Retro gaming is bloody lovely, but trying to get your old games looking nice on a modern TV is a far less pleasurable experience.
Thankfully, there are a bunch of companies making all sorts of gadgets, gizmos and doohickeys designed to take the hassle out of this and make retro games look as impressive as possible on today’s HD and 4K televisions.
The GCHD MK-II, the latest offering from tech company EON, attempts to do this with the trusty Nintendo GameCube, and the results may impress you: as long as your expectations are realistic.
First, here’s a wee history lesson to explain how this adapter manages to do what it does. The GameCube was a unique wee beastie at the time because it came with two AV outputs instead of one.
While it had a standard ‘analog AV out’ port that was used by pretty much everyone and allowed for composite, SCART or S-Video output (depending on where you lived), it also had a port labelled ‘digital AV out’.
As the name suggests, the digital-out let the GameCube output a digital signal, offering a clearer picture than the standard analogue options.
The problem was, there was only one cable that was able to use this port – Nintendo’s own official component video cable – and since most TVs at the time didn’t support component video those cables were made in extremely short supply. As such, they were rarer than good Logan Paul videos.
These days those official cables go for obscene prices online, meaning until recently an analogue connection was the best way to go. The GCHD, however, aims to change this.
This little rectangular wedge has two prongs on the back and plugs into both the digital and analogue ports on the back of your GameCube (note: Nintendo ditched the digital port near the end of the GameCube’s life, so the GCHD won’t work on some of the later models).
After plugging it into both ports, you can then plug an HDMI cable into the GCHD itself, which then sends the Cube’s digital output directly to your modern TV. Hooray!
Now, just to be clear: this isn’t an upscaler. If you’re expecting to be playing your games at shiny 1080p, that isn’t really what the deal is here. That would take extra processing power (and would probably introduce input lag), and the GCHD MK-II is running off the GameCube’s power with no extra power supply needed, so it’s not really possible.
Instead, what you get here depends on the game you’re playing (and the region you’re playing it in). Things are about to get technical, so if you don’t know the difference between, say, 480p and 480i, you may want to just skip ahead to the photos and videos because I won’t be going into massive detail explaining them.
Right then. If you live in the US, where the TV standard back in the day was 60Hz, you can expect pretty much everything to output at 480p and 60Hz (meaning games will run up to 60 frames per second depending on the game).
It’s worth noting that this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting a progressive scan image, even though it’s outputting at 480p. A game still needs to support progressive scan (which means it draws in all 480 lines at a time instead of 240 each frame) before you can get that benefit.
This is particularly important in the UK. Although a large number of UK GameCube games supported 60Hz, very few of them also supported progressive scan.
I’m not Digital Foundry so I’m not sure why the GCHD is outputting at 480p instead of 480i, but regardless: games that don’t support progressive scan don’t appear to magically get it here. There’s a bit of an interlacing effect when you look at individual frames, then, but in motion on my TV I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still impressed by the picture.
In the UK, it depends on whether the game you’re playing supports a 60Hz mode. If it does, you’ll get the 480p and 60Hz picture US gamers get. If not, and you’re forced to go with the 50Hz picture mode that used to be the standard on older UK televisions, then according to my game capture device the GCHD MK-II seemingly outputs at 576p and 50Hz (again, this is more likely 576i with some sort of process added to make it output as progressive). This means the picture is a little sharper, but your games will run at a maximum of 50 frames per second.
Is this a problem? It depends on what you expect. Some 50Hz games will run slower than their 60Hz counterparts (though others are optimised so that doesn’t happen). But if you aren’t fussed about the game speed – and if you always played the UK version back in the day then you probably won’t be – the difference between 50 and 60 frames per second is pretty much unnoticeable: a game running at a solid 50 will still look nice and smooth.
Oddly, I also noticed (as you can possibly see in the videos below) that there’s less of an interlaced effect when you play in 50Hz mode. Again, I’m no whizz on that front so I’m not exactly sure why, but it was a pleasant surprise nonetheless.
Finally, I noticed no input lag whatsoever, which is extremely important: some upscalers and the like create an extra delay between you pressing a button and seeing the results on-screen, because of extra image processing. That isn’t the case here.
This is all well and good, but what about the picture quality itself? Well, I decided to test it out by running The Legend Of Zelda: Wind Waker on my GameCube with an RGB SCART cable, then running it again using the GCHD MK-II. In my eyes, the difference is clear.
You may be looking at the GCHD picture and thinking “well, it still looks quite jaggy”. Again, that’s because there’s no upscaling going on here. The GameCube (and PS2, incidentally) weren’t the best when it came to anti-aliasing – a hardware effect that smooths jaggy edges – but it wasn’t a massive deal back in the day because most TV pictures were blurry enough to partially smooth them anyway.
Since the GCHD provides a digital image, that means any jaggies or other artefacts that were present in a game are far clearer now. Essentially, if a game was jaggy back in 2003 like The Wind Waker was, it’s going to be jaggy in 2019 too.
These images may not be immediately impressive, then, but as I’ve said above they don’t really do the GCHD justice until you see it in motion. I’ve tested it with no fewer than 28 different PAL GameCube games – some running at 50Hz, some at 60Hz – and they all look fantastic in motion on my 1080p TV.
I’ll show you footage in a second, but here’s something to note first. I say they look fantastic on my 1080p TV, and that’s because I’m not running it on my 4K TV.
