Friday, July 16, 2021

Keeping the Upscale and Capture Pure - The RGB2HDMI and Digital PC Video Standards

When IBM was designing video display adapters for its IBM PC, it treated video quality as important.  While the world of displays was in 1980 essentially analog, IBM chose to use digital outputs for its IBM Monochrome Display and Printer Adapter and Color Graphics Adapter.  Later it continued to use a digital TTL interface for the IBM PCjr.'s built in video and its Enhanced Graphics Adapters.  Competitors and copycats, like the Hercules Graphics Card and the Tandy 1000's built-in video, also copied IBM's usage of the DE-9 port carrying digital color signals.  While some of the color cards had composite color video support, serious business usage demanded the use of a monitor which could accept those digital signals for the highest possible picture quality possible.  

By 1987, the limitations of the digital interface, with each color primary requiring a separate collection of wires, was too limiting for IBM's Video Graphics Array.  The connector was changed and the colors were output over an analog interface, which only required one pin per color primary.  The VGA analog video standard remained the principal way by which PCs connected their displays for over fifteen years.  By the time the digital DVI connector became popular enough to replace VGA, the older pre-VGA standards had been long consigned to the realm of retro-computing.  

Today the modern display device tends to eschew any display standard older than DVI, with most only having HDMI and DisplayPort inputs.  The digital standards of old used special CRTs, which have become expensive and often require repair or restoration due to age.  Those of us who enjoy working on retro computers are faced with having to "settle" for composite video, having to fork out large amounts of money and space for the special digital CRTs displays or use rather particular capture cards to see what was intended.  The RGB2HDMI is one really good solution for these issues, let's take a look at it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Lag : Consoles, Emulators, FPGAs

When playing classic video games on non-original hardware, one should always be conscious for the amount of extra lag that method may offer over the original hardware.  Along with accuracy, latency is one of the most important tangible benefits (versus of using original hardware and display technology (CRTs) over emulators and current display technology (LCDs).  Latency has always existed in some form, and in this article I will give an overview on how latency has evolved over time.  

Additionally, the use of FPGA chips to simulate original hardware has become increasingly popular over the past five years.  FPGAs can offer the benefit of lower latency compared to traditional software based emulation and can offer a high degree of accuracy by using relatively inexpensive hardware.  FPGAs are not without their singular issues, and in this article I will go over some of the issues with using FPGAs as a replacement for original hardware.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Making Your Famicom into the Best Famicom it can be : A/V Mods Done Right

Modifying the RF-Only Famicom to output separate video and audio is nothing new, people have been doing it since the 1980s.  But many mods I have seen involved video circuits of dubious quality, drilling and cutting into aged plastic and difficult to reverse without replacement parts.  In this blog post I will go over what I believe are the best ways to modify your Famicom for AV output.

Monday, May 31, 2021

The Computer in Monochrome - Practical Advice for Using for a Macintosh SE

The Graphical User Interface is something computer users have taken for granted for twenty-five years since Windows 95 computers became ubiquitous.  Of course, to owners of any Macintosh computer, the GUI was something they had experienced since day one.  The original Macintosh was designed to be a low-cost productivity computer.  It eventually evolved into a fully general purpose computer, but the systems were sufficiently popular even in the earliest days to enjoy a wide variety of software, including games.  I recently acquired an earlier example of the line, a Macintosh SE, and decided it was worth getting it up and running.  In that process I will be sharing some of the issues I have encountered and solutions.

Friday, May 7, 2021

RetroUSB AVS : The Affordable NES FPGA Console

RetroUSB AVS, courtesy of

The NES is undoubtedly the most cloned video game system ever, and in the 2010s FPGA technology had decreased in price to the point where it was affordable to implement retro video game systems on an FPGA.  The RetroUSB AVS was the first NES FPGA console made available to the public, and while I have discussed it before on this blog, I have not done a full review of the AVS because I never had one in my possession before.  That changed recently thanks to a friend of mine who let me borrow his for testing and review.  As this console is almost five years old at this point and is the only NES FPGA console you can currently pre-order, I think it is time to see where it has progressed and how well it has held up over the years compared to more recent competition.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Game Boy Link Ports & Cables & Peripherals

When Nintendo released its first handheld console, the Game Boy, it provided a Link Port to allow two players to play games with or against each other.  That Link Port is a simple bidirectional synchronous serial port and was not very fast but it was sufficient to allow two consoles to communicate with each other over a Link Cable.  In subsequent Game Boy models the Link Port became faster but it also took on different shapes.  The Link Port was carried over to the Game Boy Advance, but there were some differences.  In this article I will go over the various cable connectors, the official products which used the Link Port or converted one kind of link port to another and how Link Cables are wired.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Floppy Drives - Single Density and Double Density, FM, MFM & GCR

In the IBM PC world, there is no such thing as "single density" floppy drives.  Floppy drives started out as double density and later matured into high density and even extra high density.  Those of us who grew up in a PC world had no need to know about "single density".  But where did single density come from and which systems used it?  Moreover, what happens when system builders try to stretch single density reading into double-density capacities?  The truth is a bit more complex than you might think.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Family BASIC - Putting the "Computer" into the Family Computer

Courtesy of Wikipedia (taken by Evan Amos)

When Nintendo released its first console, the Famicom, the full name of the system was the Nintendo Family Computer.  In the early 1980s the line between video game consoles and home computers was a fuzzy one.  Some consoles, like the Odyssey^2 had a full (membrane) keyboard but were more like video game consoles.  Some computers like the Commodore 64 had a full-travel keyboard and a disk drive but could also play games via its Expansion Port.  At the Famicom's launch in 1983, the only software available for the machine were arcade game ports.  By the next year (1984) Nintendo had released a new product for the Family Computer which was intended to do more than just play another video game.  This product was released as Family BASIC on July 21, 1984, but was only released in Japan.  Did it succeed in turning the Famicom into a Family Computer?