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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Review: Dreamcast VGA Cable


I recently obtained a Dreamcast VGA cable from Racketboy.com (A website dedicated to retro gaming that I highly recommend both as a source of information and as a community) and I would like to share my thoughts on it.

The Dreamcast VGA cable (A.K.A VGA adapter or box), pictured above, is one the best ways you can get the most out of your Sega Dreamcast and should not be overlooked by anyone looking to experience all the DC has to offer.

What is it?

It's a means for you to play many of your beloved Dreamcast games in their native 640x480/60Hz resolution. You might be thinking, "Isn't VGA the cable I've always used to connect my computer to it's monitor, even the old CRT computer monitors?" Yes, that is the case, but the difference is that what I've pictured above could be thought of as more like an adapter than a cable, because you will still need a VGA cable to use it. If you have both, you will be able to hook your Dreamcast into PC monitors with VGA input, which includes those older CRT monitors (the ideal option for those of us who want to play DC light gun games in the highest resolution possible)


You plug one end of the VGA cable into your Dreamcast, plug the other end of your adapter into a VGA cable, and then plug the VGA cable into a VGA input on your monitor (or perhaps an HD TV with VGA input - that's what I happily use), and you now have the ability to play Dreamcast games in the highest possible resolution. Notice what both ends of a VGA cable look like below:


How does it work?

Dreamcast games display in either 640 x 480 resolution or 320 x 240 resolution, with many of them displaying in 640 x 480. The Dreamcast has the ability to natively output in 640 x 480. You may now be wondering, "if it displays that natively, why do I need the cable?" Well, the Dreamcast originally came packaged with what are commonly described as composite (or RCA) cables.

Composite (RCA) cables have a yellow cable (the composite one - called so for combining everything that makes up the video signal into one cable) for video and both a red and a white audio cable for two audio channels. If you use these cables, you may notice your Dreamcast picture is somewhat blurry. Without getting into all the technical aspects of it I will simply say that for analog picture quality you should remember that RF < COMPOSITE < S-VIDEO < VGA, and composite (RCA) cables cannot carry the full resolution that the Dreamcast can display, but VGA cables can.

What about Audio?

VGA cables do not carry audio. So what are you going to do for audio if you upgrade your Dreamcast to VGA? The Dreamcast VGA box I'm using has an audio out jack located on it. Notice the hole below where the cable is protruding:


You can hook a pair of headphones into this or go all out and hook up a nice pair of PC speakers (I recommend Logitech), especially if you've got your Dreamcast hooked up with a PC VGA monitor. Maybe throw the DC keyboard and mouse into your set-up as well, but I digress.

Why should you care?

If you're thinking about upgrading to VGA, then you're probably wondering about the difference in image quality. Below I've thrown up a comparison screenshot using Soul Calibur on a Dynex 720p capable HD Television.


I recommend clicking on the picture and zooming in to see the differences at a much larger resolution. Notice that the VGA picture is much crisper and less blurred. This is especially easy to notice when looking at text, but is also evident in the textures. It's difficult to convey how much better your higher-resolution games will look simply through side-by-side comparison, as the true difference really shined for me when I watched the opening cinematics in Soul Calibur and Shenmue.

That being said, games which display in 320 x 240 are often so crisp through VGA that the pixels can be more noticeable. You might notice this if you play Marvel vs. Capcom or other Capcom fighting games. However, if you prefer a slightly blocky look over a blurry one, then the VGA cable won't steer you wrong.

Does it support all Dreamcast games?

Unfortunately, there is a small number of games in the Dreamcast library which are not supported. However, most of the supported games have either VGA box, or VGA cable listed on the back of the packaging as seen below:


There are also some games which do not list VGA support on the back but will work with VGA regardless, such as Sonic Adventure:


If you are unsure of whether you're game will run with the VGA cable, I recommend simply checking with Google. If a game is not supported, it simply will not boot when you start-up the Dreamcast and you'll have to use your standard RCA cables (or RF but I advice against that).

Where can you get one?

http://www.racketboy.com/store/sega-dreamcast/dreamcast-vga-cable-box.html

This is where I got mine and it's proven to be quite worthwhile.

