Elf's retro gaming console projects

Elf

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Feb 4, 2019
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Since I have been away from home on the weekends these past few months, I have needed to find little bite sized projects that could be completed in an evening or two, and decided to give a much needed overhaul to my retro gaming setup.

With NES, SNES, N64, GameCube, and PS2, most of the output was via smeary composite video or RF output into a modern HDTV, yielding truly awful video quality with lots of artifacts ("jailbars" / interference bands and worse), and bad lag. Adding a Genesis and Neo Geo AES just made a worse mess.

Overview
The end goal is to have nice "emulator quality" video out to a modern HDTV. Looking around at what was available, this is what settled out:
Game Systems.png


This involves conversion of the NES, SNES, N64, Neo Geo AES, and Genesis to their cleanest state of RGB output via various modifications and cables, which would then be fed into an automatic 8x2 SCART switch (gscartsw by superg). Also included was full recaps of all electrolytic capacitors, and conversion to modern power supplies.

The two analog RGB outputs of the SCART switch are either line doubled (RetroTINK 2X-SCART) or scaled (Framemeister) and converted to HDMI.

The PlayStation 2 gets its own component to HDMI via the RetroTINK 2X-Multiformat, so as to properly handle occasional 480p output. Likewise the GameCube gets a CARBY which cleanly converts its digital framebuffer output to HDMI, bypassing any analog D/A, A/D steps.

All HDMI sources then enter an automatic 8x1 HDMI switch, which is then fed to a 1x2 HDMI splitter. One HDMI output feeds the Sony HDTV, while the other occasionally goes to a Blackmagic HyperDeck Studio 12G for recording.

The HDMI signal path is lag tested (for fun) with a Time Sleuth Display Lag Tester, with the TV being ~3ms lag on any resolution (480p through 1080p), and the Framemeister introducing about a frame of lag if in the path. All other components are lagless as expected.

All these mini-projects are almost complete, so I will continue with other posts showing the modifications and eventually output results :)
 
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Elf

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Feb 4, 2019
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Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Modifications to the NES consisted of:
Before Modification
NES before 1.jpg
NES before 2.jpg

During Modification
NES progress 1.jpg
NES RF cage 1.jpg

This one was fairly straightforward; the most annoying parts were removal of the PPU and the RF cage (which contains capacitors in need of replacement). Still, not too bad, though YMMV based on tools and experience.

Thankfully the original power supply was AC and it uses a bridge rectifier and 2.1mm DC barrel jack, so it simply accepts the attachment of a new Mean Well 9VDC supply.

Sorry, no finished picture w/ wiring. Forgot to take one!
 
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Elf

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Feb 4, 2019
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Super Nintendo (SNES)
Modifications to the SNES consisted of:
The SNES is great, in that it already outputs good RGB video from the "multi-out" A/V connector. All you really need is a cable! That said, the capacitors and voltage regulator wanted replacing, and it needed a more standard way of getting DC in while foregoing its oddball DC jack.

Before Modification
I already replaced the DC jack some time ago, but this is before the recap.
SNES before 1.jpg

After Modification
SNES finished 1.jpg

Replacing the power supply is a very good thing. The only aftermarket power supply you can really find for the SNES (with its peculiar DC barrel connector) looks like the one below:
SNES bad PSU.jpg

It is sold pretty much straight from China from the usual randomly generated brand & seller names, on Amazon and eBay. In my case, I received it with my SNES.

I won't go into an in-depth analysis of why you wouldn't want to use it, but I can show a picture of what is inside which will hopefully get you 80% of the way to the same conclusion...
SNES bad PSU 1.jpg

(The board came mostly unpopulated like that, not my doing. I think they just removed components until it stopped working, then put the last one back.)
 
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Elf

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Feb 4, 2019
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Nintendo 64
Modifications to the N64 consisted of:
Originally I was interested in the UltraHDMI modification for the N64, but due to its unavailability (at time of writing) and the very good results from the N64RGB mod I decided to go that way instead.

Before Modification
N64 before 1.jpg

During Modification
Replacing SMD electrolytics
N64 progress 1.jpg N64 progress 2.jpg

Installing N64RGB
N64 progress 3.jpg

After Modification
N64 finished 1.jpg
N64 supply finished 1.jpg

Soldering the ribbon cable was rather annoying, due to the alignment being just off enough to encourage solder bridges and then little strands sticking out. Widening up the pad spacing just a touch on both sides of the ribbon cable would be great, or even better, using SMD connectors and pre-connectorized cables. I would pay extra for this!

