So, you want the so called 'Dreamcast 2' (don't get me started on that!), you want a HD Dreamcast, right? You want the ability to play Dreamcast games online? Download DC software and run it on original hardware? Play with a wireless DC controller?
Well, what if I were to tell you that all of those features are available to you right now, today.
Yes, I apologise if I sound patronising to those of you who are regular readers and keep up with Dreamcast developments, but I'm here to tell you anyway, that all of those features and more are available to you already...just so long as you have deep enough pockets to shell out on the numerous devices required.
Let's start from the top...
Choosing a VGA box
As all Dreamcast owners know, to get the best picture out of the DC, you'll need a VGA cable or box. This of course allows you to play DC games in glorious 480p. Many people dismiss the cheap Chinese cables as poor quality rubbish, but in my experience, they do the job just fine and look great. The problem arises when trying to play games that aren't compatible with VGA, leaving you to switch out your VGA cable for RGB Scart/JP21 and play in 240p.
Some of these so called 'non-VGA compatible' games can however be forced into VGA mode. Any VGA box (not cable) will do the job (this is nothing new, I'm just repeating what others have said countless times). Simply set the VGA box to RGB mode, turn the console on and as it's booting up, switch to VGA mode. It can take a bit of practice to get the timing right and I recommend that you Google it for more information, but it's certainly doable.
The best VGA box is generally considered to be the TORO. Why? Well, it has both a VGA and RGB connection, allowing you to seamlessly switch between the two. Plus, it also has a few extra features such as the ability to output a 480p signal via Scart, add scanlines and more. Having said that, it's not cheap. I recommend to anyone with a direct VGA connection on their monitor/TV to check the list of VGA compatible Dreamcast games for yourself and decide whether the TORO is worth the price tag.
Displaying the Dreamcast on a modern TV
If you have a VGA connection on your TV then displaying the Dreamcast on your set is easy...or so you'd think. The Dreamcast via RGB outputs in standard resolution (240p) that your television can interpret and display in the perfect aspect resolution via its standard 4:3 setting, which is great!
When booted in VGA mode however, the DC outputs in the unusual 720x480p resolution, but only uses the inner 640x480p. Most 480p signals from other consoles and devices output in 640x480p which your TV is designed to display perfectly in 4:3 mode, but many modern TVs have not been designed with 720x480p in mind, meaning the image will appear squashed when set to 4:3 or stretched in widescreen mode, making the perfect aspect ratio unattainable. If you're using a PC monitor or a TV that allows you to manually adjust the aspect resolution, such as old school analogue monitors, then this won't be a problem. Simply adjust the image manually by eye or use software such as 'The 240p Test Suit' to adjust your monitor/ TV's aspect ratio and settings perfectly to suit the DC (240p Test Suite can be easily downloaded to disk or SD card for use with GDEmu).
For the majority of you however, you've probably moved on to modern flat screen televisions, most of which won't allow you to hit the sweet spot between 4:3 and widescreen.
The solution is not cheap, but the results are fantastic:
The Framemesiter XRGB-Mini is a device designed to upscale retro game consoles to 720p/i or 1080p/i with optional scanlines, minimal lag and countless more features through HDMI to your modern television set. It's not cheap (around $300), but if you have a large collection of games consoles or deep pockets then it's definitely worth the price of entry.
Coming back to the issue of the Dreamcast's unusual output (720x480p), this device allows you to play the Dreamcast in the perfect aspect ratio. Take a look at the pictures below (photos were taken with my iPhone so I apologise for the poor quality, but I think you'll get the idea):
|1. Dreamcast in VGA mode displayed in default 4:3 aspect ratio|
|2. Dreamcast in VGA mode displayed using the XRGB mini|
Optimal Framemeister XRGB Mini settings:
- Image_Mode: Picture
- Screen_Set: Normal2 (this is where the correct aspect ratio is set)
- Auto_Scaler: Off
- H_Scaler: 6
- V_Scaler: 3
- V_Pos: 33
- H_Width: 38
- V_Width: 33
- Brightness: 23
- Gamma: 14
- Sharpness: 1
- Black: 1
- A/D Level: 131
One last point regarding use with the XRGB Mini is that you have the option of outputting audio through JP21/Scart or RCA cables. I can't tell the difference myself, but many swear by RCA cables over Scart when it comes to audio clarity. This is definitely something worth considering for optimal sound quality.
Playing downloaded games on the Dreamcast
We all know about the Dreamcast's ability to play burned CDs so I won't go into detail here, but as I'm sure many of you already know, there are two other options for playing downloaded games: GDEmu and USB-GDROM.
Much has already been written about such devices here at the Junkyard, so I suggest you scroll back through some of the past entries or do a simple Google search for more information. Needless to say, both devices provide you with an easy means of playing 99% of downloaded Dreamcast software flawlessly, just as if you were playing the original GD-ROM and actually improves the experience by minimising load times.
Again, this is a topic that has been covered in great deal elsewhere, so I suggest you check out the plethora of information available via Google. I have high hopes for the soon to be released DreamPi but as of today your only options are to either buy a pricey broadband adapter or set up a PC-DC server. I went with the simpler BBA route.
DIY Super Dreamcast
As of late, there has been much talk regarding the 'Dreamcast 2,' 'Dreamcast Deluxe' or 'HD Dreamcast.' Whether or not any of these ideas will ever see the light of day is not for me to speculate, but what I want to show you is that many of the promised features of such systems are already available to you, today.
Here's a rundown of my setup (not including random peripherals - switch in an Arcade Stick/ Lightgun/Train Controller as needed):
Dreamcast x 2
>Regular DC for GD-Rom games
>GDEmu fitted Dreamcast for loading games/ other digital content from SD card
Broadband Adapter for online play/ DLC
Toro VGA box
>output 480p VGA signal through a scart cable into the XRGB Mini
>force select games that aren't VGA compatible into 480p
>play non-VGA games via RGB Scart
Framemeister XRGB Mini + Scart + Scart to JP21 converter + RCA cable
>Upscale games to 1080p via HDMI cable
>Allow Dreamcast games to be played in the intended aspect ratio
>RCA cable for superior sound when compared to Scart/JP21
>Minimal input lag
>1P VMU + Rumble Pack
>2P VMU + Action Replay CDX for cheats and playing games from other regions
>3P VMU x 2 for maximum memory
>4P VMU x 2 for maximum memory
Dream Eye web camera
>for taking selfies of yourself enjoying the ultimate bad boy DC set up
Possible ways to improve the above setup
- Use Dream Conn wireless controllers.
- Insert official x4 Memory cards in place of regular VMUs for added storage.
- Add a keyboard and mouse.
- In place of the RGB Mini/ Toro combo use the soon to be released Dreamcast HD mod by Ash Evans.
- Mod the disk based system to be region free.
- Connect a DC Karaoke unit for shits and giggles.