Archives for May 2014

SCART Switches

Posted May 31, 2014

Thought I’d write a quick post about my experience with SCART switches, maybe an overlooked part of a multi-console setup that really helps simplify a potential mess (especially with a bag of these). I was only vaguely aware of the SCART standard before fiddling with old game systems. I knew the UK had it and we didn’t and that it was old and clunky which could mean it’s good, and it is. I was first forced to deal with it after buying an XRGB-mini, which comes with a Japanese SCART-to-mini-DIN adapter; SCART comes in two flavors, Japanese/RGB21 and Euro SCART. They’re really one in the same, just with differently wired pins. I replaced that adapter with a Euro-wired version from retro_console_accessories, which incidentally has a LM1881 sync stripper chip inside of it. Important to note since this little thing, while allowing maximum compatibility with various consoles, has caused a few snags along the way.

As I slowly realized many of the old game consoles could more or less send an RGB signal out natively with the right cable — in my case, the Genesis, SNES, and Saturn — I suddenly had three SCART cables I needed to swap in and out of the mini. Then I added two more: an Omega Neo Geo and an RGB-modded TurboGrafx-16. And once the Hanzo/Kenzei arrived for the Dreamcast there was now a total of 6 SCART leads to swap. It may be a hearty plug but those 21 pins probably wouldn’t survive years of swapping without some wear, plus pressing a button certainly seemed preferably lazy.

Initial switch research left me disappointed with conflicting reviews and availability. I started with Video Game Perfection’s list and then what RetroRGB put together, and sorted through forum threads for hours reading debates between one switch vs. another. It really came down to quality, compatibility and can you find the damn thing. After dropping good coin on the tasty riches that the Omega Neo Geo renders, I really didn’t want to pass it through crap technology that would diminish the image, like slapping a $5 filter on a Leica lens. But I couldn’t seem to find the good stuff, or it was no longer being made, or was overly priced on eBay.

Finally I settled on ordering a Bandridge from Amazon UK thinking it was a good compromise, available new and wasn’t powered, which I considered a plus at the time. It took forever to arrive and the shipping was more than the switch. Once it’s in your hands you realize how cheaply it’s made and certainly looks the part. I put it between a console and the mini, flipped the power bar on and at first it worked, then it didn’t. Some consoles and ports seemed more stable than others, but overall it stunk. A few forum posts helped clarify that being an unpowered switch coupled with that sync stripper in the mini’s adapter just wasn’t a good idea. Likely it could’ve been modified to work (several workarounds were discussed, pick one!), but I worried I’d screw it up having almost no experience or soldering equipment.

Around that time I came across a Neo-Geo Forums post about a US retailer selling the Shinybow SB-5525, a well built, powered switch that I initially dismissed after reading about some sync issues with the Megadrive (which I probably should’ve ignored since I’m using the 60Hz Genesis). It was pricey, but I took that as a good omen. After opening the box I was impressed by how solid it was, built with thick sheets of metal, 6 sturdy SCART ports, a simple remote and even a 6′ SCART cable. This Taiwanese creation made the Bandridge seem like something out of a bubble gum vending machine. This doesn’t really come across in the stock photos (especially since they left the protective plastic coating on the LCD screen), but believe me it’s a beauty. One by one every console fired up on the plasma and looked indistinguishable to my eye from being plugged directly into the mini. It even lessened some of the audio buzz I get from the Omega Neo Geo SCART cable.

The 6 ports are now full, but with images of a PC Engine Duo-R, NTSC-J Xbox 360, and NTSC-J PS2 dancing in my head, I may have to daisy chain a couple Shinybows, which seems stupidly expensive. Anyone want to buy a Bandridge SCART switch? It’s amazing.

Steady Stream

Posted May 24, 2014

The past few weeks has been a steady stream of packages at the door. And a new cat, Elliot, who’s an avid game watcher. First up, a few more Neo Geo carts which quickly (maybe too quickly) cracked my wishlist in half, including Ghostlop and Ironclad. Still searching for a few more shmups, which is probably fine for now considering their cost, and the fact that most are on the 120-in-1.  A shipment of shockboxes and covers arrived as well.

For the SNES I picked up Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, Donkey Kong Country, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Somehow I’d never owned the first two, and had never even played SNES Yoshi (somewhat due to its Super FX 2 chip). For Saturn: Cotton 2, TwinBee, DonPachi and DoDonPachi, Guardian Heroes, the trio of Parodius discs, Outrun, Saturn Bomberman, and the lengthily titled The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love?. All good stuff, but that Bomberman keeps sticking in my head as the most fun, though maybe only because I haven’t played through Parodius since the arcade releases a few months ago.

And then there’s the Dreamcast. Initially this was the console I was the least excited about. The handful of games it came with weren’t that interesting to me, and it was the only console connected by s-video while the others were SCARTing up great image quality. Ironic since it’s the newest old console I have, with the highest resolution. I had ordered a Hanzo/Kenzei combo to get VGA into the XRGB-mini, but after finally arriving from Istanbul I found that it wouldn’t power up due to the sync stripper in my mini’s adapter cable. The creator of the devices, Yossi, was incredibly helpful and ended up sending me a modified Kenzei which I finally got to test a few nights ago. And indeed Dreamcast games now look VGA good.

Even NG:DEV.TEAM games are much sharper and colorful, though still not exactly entertaining. Right now I’m playing a lot of Gunbird 2 and Ikaruga, with Sturmwind patiently waiting. Having played the Ikaruga pcb on a friend’s Astro City a few weeks ago, I realized just how similar the Naomi and Dreamcast really are–same CPU, GPU and Yamaha sound board, but gobs more system/video/sound memory. Still, the experiences can’t really be compared. That vertically rotated Astro City monitor! I still have a dozen Dreamcast shmups on my wish list, though I suspect that number will get much higher with a little more research.

One note about 480p Dreamcast games with the XRGB-mini. While most consoles go through the mini and into the plasma without any tweaks to its settings (except that the Neo Geo requires v-width of 33), the mini/Dreamcast wiki points out Fudoh’s recommendation: HDMI Output: 1080p, Image Mode: Smart x2, H Scaler: 7, V Scaler: 6. I switched back and forth between that and my typical 720p, standard mode, h/v scaler of 5 for both Ikaruga and Sturmwind and could definitely see a difference, though it was hard to decide which looked preferable. It’s frustrating that Micomsoft has yet to adopt custom profiles for the mini. Helpful though is this English overlay for the remote, especially nice if you don’t want to keep bothering your partner to translate for you.

Finding a Dreamcast Arcade Stick on eBay has also turned the Dreamcast into a better shmup console. I’m still waiting on a Japanese Sega Virtua Stick for the Saturn which seems to have been shipped by carrier pigeon. And after realizing an HRAP 2 could cover all the other consoles with adapters, that dude with the Astro City very kindly won one on Yahoo Japan Auctions for me (thanks Eric!).

All this consumerism kinda turns the stomach, but the research and hunting is as much fun as playing the games for me, as I’m sure it is for a lot of people. And I’m not a huge game collector. Everything I have still easily fits onto three shelves. Probably more to do with my somewhat narrow genre interests than anything else (and, to be fair, flash carts). With one or two games per console getting attention at one time, it’s a bit chaotic, and tough to find focus. But that’s a fine problem to have.