Hardware Review: Beharbros Gekko HDMI Box For Dreamcast

Gekko is the latest device from self-styled artisanal retro-modders Beharbros. It takes the baton from the earlier Akura and delivers a simple method for connecting a Dreamcast to a modern HD television. Featuring the hallmark high build quality and hand-made aesthetic of the rest of the Beharbros product lineup, the Gekko represents a more pocket-friendly solution that offers similar functionality at a budget price point.
The BBS Akura (left) and Gekko (right)
In terms of form factor, the Gekko is very similar to the earlier Akura HDMI adapter, but has several features stripped out, meaning that this is a pretty painless device to set up. As with all of the boxes and cables  in this category (see our reviews of both the BBS Akura and Pound HD Link), the Gekko simply takes the VGA output signal from the Dreamcast and converts it so that it can be fed through a standard HDMI connection and into your television or monitor.

As with the aforementioned devices, there is no upscaling; the VGA 480p picture is simply passed through the internal gubbins and projected onto your screen, and if you're using a huge 4K television, the image quality will be much worse than on a 22" HD television. If you really want to get the full benefits of a device like the Gekko (or any of the others on the market), then a dedicated upscaler is what you'll need. But then, this type of device probably isn't aimed at the gamers who inhabit that end of the spectrum. If you own a Framemeister, OSSC or other similar device, then you'll likely not need something like the Gekko as your current awesome set up probably won't really benefit from the inclusion of a VGA to HDMI pass through device.
That point aside, if you are in the market for something that will allow you to connect your Dreamcast to a modern flat screen display, then the Gekko could be right up your street; and not least because it offers an interesting extra function not seen in the recently released Pound HD Link. First though, let's take a look at the physical design of the Gekko...

Sandwiched betwixt two thick slices of Perspex, the main board of the Gekko is covered in BBS logos, and the piercing blue led gives the thing an air of class. That the light illuminates the laser-etched 'Gekko' logo of the device is a nice extra touch. Beharbros' devices have always been known for their high build quality and lifetime guarantee, and that is the same here. One issue some people had with the Akura was the bespoke cable that goes from the Dreamcast to the unit, and the same type of bespoke cable is used with the Gekko. Personally, I did have an issue with this cable failing with the Akura, but Beharbros replaced it free of charge in no time at all. I have no qualms that the same would be true of the Gekko's cable, however it does appear to a slightly more robust connector than the one that originally shipped with the Akura, so time will tell.
The Gekko connects to your display using a standard HDMI cable (not included in the very reasonable $55 asking price), and overall the whole unit has a nice chunky presence to it, and just a real feel of quality. The whole device is held together with the same hex screws as the Akura and the exposed circuitry means the innards are kept cool. Bear in mind that the Gekko featured in the images on this page is a pre-production version, and Beharbros tell us that the final retail version will have an all black PCB.
So what of the extra function I mentioned earlier? Well, on the side of the Gekko there is a switch that allows you to flip between VGA and RGB mode. What this does is 'trick' the Dreamcast into recognising the Gekko as either an RGB cable or a VGA cable, thus allowing you to force some games to display in VGA mode even if they aren't officially supported. The trick is to flip the switch from RGB to VGA just after the Dreamcast boots and makes that little 'beep' sound, and viola - non-VGA games in VGA mode. It won't work for every single non-VGA title (there are some that simply will not work), although I tried it with Hydro Thunder and a few others and it worked pretty much every time. It's a nice extra feature to have and in this regard it trumps the Pound HD Link.
In terms of image quality, the Gekko slightly edges above the competition from other manufacturers. While none of these HDMI adapters upscale - they're all playing with a 480p image - they don't all give the same results in a real world test. See, where the Gekko excels above the recently reviewed Pound HD Link - Dreamcast, is that the image appears cleaner. What I mean by that, is that there are none of the (bear with me here) 'wavy' lines that sort of permeate the image as if you're using a hair dryer nearby. It's not noticeable when playing a game, but on menus and on still images or loading screens etc., it's quite obvious. This simply isn't present using the Gekko. If you've viewed the video above, you probably won't be able to see what I'm describing, but if you do decide to purchase both devices and compare them yourself, you'll see what I mean. Further to this, the Gekko appears to give a richer palette, with darker blacks and lighter whites - there's definitely a noticeably superior range in contrast and sharpness (click/tap the image below).
Pound HD Link on the left, BBS Gekko on the right
Sadly, both the Gekko and the Pound HD Link are guilty of producing a strange 'dotty' effect when it comes to gradients. This is very noticeable on larger displays, and especially when viewing the Dreamcast system menu. It's not really that big of a deal, but if you aren't prepared for it when first using one of these VGA pass through boxes/cables, then it can be a little jarring.
Pound HD Link
Ultimately though, the Gekko is a well made, high quality product that does exactly what you'd expect. That it has the added bonus of being able to also play some non-VGA games is a nice added extra, and the lower price makes it a worthy alternative to the Akura for those who have no need for a scanline generator. I do feel like I'm repeating myself now, but I have to stress that this type of device is not intended to replace your CRT VGA monitor or your RGB SCART enabled CRT television. It's squarely aimed at people who don't have those options, but may own a flat panel TV. Personally, I think every Dreamcast owner should own a device of this type, and only the desire for extra functions and, incrementally superior image quality, and budget should dictate whether you purchase the Gekko, Akura or the HD Link - Dreamcast.
As you'd expect...
...the BBS Gekko...
...is invaluable when capturing screens!
The Gekko is available to pre-order at the Beharbros website and is slated for a late August 2018 release. The pre-order price is $55 with worldwide free shipping and a lifetime guarantee.

Will you be acquiring a Gekko? Let us know in the comments, on Twitter or in our Facebook group. If you blatantly comment without even bothering to read this review first though, you will be lashed 1000 times with a piss soaked cat 'o' nine tails. Be afraid.

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This pre-production model of the Gekko was supplied by Beharbros for review purposes. Disclosure and transparency and all that jazz, m'lud.


Daniel Turner said...

good stuff Tom, i had no idea about this new one 👍

DDT said...

"If you own a Framemeister, OSSC or other similar device, then you'll likely not need something like the Gekko as your current set up will not benefit from the inclusion of a VGA to HDMI pass through device."

What? :) Actually one big reason you would want a Gekko (or Akura), is to be able to connect it to a great upscaler like the Framemeister. That way you'll get the perfect crisp VGA signal upscaled properly, and not by the TV's inferior upscaling, which could cause strange antialiasing effects, depending on how your TV treats 480 signals.

Tom Charnock said...

Thanks for your comment. What I meant was, if you’re the type of gamer who has already gone to the lengths to buy something like a FM or OSSC, then you’re already likely to have an awesome picture so buying one of these devices will likely only give marginally increased results and come with the caveat of not having 100% compatibility with the VGA library. But that sentence doesn’t mean you can’t buy one if you so desire :)

Henry McHenry said...

Great review. It is sad how VGA connectors didn't take off with TVs. This is where devices like the Gekko come into play. I like the approach, not pretentious, just get the job done.

DreamcastUK said...

Great hardware review as always and quick look video. I’m still deciding to move away from my current setup (VGA cable to HDMI spliter), these latest reviews/videos you’ve done have opened my eyes to the other options out there. Thanks Tom