Last time, we looked at upscalers and switching. Next, it’s time to discuss how – and why! – we would split a signal, and the best ways of doing that.
Another Kramer product! This one’s been discontinued, which I can kind of understand – who would need anything like this any more? (Me, as it happens.)
So, what’s this for, exactly? If you take a look at my chart from the first chapter in this write-up, you’ll see that I have some systems which output a VGA signal. Thing is, I have two destinations where those signals need to go – one needs to go to my OSSC, where it can be cleaned up and shipped in a HDMI-shaped box; the other needs to go to my CRT monitor. (More on that next time.)
Prior to this, I used a simple VGA splitter. It did the job, but while I was using it, I quickly discovered the major downfall of using such an unpowered splitter. You see, a splitter will split your signal in two – so, effectively, each endpoint will end up with only half a signal. As such, both my monitor and the output in OBS looked noticeably dark and desaturated, and there’s only so much you can do about that in software.
To solve this issue, you’ll need a distribution amplifier. See how much cooler it is already? A distribution amp will take that signal, and as the name implies, amplify it over multiple outputs. You get zero signal loss, and all you need is to give it some power!
Well, that can be a downside itself. When each device in your chain requires its own power, it can add up very quickly! Particularly if you live in a house with as many power sockets as you can count on one hand…
Nevertheless, I feel this is a necessary component in my particular setup. You remember the thing about input lag from the previous post? While a lot of my equipment is theoretically zero-lag, there still exists a noticeable amount of latency if I play directly through the OBS preview window. Using a separate monitor is an excellent way around that, and that’s why I use these things in the first place. Speaking of which…
Active SCART Buffer V3
Here’s a thing I didn’t know existed, and I’m glad I found out about! VGA distribution amps are a dime a dozen. Nip on over to eBay, and you’ll find a whole bunch from reputable brands like Kramer and Extron, for anywhere between £10 and £25. SCART, on the other hand… well.
Good luck finding a single one. And when you do find one, you have to first work out if it’ll support RGB SCART (as opposed to the crappy composite SCART we all used growing up), let alone if it’s even a distribution amplifier at all! It’s a minefield, and up until only a few weeks ago, I had to slum it with a very cheap splitter simply because there was nothing else out there.
Actually, that’s not strictly true. There are an enterprising few members of the retro community, who build and sell quality SCART switchers at (relatively) affordable prices. Given that they’re small production electronics, the costs are reasonable, but that’s not to say they’re cheap. I personally use this one from Otaku Games, and it’s a great piece of hardware.
Some switchers, including Otaku’s 6in3out and Lotharek’s Hydra2, will handle the distribution for you as well, making them a great all-round solution. Trouble is, if you already own a SCART switcher, the value proposition is already a bit dodgy. Also factor in that if I were to pick up a 6in3out, I’d be paying out nearly £80, and that’s before UK customs slap on some arbitrary charge for no good reason. In short, it’s too much.
The Active SCART Buffer, on the other hand, is made in the UK and at a much lower price point. Perfect! I picked one up straight away after it was brought to my attention on Discord, and it was well worth it.
All this time, we’ve been talking about splitting up video signals. The advantage of using SCART is that it will also carry audio, making for a neat, easily manageable package. And like I say, most older consoles will support SCART in one way or another.
Know what doesn’t support SCART? Retro computers, of course! So while the VGA video signals are happily running around getting captured, the audio has to stay behind – and we can’t have that.
Once again, this story begins with an audio splitter. I found that splitting your audio isn’t as bad as splitting your video, provided you’ve got a decent cable. But, of course, we can do better. I initially looked at audio distribution amps, and they don’t really exist in quite the same way. Eventually, my search led me to audio mixers… and good golly, are these things expensive. Must take ages for DJs to make their equipment costs back! Anyway, I found this one for a reasonable price, and it works exactly as I need it to.
There are a couple of benefits to having a mixer. For example, when I’m streaming from my retro computers, I’m sat at a different desk – so I can’t quickly change the audio levels in OBS should I need to. Instead, I can adjust it on the mixer that’s right in front of me!
If I wanted to, I could also connect a microphone and several other devices to the mixer. I don’t think I have a use case for this yet, but I may do in the future, and it’s good to have a device that can do all this. And if I never end up using it, well, it was still orders of magnitude cheaper than buying a brand new mixer of similar capability. Being able to connect a separate pair of headphones to the front, with their own separate volume control, is a good bonus, too.
In the next part, I’ll talk about CRTs! Whoopee! See you there.