I recommend getting the same one I did as it has proven very durable, and doesn't have trouble displaying the image. The price is also quite nice considering you really don't ever find them for cheaper than that - not even on ebay. Keep in mind that you will also need a VGA cable, but those are pretty cheap (You can get ones that are insanely long - like 100 freaking feet - for less than thirty dollars if you search a bit online).

There are other VGA boxes/adapters out there, but I've heard from a couple sources that they can be fidgety when you plug them in, making the picture hard to keep from going out (referring mostly to the Blaze brand).

Another option is the VGA box with S-Video & RCA sold on Racketboy which allows for multiple inputs in case you want the convenience of having all those options attached to your Dreamcast. This could prove convenient if you have and play any of the games which do not support VGA. There are also official Sega one's out there, but they demand pretty outrageous prices, and the one's on Racketboy do the job just as well.

This is one of the must-have accessories for the Dreamcast if you're serious about getting the most out of your games and I highly recommend getting one.

29 comments:

  1. About a year ago I got an RGC SCART cable for my Dreamcast which was insanely better than the RF cable I was previously having to use.

    I'm quite happy with the SCART on my CRT, however, how well does the Dreamcast perform on a fully HD television with a VGA input? I don't play the Dreamcast as much as I should, and VGA might be a good incentive to get back into it.

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  2. This is a tough comparison because both SCART and VGA use analog RGB but SCART uses RGBS (Composite/mixed horizontal & vertical lines) while VGA uses RBGHV (seperate horizontal & vertical lines). Since I live in the states, I've never used SCART but I would think the overall image quality is comparable to S-video, being less clear and crisp than VGA but being quite a bit better than the standard RCA cables (and way better than RF).

    On any HDTV with a VGA input, the Dreamcast will display a crisp picture at 640 x 480 for the higher resolution Dreamcast games. However, because the image is so crisp, as the TV gets larger, the individual pixels become much more noticeable.

    I use mine on a 27 inch Dynex 720p HDTV (whether you're using a 720p or 1080p TV won't affect the Dreamcast's resolution). I'm extremely happy with the picture clarity, but note that most Dreamcast games display in 4:3, so they will not take up the entire screen.

    There are a few games which do have a 16:9 option that you can turn on within the game (then you have to change your TV to coincide - usually via a button on the remote).
    The only ones I remember off the top of my head are Toy Commander and Rayman 2, but it's pretty nice that the option exists in a few games (Actually even a few Saturn games - like Panzer Dragoon Zwei support 16:9!)

    If I didn't have VGA, I simply wouldn't play my Dreamcast on an HDTV due to the blurriness, but the VGA upgrade makes me want to play it on my HDTV. I've been joyfully re-playing some of my games since I got the adapter, so it's definitely getting me back into my Dreamcast.

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  3. Again, sound advice, thanks. I think a VGA adaptor is something I would definitely pick up once I move out of my parent's home, and have my own HD tele, as my parents' is already being raped from all sides.

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  4. Sure there are games that with the use of VGA box look much better than the standard connections (RF, composite and even RGB Scart/S-Video) but on the other hand there are a lot of games which show their imperfections (aliasing and pixelisation).

    Especially in 2D games the sprites are pixelated, i guess because they have small resolution and they display in progressive scan. (E.g.: Marvel Super Heroes, Marvel vs Capcom 2, KOF: Evolution, SF III: Third Strike). Notable exception is Guilty Gear X which looks extremely beautiful with VGA!

    3D Games look clearer with brighter colors, but you can easily distinct pixalated textured areas and jaggied edges. Again, there are some exceptions, especially Soul Calibur, which look better in all aspects.

    Note that i use CRT monitor, not a LCD HDTV, that means the console resolution matches the display of the monitor.

    My opinion is that, overaly, the best way to enjoy your DC games is to use RGB Scart/S-Video cable combined with a standard definition tv. (That goes for the PS2, Xbox, Gamecube too).

    I would like to read your opinion on this, because all over the internet i haven't read not even one negative comment on VGA Box for dreamcast, and i have to say that i'm a little disapointed about its purchase.

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  5. Sorry, i meant Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes instead of Marvel Super Heroes. :)

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  6. That's because those games always display in 320 x 240 even through a VGA box so their pixels are quite large and easily distinguishable. That's why they look so pixelated. Most Capcom games didn't include the option to display in 640 x 480, which is a shame.