During the removal of the power supply from its shell for recapping, due to some rather aggressive adhesive tape, the power supply PCB cracked. At first I was frustrated by this, but then I realized it really should be replaced anyways. Details on the replacement in a later post. Until that, the N64 was tested as below!

N64 power 1.jpg

About 5.5W draw for a 3D graphics game system, not too bad!
 
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Elf

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Feb 4, 2019
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Sega Genesis
The interesting thing about the Genesis is how many revisions it underwent! This particular one is a Genesis Model 1 VA6 (with "High Definition Graphics" lettering on the top).

Modifications to the Genesis consisted of:
Before Modification
Genesis before 1.jpg

During Modification
Replacing capacitors... A lot of them!
Genesis progress 1.jpg

After Modification
Genesis finished 1.jpg

Installation of the Triple Bypass was not hard, physically speaking. The only bad thing about it was the almost complete lack of documentation. It came together as one board from two open source hardware projects, one for the video amplifier side and one for the audio amplifier side. Somewhat sparse video amplifier documentation can be found at RetroRGB, and the somewhat incoherent audio amplifier documentation can be found on a forum post. With all the different Genesis revisions, your frustration level will likely depend on your basic understanding of the Genesis audio / video signal path for your model, or whether or not you can find documentation from someone else that has installed it on your particular model.

Simultaneous props to the people that made the board available and an acknowledgement that the user installation experience is probably bad. Terrible documentation from an open source project, who could have guessed! ;)

Addendum: Looks like I originally missed one of the solder bridge jumpers on the Triple Bypass board, which you can spot in the last photo if you look carefully. The left channel of the YM2612 didn't make it, so I had to fix that and re-record / re-upload all the Genesis videos.
 
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Elf

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Feb 4, 2019
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Nintendo 64 Power Supply Replacement
As previously mentioned I managed to crack the PCB of the N64 power supply while pulling it out of the case for recapping.

This ended up being fortuitous, because it forced me to come up with a solution for a replacement, and on fairly short notice. Ideally it would be replaced with a Mean Well power brick like the other consoles, but it has a rather odd combination of +3.3/12V out, and on a proprietary connector, the PSU slotting into the back of the N64.

After examining the housing a little and looking through some parts, I noticed that a Mean Well DIN-rail mount DC-DC converter would just about fit inside. A fairly simple solution almost made itself, with a 3.3V DC-DC module (Mean Well DDR-15G-3.3) and a 12V power brick (Mean Well GST25A12-P1J). The DIN rail mounting base had to be removed from the DC-DC module, but after that everything fit together nicely.

N64 new power 1.jpg N64 new power 2.jpg

And yes, it works :)

Also check back above, I've filled in the SNES section!
 
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Elf

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Feb 4, 2019
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Neo Geo Advanced Entertainment System (AES)
The Neo Geo AES is interesting... Released in Apr 1990 just before the SNES (Nov 1990), it came from the arcade cabinet world and had a pretty impressive graphics chipset. The physically large, dual-board ROM cartridges eventually reached up to 716 mbit in size; by comparison N64 cartridges apparently top out at 512 mbit, for a console released over six years later. Perhaps SNK's Neo Geo was something like the Silicon Graphics of the console world. :)

Interestingly Neo Geo ROM cartridges contain identical data between regions (with all localizations), and the console's identified region tells the game code which language to display. The same ROM data is not only used between regions, but also between AES (home) and MVS (arcade) versions. Indeed, with BIOS modifications, you can have the AES tell the game it is an MVS arcade system and it will change behavior accordingly.

The Neo Geo I obtained is an AES 3-5, Japanese model.

Modifications to the Neo Geo consisted of:
Before Modification
Neo Geo AES before 1.jpg

After Modification
Neo Geo AES after 1.jpg

Note on AES RGB Bypass Mod
I originally intended to perform the RGB bypass modification described on Retro RGB. While getting ready to do so, it started to make less and less sense... The modification is described as "send[ing] video (at the proper voltage) directly from the NG’s digital-to-analog-converter, to the multi-out." This initially made sense; if the video encoder / amplifier (a Sony CXA1145P) was merely buffering the RGB output while introducing noise related to forming composite video, tapping whatever DAC was feeding it could make sense. But the more I looked at the instructions, the more strange it seemed. Finally I pulled up some schematics, and though they weren't an exact match to my AES 3-5, they explained what was going on and why I was having a bad feeling about it.

When the bypass instructions originally mentioned a "digital-to-analog-converter" I thought of a modern low impedance output DAC. What is actually present on the board makes a lot more sense in the context of something designed in the late 80s: a resistor DAC.

