My Console Setup in 2020
2020. Year of the pandemic. There’s not much great news going around, so I’ll write something that makes me happy: retro gaming consoles. Each year brings some adjustments, refinements, and replacements to my setup. Here we go!
The TV was updated last year, it’s a 55″ 4K LG smart TV. It’s nice to be able to stream when not gaming. The speakers aren’t great, but that’s par for the course with these modern thin TVs, hence the sound bar. Some day I’ll get a subwoofer.
I’ll start with some equipment that makes the connection between retro consoles and modern TVs possible. Retro consoles generally output a video signal called 240p. That is, 240 lines, progressively drawn (instead of interlaced). On CRT TVs, 240 lines is half of the display number (480 interlaced was the normal TV resolution), hence the black scan lines that alternate between drawn lines. The Open Source Scan Convertor (OSSC) is a device that multiplies the line count to better fit the higher resolution of modern HD TVs. The signal can be multiplied 2, 3, 4, or 5 times. The higher the multiplier, the crisper the image. This process is done instantly, so there is not video processing taking place, and most importantly, no input lag. Input lag is sometimes a problem with modern TVs upscaling the vintage 240p signal, since the TV’s built in upscaler takes time to do the job. The OSSC does this instead, producing a clean, crisp, lagless image outputting a modern resolution. I should mention that the older consoles need to output an RGB or component video signal, or be modded to do so to get the best results from the OSSC. It is well known that the OSSC does not do a great job upscaling 480i content, due to the nature of interlaced video signals, This is why my PS2 is not routed through this.
The RGB signal is carried through a cable with a SCART connection head. This is a video connection that was standard in Europe and Japan, but not in North America. I have acquired these SCART cables for all of my older consoles, and so there are a lot of them. In order to keep them all connected at the same time, I use a GSCARTSW switch. It is an 8 port SCART switch, which automatically detects which console is on. It is routed into the SCART port in the back of the OSSC.
Top Row, left to right
First is the Core Grafx PC Engine with Super SD System 3 (SSDS3) attachment. The Core Grafx, for those who may not know, is a Japanese version of the Turbo Grafx-16. The SSDS3 serves three main purposes: it is a flash cart that allows games to be played from an SD card, it is an optical drive emulator (ODE) that allows CD rom games to be played from the SD card, and it outputs RGB video. I needed a power supply, as the Genesis model 1 power supply that I was using was making an ominous buzzing sound. I found a custom, high quality supply from Retrogamecave, that specifically supports PC Engines with the SSDS3. It works great. Strangely, all PC Engines have only one controller port.
The Playstation 2 is region modded, allowing for domestic and import gameplay. It has a hard disc drive installed internally, and through the Free McBoot app games can be played from the hard drive. The PS2 is capable of outputting 480p, but most games output 480i instead. This is a major disappointment, but understandable for the time it came out. in 1999 most TVs were still CRTs, and the maximum resolution was 480 interlaced, not progressive. I have this connected through component, into a switch box, into the TV. The TV’s deinterlacer does an OK job, and the game on the PS2 are not twitch reflex games like old school shooters, so the little bit of lag is not really noticeable.
The Dreamcast is region modded. It was ahead of its time in that it output VGA video, which was higher than standard 480i resolution. You will need a VGA 31 KHz adapter box to make use of this higher video setting, which can be displayed on HD TVs. It’s not quite HD, it’s somewhere inbetween, but it still looks real nice. I use a scart cable that has a 15/31 KHz switch, so that I can play games that support hi res graphics and standard res. It has been modded with GDEMU, an optical drive emulator.
On the right is my RGB modded PC Engine Duo-R. Is it redundant to have two versions of the PC Engine in the same setup? This one has had jail bars (vertical discoloration stripes that appear in solid colors) removed. Despite having the SSDS3, I felt that I still needed a way to play original PC Engine CD games.
Second row, left to right
The CBox MVS is a consolized Neo Geo arcade board, encased in a plastic case and modded to have not only Neo Geo controllers, but Sega Saturn controllers as well. It has a universal bios installed, to allow for changing settings, cheats, etc. The Neo Geo was the pinnacle of 16 bit hardware, it is literally an arcade machine, able to put up ridiculous amounts of sprites on screen at once. Seeing one in a home setting was mind blowing in the 90’s, and still holds up today. All it takes to be convinced is to play Metal Slug, and you’ll immediately know. The console outputs RGB and component video. There was some controversy about the RGB line carrying too hot of a sync signal, which can damage other devices in the video chain, like an OSSC or Framemeister. This is easily remedifed by using an RGB Scart cable with a proper resister in-line. The arcade versions of the Neo Geo games are cheaper than the standard home versions, simply because there are way more of them out there. I have twelve MVS games, and that’s about all I’m going to own, judging by current prices. The ubiquitous, yellow 161-in-1 cart is a budget alternative to going broke trying to collect for this system. It has nearly all the games that were ever released, and won’t break the bank.