Most 1080p HD televisions offer good support for 480p and 576p picture modes. If you use a source (like a DVD player or old console) that outputs at those resolutions, the TV will display the picture fairly accurately, meaning the GCHD will look spot on.
However, 4K televisions don’t naturally support anything other than 4K resolution: everything else relies on the TV’s own upscaling software. So if you give it 480p content, the 4K TV will use its internal software to blow that up to a 4K (2160p) picture.
Naturally, when you’re stretching a picture up to 4.5x the size there’s a good chance the quality’s going to suffer unless your telly has a hell of a good upscaler (like a Sony Bravia or something). Just something to bear in mind if you’re planning on playing it on a 4K TV – these games aren’t going to magically look any better than, say, a DVD or standard-def TV content currently does on it.
As I said above, I’ve tested the GCHD with 28 PAL GameCube games. I’ve put together two videos below that show all of these tests in action.
One video shows the games that support 60Hz mode, and the other shows the games that only support 50Hz. The only reason I’ve split them into two videos is because the frame rates are different: a 50fps game added to a 60fps video could lead to inaccurate results.
That said, it does also show examples of my observation that – as stated above – games running in 50Hz look significantly better, with less of an interlaced effect. Again, this may be down to the higher 576p resolution compared to the 480p one of 60Hz games.
Finally, do bear in mind that YouTube has a lovely tendency to compress the hell out of video. I’ve artificially upscaled the videos in Premiere to an HD resolution purely to try and combat this (if you upload in 1080p or 1440p YouTube encodes at a higher quality), but I’ve tried to make sure the upscaling has messed with the image as little as possible.
Despite this, it’s always worth bearing in mind that fast games always look worse on YouTube, so expect F-Zero GX, Sonic Advance 3 and Mario Kart Double Dash!! to look much more compressed here than the other games do. Rest assured, they look fine on a TV.
Long story short, take these clips as a rough idea of how the GCHD looks, rather than a pixel-by-pixel example. It’s impossible to get it across perfectly without inviting you to my house and showing you it running on my TV, but the thing to take from this is that I’m personally delighted by the results.
Part 1 – 60Hz games
Part 2 – 50Hz games
So there you have it: hopefully this gives a good idea of the sort of picture quality you get from the GCHD (YouTube compression and my own upscaling notwithstanding).
At £114.99 the price may be steep for some, but it’s still cheaper than you could expect to pay for official component cables and comes with a few little extras (like optical audio out via a mini TOSLINK connection, and an extra port that supports the Wii’s component and SCART cables).
Is it perfect? Nope, but do bear in mind we’re talking 18-year-old hardware here. This isn’t an upscaler, so it doesn’t attempt to improve the GameCube’s picture: it merely offers its native output at the best quality possible.
As long as you aren’t the sort who dabbles with the dark arts of emulators and console hacking (to force things like progressive scan), I’m confident in saying the GCHD gives the best picture you can get out of standard, unmodified GameCube hardware.
The GCHD Mk-II is available in the UK from Games Connection. You can either order it from them via Amazon UK (where you can get the usual benefits like Prime shipping), or from their own website.
In order that I could write this review, I was provided with a review unit by Games Connection. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.
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I love you Chris … but f*********** you’re going to cost me money!
I got rid of my immaculate GC collection when I was 21 and moved out of my parent’s. I had some of the rarest titles for GC that now cost a fortune to replace all I want (in the quality I want).
I saw these a few months ago on eBay and was tempted but I’m pick with my consoles and so need to pick up a decent condition GC first (black). I then saw the DF article last month I think which got me intrigued again.
But now this god damn you!
I’ve just purchased a refurb GBA from http://www.retrosix.co.uk/ and a flash card 🙂 so it might have to wait but I think a GC and one of these is my next retro purchase.
Thanks as always!
Sounds like a nice option to play your GC games on modern TV. I’ve seen this product on a few gaming forums last year and it seemed to work great. The main complaint was the asking price although it was cheaper than the original GC component cable.
I still use two good old flat screen CRT TV to play my retro consoles the way they were supposed to but one day the inevitable will happen and the GCHD looks like a nice addition.
Thanks for the valuable information.
Fascinating read, will you do a similar one for the Dreamcast? I’ve been thinking of connecting my old Dreamcast to my computer monitor for a long time, but I’m unsure which adapters to use as there’s so many out there.
Can do! I’ve actually been testing out a Dreamcast adapter that offers both VGA and S-Video for a while, so I can write up something on that if you like.
That would be really helpful!
This will be a bit long-winded, so brace yourself. First, I would like to say I read a lot of your bits in ONM, which I subscribed to for a couple of years. 2006-2008, if I remember right. I remember your review of Super Mario Galaxy and getting very hyped for the game (which did not disappoint) and I also remember all these tiny bits about your ever-growing collection of Nintendo memorabilia, toys and gadgets in the back pages. I’m stoked to see that you still cover games, so I will be keeping an eye on your site from now on – even if the word prick now has become standard vocabulary. Keep up the good work.
Second, I enjoyed this technical review and I really like your video demonstrations. I used to have a Gamecube, but I only took the games with me when I moved, because of the Wii’s backwards compatibility. We actually plugged the Wii in a few months back to play Rock Band: Beatles with the young’uns and I ended up revisiting some of my favorite games of all time – Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, Wind Waker, Eternal Darkness and Luigi’s Mansion. Great times. We just played using Nintendo’s official component cable, but our flatscreen TV has a cumbersome access port, so cables are squished between the wall and the TV. I wondered if any good solutions for converting to HDMI exist. Do you have any recommendations?