Neogeo_aes_schematics_pal_2-page-007.jpg Neogeo_aes_schematics_pal_2-page-002.jpg

Whatever the impedance of this DAC is, it's clearly unsuitable for driving a 75 ohm terminated video line. It doesn't seem to be a fixed impedance R2R variety either, so source impedance of each line I think will vary depending on how many color bits are flipped on, and it is designed to feed a high impedance amplifier (as it does in the original circuit). It's very likely that whatever color output results from the RGB bypass mod look decent visually, but don't think they are linear or accurate.

In any case going for a lower serial number Neo Geo seems to have been fortuitous, as the RGB output through the stock amplifier looks great! I may at some point poke around with an oscilloscope and put my own video amplifier in to remove the Sony one and get rid of composite, and possibly achieve a cleaner signal, but the motivation / need to do so is pretty low.

Lesson learned though, it pays to check the electrical engineering of some of these things rather than just doing what everyone else does.
 
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Elf

Storybook
Feb 4, 2019
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Genesis Power Base Converter
The "Power Base Converter" is an interesting (and simple) accessory that allows the Sega Genesis to play Sega Master System games, both in cartridge and card format.

It just has a few capacitors which are easy to replace. I am posting this just to show what is inside the thing for anyone who is curious, as it is mostly a passive adapter.

Before Recap
Power Base before 1.jpg

After Recap
Power Base after 1.jpg
 
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rbz

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I always wanted an Neo-Geo, but that price tag... considered getting a MVC-C recently and consolizing it but even the MVS games are getting super expensive
 

Elf

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Feb 4, 2019
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Indeed... It seems to vary highly by game too, but some of the cartridges I've bought that were at least on the "barely affordable" side were MVS to AES conversions. I'm not picky but I just want something mildly authentic and physical that lets me play the game, rather than a collector's item. Some AES or MVS conversion cartridges have reasonable prices (less than $100), some have painful but doable prices ($200-300), and some are just absurd ($2k+).

The console is unfortunately expensive either way, but if you want the real hardware for the console and are not as picky about the cartridge side, the Terraonion NeoSD is a pretty good solution (SD card to flash cart). Using the NeoSD is the way I am going for the games where the cartridges are absurdly priced.
 

Elf

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Sega Genesis Captures
I captured some sample output from the Sega Genesis today, via Framemeister. Not too shabby for a largely analog signal path!

Rocket Knight Adventures

Sonic the Hedgehog

Phantasy Star II

Crusader of Centy

Lemmings (Master System)

Addendum: Re-recorded and re-uploaded these after noticing a missing jumper on the Genesis Triple Bypass board. Added Lemmings as a Master System game running on the Genesis, via Power Base Converter.
 
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Jacques

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Dec 21, 2019
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I love the overall quality - the graphics, sounds, sprite movement and scrolling are just awesome, the 16 bit consoles are my favourite. I guess it's because they remind me so much of my miss spent youth slotting 20cent pieces into arcade machines.
 
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Elf

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Feb 4, 2019
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Thanks! Ironically despite never owning a 16-bit console growing up (I skipped straight from the NES to PS2!), they have easily come to be my favorite as well. Although I enjoy 8-bit consoles, the games can feel almost too rudimentary at times, and the 5th generation consoles (PS1, N64, etc.) start to fall into a bit of a technological valley where they were still figuring out things like 3D and higher resolution graphics.

There is something about the polished 2D/2.5D graphics of the 16 bit consoles that I think provides something nice to look at without providing too much detail so that the imagination still has room to work. I think it's that aspect of imagination subconsciously filling in the details that helps create the affection I have for many of the games.
 

Jacques

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Agree. I also feel that past the PS1 developers focussed so much on graphics, sometimes at the cost of gameplay. Yes, some off the 16bit stuff had terrible gameplay / collision detection etc. but with the graphics you had to fill in the details, as you say.

That's why I tend to steer away from games with (near) realistic graphics, if I want realism I step outside. :)
 
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Elf

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Feb 4, 2019
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PC Engine
I had previously heard of the TurboGrafx-16 in the United States as somewhat of an underdog console that never really gained traction, unlike its contemporaries the SNES and Genesis. Glancing at the game library, it never really appealed to me and I didn't give it a second thought.

I re-examined it more recently in its original Japanese form, the PC Engine, a much physically smaller console about the size of two NES controllers, with a much larger Japanese game library, and decided to pick one up, along with the Terraonion Super SD System 3. The Super SD allows for SD card ROM loading, PC Engine CD emulation, and clean RGB output using a Genesis style cable.