The Sony Playstation has been modded with the PSIO optical drive emulator, allowing for game playback from an SD card. What is unique about PSIO is that it retains the CD drive functionality, still allowing the console to play original games. The console is region modded, as my import collect is half of my Playstation collection. The video output is RGB.
Next is my beloved Sega Saturn, which has the MODE optical drive emulator. The Saturn collection is one of my largest collections, focusing on shmups and fighting games, and so I had to make a decision on whether to keep the original Saturn hooked up in order to play these, or have the MODE hooked up instead. I oscillate between the two, regularly swapping the MODE with my “This is Cool” Japanese model 2 Saturn. In a perfect world, I would make room for both. Hmm, maybe I will do something about that. The video output is RGB.
Farthest to the right is the Analogue Mega SG, a modern HDMI console with a field programmable gate array (FPGA) chip, which recreates the Sega Genesis console at the hardware level. This is not the same as standard software emulation that you would see in so many clone consoles these days, there is no overlying operating system that would introduce latency during game operation. FPGA systems are lagless, and extremely faithful to the original hardware, depending on the skill level of the programmer. Kevtris is widely known in the retro gaming scene for his skill, and this is just another example of it.
Third row, left to right
Starting the third row is a standard Gamecube. There is nothing special about this console, there are no mods. It’s not one of my favorites, I only play a few games on it. I do have the official Gamecube component cables, which re-convert the analog video output to 480p. I know there are lots of newer mods and ODEs for this system, but its not high on my priority list.
Next is the PolyMega Beta unit. The PolyMega is an emulation console that can play CD games for the Playstation, Turbo Grafx-16 CD (and of course PC Engine CD), Sega Saturn, Neo Geo CD, in all regions. It also can play cartridge based systems if you have the modules for them, including NES, TG-16, Genesis, and SNES. This has yet to be released, as the company, Playmaji, has struggled during the pandemic to keep its production schedule on track. The reason I have one is that I was an early backer, and was chosen as a Beta tester. I imported all of my compatible CD based games, and played them, and reported any bugs that I found. One of the best features of the PolyMega is the ability to import the game files to the console, potentially having your entire library available from the UI interface, forgoing the need to use the actual discs. As of the time of this writing, there are a few of my games that I cannot import, as the games are not recognized in the system’s database yet. Fortunately, the system is easily updated through WIFI, and additions and improvements are made regularly. There are so many games that this supports, it will take some time for every single one to entered into its database, but its well on its way. I know this system is redundant, as I already have the consoles to play the same games that this supports.
Next is the Retro USB AVS, an FPGA Nintendo console. This can play original NES and Famicom (Japanese version of NES) games. The console outputs at 720p, which not to the same level as Analogue’s FPGA consoles, but the difference is not a great as it may seem. The flat loading style of the cartridges makes for a slim profile, and gameplay reliability is fantastic. No more blowing into the carts, or shoving another one on top to increase the tension to get the game to work. Analogue’s NT Mini, which is their FPGA NES console, has more features like 1080p, but is encased in an aluminum shell and costs more than double the AVS. It’s up to the user to decide if the price markup is worth it.
Last is the Analogue Super NT, an FPGA Super Nintendo console. My original SNES console was having a hard time reading cartridges, probably due to dirty connector pins. I tried cleaning it with the credit card and t shirt trick, but it still was unreliable and frustrating. So I decided to upgrade. It was released before the Mega SG, so it doesn’t have quite as many options and features, but there’s till more than enough for satisfy hardcore users.
In addition to optical drive emulators for disc systems, I have flash cartridges as well for the NES, Genesis, PC Engine, and SNES. These are convenient, as not only can you play any game in the library, you can apply patches to roms and play hacked versions of games, which is my favorite feature. This can breathe new life into games that you have played to death, like the playing as Robocop and ED-209 in Streets if Rage 2, or improving the PAN card functionality in the NES version of Metal Gear.
Hidden behind the TV are my Nintendo Switch, PS3, and PS4, but I don’t feel the need to talk about those. Behind the sound bar is my Raspberry Pi in a Retroflag Mega Drive case, running Retropie. I’ve talked about this before, it has its uses, but its not my preferred way to play. It is the only way for me to play arcade games on a TV, like Mat Mania, Alien Syndrome, and others. I use an 8Bitdo M30 Bluetooth controller for it.
Below the TV stand are switches for component video and HDMI. The component switch was made by Impact Acoustics, and is a powered 6-input switch. I currently use for the Gamecube and PS2, and it feeds directly into the TV. The HDMI switch has 8 inputs, and automatically detects the signal, except when it doesn’t. The PS4 seems to be a signal hog, and I find that I have to manually push the switch to change when the PS4 is on. Other than that, it works great.
Well, that’s all I have connected at the moment. I do have a few more that are not hooked up, and sometimes they make their way into the setup. Let me know your thoughts, and if you have any questions. Thanks for reading!