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Review: N64 RGB Mod from HDRGB!

Today I have somewhat of a special treat for retro gaming enthusiasts out there. If you’re one of those people that fell in love with Nintendo’s first ever full 3D system, you should read this all of the way through. And if you’ve always wanted to really get the best color out of your beloved Nintendo 64, you should read this and then buy the darn thing. Because today, we’re talking about an RGB mod for said Nintendo 64 from a quaint, humble little shop in Canada called hdRGB. Let’s do this!

What comes with the N64 modification if you send yours in:

  • ‘RGB modify your N64 console with a signal amplifier
  • Physically modify the cartridge slot to play games from any region
  • Replace the LED to any color you want’

If you buy a premodded system from them, here’s what you’ll get:

  • ‘N64 Console: Modified NUS-CPU-04 board. RGB amplified with a THS7314DR
  • Carefully installed using high-quality parts and an efficient design. Tested and Secured.
  • High-quality cables wrapped with heat shrink and color-coded for easy identification.
  • Loose pressure on the soldering points means fewer chances of snapping or breaking.
  • This modification is non-destructive meaning you can still use your standard A/V cables.
  • Region Free- Plays NTSU-U/C/J American and Japanese Games.
  • Nintendo 64 Amp Installed Console. Region Free. Plays all U.S/Japanese Games. Fully functional/cleaned/tested.
  • Scart RGB video and audio cable (when combined with the scart-to-hdmi upscaler the system will display 720/1080p signal in 16:9 aspect ratio resolution).
  • Custom BLUE LED light (replacing the original red light).
  • Scart-to-HDMI 720/1080p upscaler. Power supply included.
  • Brand New HDMI Cable.
  • Official Jumper Pack.
  • Official Power Supply- U.S Plug. Works in the U.S.A/Canada. 
  • 6 Foot Controller Extension Cable: Great length to accommodate larger screens.
  • Official Grey Controller- Used and in good condition. Fairly tight analog stick with minor wobble, fully functional. Regular blemishes. See photos. Tested/Plays normally.
  • Brand new THS7314 RGB amplifier installed, secured and tightened safety to the console.’

And here’s a description if you’re someone buying the premodded set:

‘This unique bundle completely provides everything you need to hook-up your Nintendo 64 to a modern LCD/LED/Plasma television in stunning 720/1080p RGB signal. The scart takes the RGB signal from the system, goes into the upscaler and outputs in HDMI to your TV. No need to guess which scart cable or which upscaler to buy. Everything here is bundled complete and ready-to-go. This is a rare bundle that I have not seen on eBay. If there is anything unclear or you are unfamiliar with scart, rgb or upscalers please consult a google search for information or feel free to contact me…I have cleaned the console and tested it with an RGB upscaler in 1080p on my LCD TV so it is guaranteed to work!’

So what I will be reviewing is the individual mod that you get when you send off a Nintendo 64 to them. I felt that it was necessary to mention that you can buy a premodded system for those of you looking for a N64 and want to go big with it. But really, this review is for those of us who already have a Nintendo 64.

Details of what comes with this mod:

If you simply send in your compatible Nintendo 64 (more on that in the Practicality section), you’ll get different things than if you were to buy a premodded one. This is where a lot of the price difference comes from, aside from the obvious; that you’re not buying a N64 either. You’ll have the mod done to enable the RGB output over scart. But you’ll also have the option of having the hdRGB team install an LED upgrade as well. I had mine changed over to being a green color as that makes it feel more like a green light meaning go! While it’s in their shop, you’ll also have the option of them modifying your N64 to be able to accept NTSC-J as well. Take a look at the picture below and you’ll see that the carts are different. The mod will effectively make both versions of the cart sit in the cartridge bay! They also happily throw in a copy of an NTSC-J Nintendo 64 game so that you can see that the mod works!

It’s also worth mentioning to you all that the RGB mod is non-destructive. All that that means is that the mod that is added doesn’t do anything to destruct the body or the current AV out port. This is good for those times when you’re only on an old CRT, maybe if you take the TV to a friend’s house. Which I find to be an absolutely awesome “feature”. I really hate when my things get gutted just in the name of one small improvement.

Okay, so that’s what comes with it. But what doesn’t it come with? Well, you will have to buy a Nintendo 64 to Scart cable from them separately for $15. But trust me, it’s better that way. You don’t have to worry about sifting through countless eBay sellers. You also get the added benefit of knowing you can trust what hdRGB uses. Additionally, you’ll have to buy your own Scart to HDMI upscaler if you do not own a converter (OSSC, xRGB Mini, Framemeister) or compatible TV already. If you’re in the U.S./Canada, I’ll link the one that I bought at the bottom of the page. But there are tons of them, so no worries there.