While the TurboGrafx US game library didn't make the case, having access to all the Japanese HuCard and PC Engine CD games was more than worth it!

As usual I also opened up the console for some maintenance:
Before Recap
PCE Progress 1.jpg

During Recap
PCE Progress 2.jpg

PCE Progress 3.jpg
(Added new MLCCs as a double decker on top of old ones, for jailbar fix)

After Recap
PCE Complete 1.jpg

PC Engine Captures
Valkyrie no Densetsu


Ys Book I & II (English)
 
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rbz

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I had previously heard of the TurboGrafx-16 in the United States as somewhat of an underdog console that never really gained traction, unlike its contemporaries the SNES and Genesis. Glancing at the game library, it never really appealed to me and I didn't give it a second thought.
I had a TG-16 back in the day (yeah I was THAT kid) and ended up selling it and getting the TurboExpress when it came out (uses the same HuCards which blew my mind back then, and IIRC was one of the first "modern" color handhelds released shortly after the Lynx).

Funny enough I should be getting the recap kit + other misc items from Console5 for the TurboExpress and my old GameGear tomorrow and hoping to dig into them this weekend.
 
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Elf

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Feb 4, 2019
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Nice, that's great that you owned one back in the day :)

My own history of console ownership was a bit odd. I grew up with an NES and then didn't really get any other (non-portable) consoles until the PS2, which I only had one game for! I ended up having to play all the SNES games I grew up with via an emulator, and never really interacted with anything Sega until recently. Most of the games I played were on the PC during the DOS - Win2k era, but recently I have gone to all (old) consoles, and haven't bought a new PC game in probably about a decade...

Good luck with the recap projects!
 

Elf

Storybook
Feb 4, 2019
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Besides adding the PC Engine there have been other new developments as well, namely the addition of a CRT.

I've been back and forth on CRTs, having spent way too much time looking at them in the 90s and 00s! For a while I thought I had more or less put them behind me, but it was finding a rather unique CRT that pushed me back into getting one. Namely, a nice one manufactured (or I suppose more accurately, assembled) in 2020: the Dotronix DNR 27".

Dotronix_DNR_Monitor_large.png

These are made in present day in Minnesota by the owner of Dotronix, who keeps a warehouse of new old stock components. Apparently the main market for them is museum art installations; who knew! Once he is out of components (in a year or two), that's the end. I learned about this a few months ago and it sat in the back of my mind ever since, until I finally knew that I had to get one.

The relative lack of bezel and dark glass front really stands out to me. They look like the CRT equivalent of an iPhone :p

For anyone curious about obtaining one, yes, they are expensive. Low four digits, USD. Best to get that out of the way first! They also ship freight, which you will need to be able to handle. I am glad though, because they are extremely well packed. They arrive in a crate, for a total weight of about 200 lbs. Actual weight of the monitor is 100 lbs.

Dotronix 1.jpg Dotronix 2.jpg

Picture is excellent and pre-adjusted at the factory, considering the target audience. All service menu options are provided if you want to make your own adjustments as well.

To plumb the CRT into everything the video signal path has changed a bit as well. One RGB output from the gscartsw has been routed through a JS 1x2 distribution buffer amplifier, which then goes to the RetroTINK 2X-SCART (pre-existing) as well as a RetroTINK RGB2Comp.

Component output from the RGB2Comp and Playstation 2 (previously attached to the 2X-Multiformat) are then routed to a gcompsw 8x2 automatic component switch. One output of this switch goes to the RetroTINK 2X-Multiformat and one goes to the Dotronix CRT.

This is getting complicated to follow, I'm sure! I have updated the original diagram:

Game Systems v2.1.png


Despite the increasingly complex signal path the upside to all of this is that it's still all automatic. Just turn on the analog video console you want and the output will automatically appear on the CRT. Choose how you want it digitized (Framemeister, RetroTINK 2X, or 2X-Multiformat) via the HDMI switch and it will appear on the LCD as well. Audio is also automatic and comes with the video signal path.

Due to the increased number of amplifiers and cables the analog noise floor of some paths is slightly increased, but this only shows if you are really looking for it (and only on the HDTV). Not visually obtrusive in any way and completely invisible on the CRT.

Below is a picture of the DNR 27" being tested prior to moving it to its final location. Taking good pictures of CRTs with camera phones, lacking exposure controls, is a challenging experience to say the least... This is the best I could manage, but keep in mind it always looks significantly better in person!

Dotronix 3.jpg
 
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