Want a kickin’ GameCube visual experience, but can’t afford a fancy new TV? Then check out TYP’s tutorial/review of Ahead Games’s GC VGA Cable!
Digital televisions and their progressive scan capabilities are all the rage nowadays. Unfortunately, the price tag on any decent High Definition Television is far too steep for the average gamer, and the standard resolution DTV is as obscure as the Virtual Boy, leaving GameCube games’ progressive-scan potential unfulfilled for the vast majority of gamers. However, any PC gamer (and many Dreamcast owners) will gladly inform you that if you are reading this review, chances are you already own a perfectly reasonable progressive scan display: your computer monitor. Fortunately, there is a cheap solution to unlocking your US or Japanese GameCube’s full potential in Ahead Games’s VGA Monitor Cable for the GameCube.
Ahead Games’s VGA cable is actually a modified version of the official Nintendo D-Terminal cable available only in Japan. Nintendo’s component and D-Terminal cables actually contain an integrated chip which, depending on how its pins are wired together, dictates the format the GameCube’s video card (Flipper) outputs. Conveniently, one of the possible formats the GameCube can output is Red-Green-Blue, the very same standard used by VGA PC monitors. And so, after some rewiring of the D-Terminal cable’s internal wires and a grafted female VGA connecter, a Japanese video cable is transformed into an economic VGA cable for progressive scan GameCube games.
Connecting the VGA cable is fairly straightforward: simply plug the Nintendo-branded end into a GameCube and the other end to any monitor with a standard 15-pin VGA connection. For those requiring a male-ended GameCube VGA cable (with pins instead of holes), a cheap male-to-male gender changer can be found at electronics specialty stores. Those with Macintosh monitors will need a VGA to MAC adapter. As with the component video cable, the standard A/V is still required to carry the audio signal; a stereo RCA to mini-plug cable is recommended for connecting the audio signal to a computer’s “Line In" jack or speakers.
Now that everything’s hooked up, it’s time to turn on the console! This brings us to the single biggest drawback of any modified GC cable for VGA use: they only work with progressive scan games. This quirk is unavoidable, as an interlaced signal has too low a frequency to be displayed by the vast majority of VGA monitors. To solve this problem, the purchase of a secondary S-video-to-VGA adapter (or N64-compatible VGA box) is required. This also means that until progressive scan in activated (by holding B and then pushing A when starting a game) you’ll be playing with only aural prompts to guide you.
Fumbling in the dark may be an inconvenience, but it is most certainly worth the trouble. The picture quality on my SyncMaster 763MB CRT monitor is breathtaking. Granted, the picture is only as good as the game’s graphics, but there is nothing quite like one’s first Super Smash Bros. Melee match or F-Zero GX race running at 60 full frames per second. For most games the signal is also amazingly sharp: SSBM’s ocean on Big Blue shimmers in the sunlight, Super Monkey Ball 2’s vibrant backdrops come to life, and Luigi’s Mansion particle effects are twice as eerie. For $45, Ahead Games’s cable certainly packs a punch.
The VGA cable’s picture isn’t flawless, however, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker makes this startlingly clear. The VGA cable suffers from a minor ghosting effect, where faded imprints of strongly-defined color borders appear slightly to the right, predominantly with reds and browns. While this ghosting can be observed in other games, the Wind Waker’s vibrant colors and stark, abrupt contrast seem to play a trick on the makeshift VGA cable. Wooden structures have smeared edges, while Link’s golden hair and adorable hands are surrounded by a supernatural aura. The ghosting and smearing is by no means exclusive to Ahead Games’s cable. I already own a similarly modified cable purchased from A.I. Trading Co., which has the same imperfection. The most likely cause is that the D-Terminal cable’s insulation was not designed to protect a VGA signal, though I cannot be certain.
The ghosting is unnoticeable during most games—what can ruin picture quality for all games is the monitor. Monitors with high contrast and brightness are desirable, but more importantly, traditional CRT monitors are preferable. Unlike CRT monitors, which can produce multiple resolutions equally well, LCD screens are designed for a specific resolution (usually 1024x768) known as its native resolution. When displaying a signal in its native resolution, a LCD screen provides a crisp picture, but in lower resolutions (like the GameCube’s 480p signal) LCD screens either unevenly stretch and blur the signal, or display it in a letterboxed format using only part of the LCD screen. LCD monitors with higher native resolutions tend to do a better job of stretching a low resolution; however, I recommend anyone with an LCD monitor play a PC game at a resolution of 640x480 before deciding whether or not to purchase a GC VGA cable.
I must commend Ahead Games’s professional soldering job. One of the soldered wires in my A.I. Trading cable broke off after six months of wear and tear, rendering the cable useless until its troublesome repair. The soldered connections in Ahead Games’s cable are unquestionably more secure, while the generous length of exposed (but manageable) wiring within the VGA connector casing should make any repairs relatively stress-free.
Modified GameCube VGA cables don’t provide the picture quality possible with Nintendo’s component video cables and a Digital TV, but they come close. Ahead Games’s competitive price and impressive soldering standards makes it an excellent bargain for any GameCube owner with progressive scan lust.