Pricing for the N64 RGB Mod:

It’s worth noting that again, hdRGB is located in Canada. So that means all of the following price points are in Canadian Dollars. Which means, if any of you reading this are in the U.S. these prices are technically cheaper. That is all due to the fact that the current exchange rate is favorable! Onto the prices:

Shipping to U.S. from Canada: $29.99

Shipping within Canada: $19.99

Mailing in your Current N64: $90

Premodded N64 with Scart Cable: $210

Premodded N64 with Scart Cable and HDMI Upscaler: $310

Color & Video Quality:

I always thought RGB was a little too high brow for me. I thought that if I were a true retro enthusiast who pined for the nostalgic days of old, I should stick with composite on an old tube TV. How would someone who liked old games even say that they wanted anything more than a curved screen wanted something more than a retro experience. In a way, that thinking isn’t wrong per se, but as time has continued, my views have changed. CRT’s are either harder to find now or the ones you do find will be dead eventually. It will be harder and harder to play these retro systems on an older TV. So what I’ve really wanted is the best looking retro experience. That way if I plug any device into an HDTV, I can get a high-quality image out of those old low-resolution graphics. So instead of jumping and getting some crazy Ultra HDMI mod, I went for something a little more my speed. RGB exists in every Nintendo system before the Gamecube. On the Nintendo 64, it isn’t enabled to output RGB by default and that’s obviously what this mod does.

For those who are unfamiliar with what the Nintendo 64 outputs out of the box, I’ll fill you in before we go any further. You can have video over an RF modulator that’s the cable jack one and it’s horrifying. There’s the composite cable, aka RCA, aka AV, aka red, yellow and white and it’s still pretty mucky. Lastly, there is S-video which was the circular one with the small pins inside. Aside from it having fragile pins, it was the only way to get the N64 to look decent. None of these are ideal in general although they do technically work on HDTVs. But they’re even worse on an HDTV because it has to convert the dumpy analog signal to a digital one. And man does it suck at doing that! Okay, so that’s where all of this comes in.

So, you have hdRGB modify the N64 to have RGB. Then you have the correct scart cable and you have the HDMI box. So how does that look? Well, I did a fair amount of testing across my 20 something Nintendo 64 games. You can see the comparative video down below as well, I recorded 3 different games. One of them being the NTSC-J copy of Donkey Kong 64 that was included with the mod. I originally only wanted to test this on my HDTV as that was the whole purpose of the mod. But then I took to my Sony Trinitron as well to see if it looked any better on an older CRT. So let’s start with that for those of you who want to have RGB on a standard CRT.

You’ll most likely be using one of the 3 aforementioned video inputs on your old CRT. And my guess is that you’re most likely using composite. From the moment that you go from composite to scart, you’ll see a pretty big bump up. It’s not going to be as noticeable as on the HDTV, which we’ll come back to in a moment. I would say with a CRT, it really probably depends on how well the TV that you’re using outputs colors. Deeper blacks are going to be noticeable with a broader array of colors. The colors were just the greatest improvement on the CRT. I would say your mileage would vary. If you’re using an older, rounded screen CRT for light gun games, I doubt you’re going to get to be able to enjoy everything that this mod has to offer. Another thing worth noting; you’re probably not going to see sharper corners or jaggies on a CRT since there is an inherent fuzz on a screen. If you’re like me and have a Trinitron with an HDMI port, I would recommend that. Because a lot of the improvements that I saw while testing seemed to show up the most on the HDTV. You just get the best of both worlds and it’s probably going to have more aspect ratio options since it’s designed for old and new and most HDTV’s are designed for newer, digital signals that are in more rectangular aspects.

With an HDTV, you’re going to always notice the fuzz of an RF, composite, or S-Video signal. It’s just nothing that the TV can hide like an old CRT does by being SD in the first place. In the video, you’ll see that I try to get a lot of first-person views so that you can see a lot of the standard graphics at close views as well as long distance shots. Donkey Kong was probably the best representation as you have sunlight, green leaves, multicolored costumes, dark cave, etc. The video recorded below is output in 720p as well as my El Gato can’t capture in 1080p but rest assured that it looks even a little classier in 1080p. However, it’s not a huge jump up or anything. All of the elements in the game look a lot clearer through RGB. Clarity was the number one thing that I took away from this. Parts of games that I never used to be able to make out because of darkness or fogginess due to short draw distances are so much more obvious. I remember being young and having to sit closer or try to turn the brightness up to see things better in game. A lot of the composite stuff just comes off really, really dark. RGB comes off brighter and it makes words far more legible at further distances. RGB just solves a lot of the Nintendo 64’s short comings. What’s more amazing is that if Nintendo knew this, why not enable it on all iterations of the Nintendo 64 globally?

