Last time, we looked at where the video signal ends up in my retro capture setup. But how does it get there, and by what arcane magicks can I display fuzzy old console signals in crisp 1080p?
Before we get into the meat of today’s post, let’s quickly go over the HDMI switcher, which is a Kramer VS-81H. It takes up to eight inputs, which I can switch between on the fly, for one output; naturally, this goes straight to my capture card.
You may think this looks like a proper high-end device, and that’s because it is! We’re in the realm of rack-mounted broadcast equipment here, and it doesn’t come cheap. If you want to buy one brand new, be prepared to pay in the region of £600 for the privilege. But if, like me, you’re happy to go second-hand… then you may get lucky and find one for literally a tenth of the price on eBay.
Cheap and cheerful HDMI switchers exist, and they may be suitable for your needs. Before I got the Kramer, I used a device similar to this one on eBay (not an endorsement!) and, for the most part, it did a job. However, it often struggled to pick up signals, and would not work at all with my Nintendo 64. So, it seems that if you’re dealing with standard high-definition resolutions and signals, it’ll be fine; but when dealing with the range I do, you need something that’s going to be able to handle it all.
Keep an eye on eBay. Kramer kit comes up all the time, and mine has served me extremely well thus far despite being second-hand. The cheap switcher has been relegated to TV duty, and to its credit, it’s been doing just fine down there.
Open Source Scan Converter
This could be considered the ‘heart’ of my setup. The OSSC is what’s referred to as an upscaler, and the short explanation is that it takes a console’s output, cleanly scales it by a factor of between two and five times its original resolution, and outputs a HDMI signal at that new resolution.
It’s important to talk about the fact that most displays, including your TV, can upscale themselves. OBS can certainly do it. So, why do we need devices such as these, particularly ones that cost around £130 all-in? The key thing is that because of the way an upscaler does its scaling, you get crisp pixels and an authentic image. Leaving it to your other devices will not only produce a fuzzy picture, probably stretched to widescreen; it will also introduce a noticeable amount of input lag!
Input lag is the time delay between you pressing ‘A’, and Mario jumping on-screen. Most devices will introduce an element of lag, but the OSSC is designed to add as little as possible. It’s billed as a zero-lag solution, in fact, although not having the means to test this theory I can’t say for certain either way. One thing’s for sure: it’s better than letting the TV handle it.
The OSSC allows you to tweak the settings to a ridiculous degree, and I do have to fool around with the configuration to get everything to look nice. One of these days, I should sit down and make a set of ideal profiles for each of my systems… but that’s a lot of effort!
Similar sort of deal to the OSSC, but a little different. This is essentially purpose-built for the Nintendo 64, and as such is much simpler in terms of operation.
As the name suggests, it’s limited to just a two-times upscale (as opposed to the maximum five-times that the OSSC is capable of). So, why did I get this at all – why didn’t I just connect the N64 to the OSSC?
Simple answer: SCART.
For pre-HDMI consoles, RGB is the best possible analogue output you can get; this generally comes in the form of a SCART cable. You know, those big chunky things that were a pain in the butt to plug in. Now, for many systems, it’s simple to get RGB output; just get a suitable, well-made cable, and you’re good to go.
But some are really awkward about it, and for some unfathomable reason, have their RGB outputs disabled. It’s not that the system isn’t capable of doing it; it’s just that it’s not wired up properly. Modding your consoles to support RGB is common, and a lot of research and development has gone into getting the best RGB output from the N64 in particular.
However, neither of my systems are RGB modded, and I haven’t the skill necessary to pull it off. (I’ve tried.) The next best option, therefore, is S-Video. This gives you a signal that’s almost as good as RGB, but with a little less clarity. Suitable for my needs, though.
Anyway, point is, the RetroTINK supports S-Video and composite – in case I ever need it – whereas the OSSC will take RGB, VGA, and component. Between the two, I’ve got all the bases covered.
Mine is turquoise, to match my Japanese N64.
In the next part, I’ll talk about distribution amplifiers, and why they’re an important part of the setup. See you there.