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Beginner’s Guide to Upscaling Your Retro Games

Disclaimer: This is called a Beginner’s Guide is because I am the beginner, and I am just chronicling my own experience delving into the world of upscaling. If you want a more technical and seasoned perspective, please visit Fudoh’s site.

Not long ago, I was begrudgingly playing retro games on a flatscreen LCD TV not knowing that there is a whole world out there dedicated to making retro games look better on modern displays. Once I dipped my feet in and saw the amazing improvement in display quality, I was in love again. I live in NYC and with the limited space, I could no longer keep a CRT around to play older games. I still owned retro consoles but because of the terrible quality of older games on newer TV sets, I was turned off and avoided playing them altogether pretty much. But now I can enjoy these old classics in their proper splendor once again thanks to upscaling.

Let’s just preface this by saying I am definitely not a pro when it comes to upscaling, I am still very green to the whole scene and still learning the ropes. But what I do know, I want to share with people who haven’t dived in, or people who are afraid to dive into the upscaling circuit due to high prices. Framemeister isn’t the only option! Although everything I have read about Framemeister is very positive, but I have no personal experience with the FM…yet. But hopefully, after reading this article, I would have convinced a few to at least to want to try a few affordable options just to have a taste of upscaling.

How I started?

To be honest, I never thought too much about upscaling. I always thought “Why would I spend all that money into an upscaler when I can pick up a good CRT from the side walk for free?” That was a younger me, who had a spacious attic all to hisself at my parent’s house. How time have changed me! Now I live in a squinty NYC apartment with two kids and a mini corner in the living room I begged my wife for as my “gaming space”. One day while chatting with a fellow GameTZer, somehow the conversation turned to upscaling and he hooked me up with his spare DVDO iScan VP20.  That’s when it all started. I spent alot of time and effort(also some good amount of money) pursuing this rather expensive venture of making my LCD display graphics I remember playing on a 27″ CRT at my parents’ place. It’s been an interesting journey and while I am still looking to experiment with other processors and upscalers, I am very happy with the results.

Here is what I am working with:

  • Samsung 32 Inch LED Smart TV UN32J5205AFXZA
  • DVDO iScan VP30 w/ABT-102 Card
  • Sega CDX System

As you can see these images look quite stunning and the colors are bright and crisp. The TV I have is just a low-mid tier consumer grade smart TV, the specs are rather meh if you want to look them up. But I was able to get these clean images. The DVDO processor is doing the heavy lifting. Let me remind you that I am not a techie with intimate knowledge of upscalers and deinterlacers. If you want a more technical perspective from a pro, you can always visit here. From one beginner to another, with no technical jargon(because I don’t know technical jargon well enough), here is what you need to know to get started.

Note: Keep in mind that alot of these processors and machines are not streamlined like today’s Apple devices, there WILL be hiccups and weird quirks you will have to solve. Some might be easy, and some might be hair-pullingly hard to diagnose. But keep positive and always ask for help. Look for the resources section for more details on getting help.

What Is Upscaling?

Upscaling is converting a low resolution image into higher definition. Everything from the 8-bit and 16 bit era is normally displayed in 240p. So the aim here is to display 240p source material to 480p, 720p, and even 1080p and everything in between while making it look good and proportional. Sometimes a better(high end)display can tremendously help with the upscaling, but let’s assume we are working with a normal consumer grade display(sub $200 LCD TV).

What Do I Need?

Besides having the game system of your choice(though some systems may need additional modification), a TV/display of some sort, you will need:

  • a upscaler/processor (I will only be talking about DVDO machines, there are other options)
  • a cable enabling Scart/RGB
  • a cable connecting to the system

It’s that simple. Of course, if you have multiple systems you would like to connect to the upscaler(at the same time) then you will need to put that into consideration(a scart switch).

This Is What I Use

DVDO iScan VP30 – The DVDO VP20 and VP30 are nearly identical and for the purpose of this article, they will be treated the same. Price range around $100-$160 on eBay, depending on condition and what is bundled with it(power supply, remote, etc.)

Scart to BNC Cable – This cable enables the DVDO to be able to take SCART, which is a European standard.

BNC Plugs – These are connected to the BNC cable so they can be plugged into the back of the DVDO

Scart Cable for Various Systems – Cables varies in price depending on their quality, $10 is fine for a regular cable.

Systems Compatible With RGB Natively

  • Sega Master System
  • Sega Genesis Model 1 and 2, CDX, X’Eye
  • Sega Saturn
  • Sega Dreamcast
  • Super Nintendo Model 1
  • Atari Jaguar
  • Neo Geo AES, Neo Geo CD
  • Sony Playstation

Systems Requiring Modification to Display RGB

  • Atari 2600
  • NES
  • Super Nintendo Model 2/Mini/Jr.
  • Nintendo 64
  • 3DO
  • TurboGrafx 16/PCE

For more information on each system and the best way to output, please visit RetroRGB

Experience and Thoughts

I am quite happy with the performance of DVDO’s machines. The output quality I’ve tried 3 different models, DVDO iScan HD+, DVDO VP20, and DVDO VP30. The HD+ is quite a bit cheaper than the other two, however, it doesn’t take in any HDMI and doesn’t haveHDMI out(easily solved by using a DVI to HDMI adapter or cable). All 3 models can take in multiple sources including S-Video, Component/RGB, Composite and HDMI(except HD+). VP20 and VP30 are nearly identical in performance, just some small differences: VP30 has 4 HDMI INs and has VGA Analogue in.

I would recommend any 3 of those models, if you must have HDMI or just don’t want to have to deal with DVI then go for VP20 or VP30. All 3 are excellent starter processors to get you a taste of RGB.

Here’s my approximate cost:

DVDO iScan VP30/VP20 – $120-$160

Scart to BNC Cable – $35-$45

BNC Plugs – $1

Scart Cable for Various Systems – $10-$30

For approximately $200, you can get started on RGB!

 

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1 Comment

  1. […] Even if imports are easily accessible, Sega Saturn imports are not cheap. Especially the shmup or action-oriented genres that require little or no Japanese to play. D&D would have cost me $100, even more if it came with the Ram cart in big outer box. On the other hand, I don’t remember exactly how much I paid for the PSN copy of D&D, but I am positive it was ALOT less than $100. Though to be fair, playing on Sega Saturn is pretty awesome, especially if you have the proper equipment to properly render 240p signals(check this guide if you want to get started). […]

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