility, latency,
and resolution to suit the priorities of each user. While “Standard” is the high compatibility
mode, other versions may be unsuitable for HDMI output. We were able to get the Speedrunning version,
which is 240p, to work via the digital output of GC Video devices output to the Framemeister’s
HDMI input, but only if the GCVideo linedoubler was turned on for 480p output. However, due to the way GC Video normally
works, these various modes may cause incompatibilities even with the analog output options, in a
way that would not affect the official component cables. To work around this, a feature developed by
Chriz2600 called “Direct Mode” or “Direct Component” has been implemented by Dan Kunz
in the GCDual and GCHD Mark II firmware. Labeled in the menu as “DYUV,” this restores
the picture output pipeline to its most basic state, allowing component to work with oddball
video modes such as those used in some versions of the Game Boy Interface. In particular if you use the High Fidelity
version that’s been tailored for the OSSC, and have the OSSC’s most recent firmware
with optimized modes that are designed just for it, you’ll get just about the danged
crispest Game Boy pixels you could hope for, and for GBA games, they very nearly fill the
screen with a 720p output from the OSSC. But since this is an optimized mode, you may
have to bump your OSSC sampler settings a notch or two if you notice any flickering
pixels. [Coury] By now you should have gotten a pretty
good idea of what to expect from GCVideo. Whether you choose one of these recent options
or the official component cables, there’sfew things you might want to know regarding GameCube
video output before deciding to dive into an advanced solution. This is something you might prefer to go through
life not knowing, so turn back now if you’re afraid it might ruin GameCube games for you… So OK, are you in? Well, here’s the thing… First, while the GCDual and GCHD Mark-II both
support analog RGB output, be aware that GameCube and Wii video is natively generated in a digital
YCbCr color space rather than RGB. Specifically, a compressed 4:2:2 format. Without getting too technical, the real-world
result is that blue and red appear to be rendered at half horizontal resolution. While this is not necessarily obvious overall,
it does mean that certain color edges may appear just a touch messy. For compatibility reasons, GCVideo does include
a process to convert 422 to uncompressed 444. However, since detail that does not exist
cannot be restored, we’re uncertain as to whether the conversion technique used has
anything to do with the improved clarity along contours. Regardless, the fact that the video is natively
422 puts a bit of a ceiling on the overall image fidelity possible on GameCube hardware. However, a key takeaway from this is that
in the case of GameCube and Wii, RGB doesn’t necessarily have an accuracy advantage over
component, since YPbPr is simply an analog representation of YCbCr. Secondly, while 480p is a standard feature
in Nintendo-published titles, when it comes to third-party games, support is common but
certainly not guaranteed. When available, 480p is activated by holding
B while booting a supported game. Sadly, no PAL region games support the format
at all, with an optional 60Hz mode being offered on certain titles instead. However, through the use of a homebrew utility
called Swiss, 480p output can in theory be forced for any title on any region of console
– although in some cases it may cause compatibility issues. And lastly, do know that a lot of GameCube
games appear to run at a lower color depth that results in dithering. While many key titles like Metroid Prime and
Smash don’t seem to be affected, others like Wind Waker can be hit pretty hard. It’s especially noticeable as the setting
sun shifts the colors in the sky. In games like Prince of Persia or PN 03, heavy
dithering is prominent in both interlaced and progressive modes. Interlaced mode tends to reduce the intensity
of the dither, but often some dithering can still be seen if you look really closely. So hey, we just thought you might like to
know, since sometimes people ask what’s wrong when they upgrade cables and suddenly
they can see patterns like these on their PS1 or other systems that tend to be prone
to dithering. While dithering has never been a deal-breaker
for us, it might drive some people crazy. If dithering is one of your pet peeves, then
you might consider just sticking with S-video for NTSC systems, or RGB for PAL systems,
instead of spending so much money on component cables or an HDMI solution. But that’s a choice only you can make. GameCube video output is finally in a good
place. Between Insurrection Industries’ pick-what-you-need
approach and the all-the-features-you-could-ever-possibly-want GCHD Mark-II, your bases are pretty well covered. Mods are no longer needed, and while we’re
curious to see if any further developments may arise in the coming years, we’re already
to the point where the official GameCube component cables seem to no longer offer any unique
benefits beyond being a collector’s item. It’s hard to find many negatives with the
current situation, other than that yes, even the less expensive solutions are still quite
an investment for output from just one particular console. But if playing real GameCube hardware is important
to you, we think you can’t go wrong with any of the solutions that we’ve had a chance
to look at.

Bernard Jenkins

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