    The best option if you want to play those games as well as the higher resolution games and make sure all the games look as good as possible is the VGA box with S-video/RCA/VGA hook-ups. That way you can switch into S-video mode for the lower resolution games really easily.

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  7. Yeah, you 're right!
    Nice blog by the way! Everyone loves retro! :D

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  8. Thanks for the kind words! I started this blog on pretty much a complete whim and have gotten a lot of positive feedback. Always nice to hear from a fellow retro enthusiast!

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  9. I have an RCA cable for my Dreamcast, and I am getting no signal on my AV channels. I plug it in and after a minute I still have no signal. A practical problem is that the TV is nailed to the wall and I can't see well, but I used the TV manual which tells me to plug it in top to bottom (yellow, white, red) and might have got it wrong a few times before that. My TV is an LCD LG 32inch.

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  10. This could be either a faulty RCA cable or a faulty input on the Dreamcast itself. I would see if wiggling the cable around does anything, such as a picture flickering in and out, etc.

    I doubt your plugging it into the wrong inputs if you've been careful enough to use your TV's manual, but I suppose it's possible. I would just try to do my best to get a a peek at the inputs and make sure the cable's colors are in the corresponding colored inputs. So Yellow plug goes in Yellow input, red in red, and white in white.

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  11. Thanks for writing the article :) - I'm struggling with a 'DC VGA Box' from eBay, which I can't get to work on a Dell 1780FP (specs here: https://support.euro.dell.com/support/edocs/monitors/1708FP/en/ug/about.htm#Specifications). I get a very distorted image; may I ask if you've had any success with any LCD monitors please? Cheers! Kevin

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  12. I've never not had success with LCD monitors using the cable I've got. I've used a small Dell monitor without issues. According to the specs your monitor should support the resolution and the VGA input. My guess is it could be the box or the Dreamcast itself, but as far as officially figuring out the problem, trial and error tends to be your friend. If you can, try a different monitor, different DC, different VGA cable, etc. until you've exhausted your options.

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  13. This cable have amazing features, I like this. Thanks for information.

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  14. The way of your thinking is very original. These articles would be the masterpieces.

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  15. Good read thanks. VGA is the way to go for most DC games!

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  16. Such VGA cables are triple shielded and support high video resolution of 1600 x 1200 up to 100 feet without any loss of signal.

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  17. Good info,Efficient explanation.....Thanks....


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  18. DOWNLOAD VGA ADAPTOR AND SWIFTSHADER FOR HIGH QUALITY GAMING HERE>> www.argames786.blogspot.com

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  19. The composite image looked more colorful and sharper than the vga image

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  20. Thank you so much for sharing knowledge about VGA Cables and Adapters & there features. I now think you will keep us up to date about VGA switches and other KVM Stuffs.

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  21. I am using a VGA adapter cable for gaming and it has great durability with amazing features.

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  22. Get a hanzo with scanliner it's much better for the same price.

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  23. Well I can't tell you how it will make the dreamcast look but I can tell you definitively that VGA cabling offers clearer and higher resolution output than a SCART, RGB, coax, composite, or component cable will. I use VGA cables on my CRT monitors to display 2 20'' monitors at 1900x1440 each. It may make it look clearer on your HDTV set but it will never look extremely crisp as it is always being stretched to fit that TV. The dreamcast only outputs in 480 so you will never make it higher resolution that that. If it functions anything like my component cable on my ps2 then it will crispen the image on the HDTV. There is a massive difference between composite and component. You could always give it a go and just take the cables back if they dont work. many local electronic stores have HDMI to VGA Cable for very cheap.

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  24. A fiber-optic system is similar to the copper wire system that fiber-optics is replacing. The difference is that fiber-optics use light pulses to transmit information down fiber lines instead of using electronic pulses to transmit information down copper lines. Looking at the components in a fiber-optic chain will give a better understanding of how the system works in conjunction with wire based systems.At one end of the system is a transmitter. This is the place of origin for information coming on to fiber-optic lines. The transmitter accepts coded electronic pulse information coming from copper wire. It then processes and translates that information into equivalently coded light pulses.Think of a VGA Cable in terms of very long cardboard roll (from the inside roll of paper towel) that is coated with a mirror on the inside.If you shine a flashlight in one end you can see light come out at the far end - even if it's been bent around a corner.

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