If you’re into retro gaming, getting the best picture out of a Nintendo GameCube can be a very frustrating prospect. The original model (DOL-001) included a “digital out” port in the back, that works with a proprietary set of OEM Nintendo component (YPbPr) cables that contain a special DAC chip in the plug.
That’s not too bad, you think, but here’s the kicker: these were only available by calling Nintendo directly for a few months after the GameCube launch. No stores carried them. As might be expected with rare Nintendo products, the price of these have steadily climbed over the intervening years, with current sold listings on eBay averaging $240. That is a huge price to pay for a set of cables, no matter how rare or high quality.
Enter the GCHD, an HDMI adapter for the GameCube made by EON. It pulls audio and video from both ports on the back of the GameCube [Correction: Both the audio and video are pulled straight from the digital out port, the plug on the analogue side is a support. -Charlie], and is compatible only with the early models that contain the aforementioned digital port (DOL-001). Note that this is not an upscaler, it only outputs resolutions supported by the GameCube hardware, 480p, 480i, and 240p.
It does take quite a bit of force to get it seated in the GameCube ports, but I never felt like I would damage the adapter or the system. The adapter is also compatible with any universal remote, and includes an OSD for several features, notably including a line-double mode, 240p output for Gameboy games via the player, and a scanline generator. These features are a thoughtful addition that helps to elevate the GCHD’s usefulness.
At $150, the GCHD isn’t cheap… but, just from a pricing standpoint, it is a great value when you compare it to the OEM component cables, especially when future-proofing is factored into the picture. But is it comparable in application? We ran the GCHD through a battery of tests, pitting it against the OEM component cables, to see if it could produce!
First, obviously, Gamecube games. These tiny discs produce 480i content normally, but around 200 NTSC titles can be optionally put into 480p by holding the “B” button while booting your system up. In our tests, 480i fed directly into our HDTV looked… like 480i on an HDTV. While this was a great resolution for standard-definition televisions, HDTVs don’t handle it particularly well. Bear in mind, though, that this is also an issue for the component cables outputting the same resolution directly into an HDTV.
Luckily, pretty much all of best and most popular GameCube games support 480p (for a full list, check out this article)… first party favorites like Smash Bros. Melee, both Zeldas, the Metroid Primes, Mario Kart Double Dash, as well as most of the big sports and third party titles.
The output to my HDTV on 480p GameCube titles through the GCHD is stunning. Colors are vibrant, the sound is crystal clear, and while there are some visible jaggies, that’s more a result of 3D 480p upscaled graphics than any failing on the part of the GCHD.
One of the most-sought after reasons for a high quality output for the Gamecube is its ability to play the entire range of Gameboy titles on a TV. EON smartly included the option to force 240p output over HDMI, supported by using the Gameboy Interface program, a homebrew application that can be initialized via the SWISS utility using a bootloader. This ensures an accurate output that can be captured directly or upscaled by an external device, as opposed to the GameCube doing its poor internal upscale to the video signal. That’s a very niche solution, but its inclusion shows that EON knows their audience.
it’s worth mentioning when we look at the field of retro indie hardware developers, that when we reached out to EON with questions, they responded promptly (within a few hours) and helped us work through some of the more granular details of the device.
VS. COMPONENT – VERDICT
Now, the real question… is the end result (important distinction) of GCHD better than the crazy-expensive OEM Component cables? In my opinion, not quite, but the margin is so, so slim, and there are other factors at play. Because of that, the GCHD is an amazing solution. For the above gameplay video, I ran both the OEM component cables (FirebrandX profiles for GC Progressive and GBP) and the GCHD (HDMI passthrough) through a Micomsoft Framemeister scaler to my capture card, for consistency.
The picture is essentially identical, with the white balance (note the word bubbles in Paper Mario in the aforementioned video) and color purity slightly favoring the component cables. I did account for a bit of optimization differences and bias due to using the hyper-refined profiles from FirebrandX. This is important, because to get the full benefit of the component cables on your HDTV, you’ll need a scaler, which is a significant additional cost. Most TVs internal scalers won’t do any favors to a GameCube video output, especially at 240p.
That is the main area where the GCHD crushes the OEM offering… compatibility and future-proofing. 240p over HDMI is an out-of-spec signal that not every TV might take, but, even playing Gameboy games using the 480p output in the menu looks great. And, it’s HDMI. Component inputs are slowing disappearing from modern HDTVs. My new 4K set is HDMI only, and I don’t anticipate that trend changing.
In the end, if you’ve already invested in an OSSC, Framemeister, or other scaler and have your eye on those component cables, and deep pockets, it’s possible to get a slight, slight bump in quality over the EON GCHD. However, for everyone else who wants a huge improvement on their GameCube video signal, great build quality, and excellent support, the GCHD fits the bill. It’s not inexpensive, but it is a quality product, and when you look at the alternatives, the GCHD is absolutely an amazing NintenDeal!
Disclaimer: NintenDeal was provided a GCHD review unit by EON. Thank you EON!
Charlie’s first attempts at gaming did not go well. Repeated, failed run-ins with the first Goomba in Super Mario Brothers 1 plagued his maiden gaming voyage. Undaunted, he would go on to become an avid gamer of all platforms, with Nintendo always sitting atop the highest pedestal. Except for that Halo 3 incident in 2007. We don’t talk about it. It never happened.
Currently, Charlie enjoys playing games on as many platforms as he can get his hands on, with current favorites being the Switch, 3DS and Neo Geo. When he’s not playing games, Charlie is a live sound engineer and manager for his production company, Clear Harmonies, based in Washington, D.C.
Charlie enjoys talking about games nearly as much as playing them, and loves meeting new people, so hit him up!
Plays: All of them games. Seriously.