One last question I set out to answer is if split screen games somehow looked worse with RGB. I thought that for some reason having an RGB output might delay the signal. And if you’re playing multiplayer which is already taxing on the console, would the combination of the 2 slow things down? Well, I’m happy to report to you that after an hour or so playing split-screen GoldenEye, it still played great without latency. Whats more, it looked great doing it. And the more vibrant colors helped with seeing opponents at further distances and maybe even improved my accuracy!

There are a few different aspect ratios that you can play around with. None of which are going to affect the great color that RGB gives you. That will simply affect if there’s any stretch or squash happening. The further these on screen objects are stretched, the more jagged lines you may see. I found in some games you can change the aspect ratio on your TV to be the default N64 aspect ratio and try to set the upscaler to 1080p. That was one of my favorite ways to play and I felt like I saw the greatest amount of quality. But since every game is different, you may have to change stuff for different games and it does become a hassle. If you’re willing to go through that hassle like I am and your TV supports manual aspect ratio changing, great, do it. If not, just choose which resolution that you want from the upscaler and leave it there. It’s unlikely that you’re suddenly going to hate the way that it looks with just one game.

Here is some comparative gameplay (I had to cover the audio, YouTube flagged the audio on Nintendo’s behalf).

Practicality:

Is this mod practical? Is it actually worth spending the money that it takes to get this modification done? I would say that if you’re set on saving money, sending in your N64 is definitely the route to go. I can’t imagine very many people who want this don’t already have a Nintendo 64 and would buy the bundle outright. But if you are one of those people, you definitely get so much content for the money that I would also say go for it. But back to talking about the matter at hand. As I said before, you have to have a compatible version of the Nintendo 64. It seems to be that only the NTSC and NTSC J versions work, and maybe not even all of them. In order to have it done, you have to look at the first 3 numbers following the letters on the serial number of your N64 (see picture below). The US serial number has to be in the 100-199 range. The Canadian N64 needs to be in the 600-604 range. And the Japanese N64 would have to be in the 100-133 range. If you don’t have one of these, then we’re back to saying it may just be worth it to sell yours and buy a premodded bundle from hdRGB. It just wouldn’t be worth looking around town just trying to find a serial number that matches just for this. Just don’t stress and order a premodded, much easier.

But I think there is more to talk about here. Do I think that this mod is practical in terms of what it can do? Absolutely, I think that Nintendo should’ve enabled this from the start. There’s no way that better quality video wasn’t on their radar if they included a digital out port on the back of the Gamecube. They clearly knew better and decided to take some liberties with this console even though they had major competition in the PlayStation that had scart options in European countries. Europeans know that scart is king and that is another reason why I think this modification is necessary. It puts us here in North America on par with what the rest of the world already knew and was doing.

And lastly, I want to come back to the fact that this modification isn’t destructive. It keeps you with what you had before and then adds more on top of it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that i didn’t have to do any whacky wiring or converting to show what my N64 is supposed to show out of the box for composite. This thing still did all of that. Will I ever use it again? That is probably very unlikely. Is it still a feature though? Absolutely. It doesn’t offer a whole heap of features over the Ultra HDMI other than it’s a ton cheaper and you can actually get it done in no time flat. Ultra HDMI is expensive and hard to find someone who will do it. However, I’ve been watching videos comparing RGB and Ultra HDMI on N64 and I’m actually partial to the lack of scan lines that come with the RGB mod.

Overall Thoughts:

I’m going to lightning round in this section to really hit home the parts that I feel are important. I want to stress that the price is right for a mod like this. Then there’s the the non-destructive part again, I can’t emphasize that enough. If you are someone who eventually wants to install an Ultra HDMI in the future, you may be able to. Of course, that’s just me speculating. The scanlines and other tweaks in Ultra HDMI are too much for me as an individual. But if you want it done, you could always try to have RGB done first just to buy you plenty of time to save up the hundreds of dollars it will take for the Ultra HDMI to be installed. For me, this is my one and only video mod that I’m going to have done. I simply love that RGB looks great and it does it in a plug and play fashion with zero noticable latency. There are so many pros here.

Are there cons? Sure, but they’re one time cons. Buying a N64 to scart cable separately is certainly a bummer, but it isn’t a deal breaker in the slightest. Same with having to buy the upscaler to do the work of converting the signal to HDMI and outputting 720p/1080p. And lastly having to plug all of it in and using an extra power port is also a bummer. It would be nice if it was one singular cable, but again, we don’t live in one of those countries. And even still, I think we’d have to be using upscalers to make the signal look as great as possible.

Other than that, this is one of my first recommendations of 2018. It’s something I’ve been working on getting done and I thought our readers would really appreciate it. It’s from a close company as opposed to sending it off to Austria (like I did for my Dreamcast article), and it’s relatively inexpensive for sucha a high quality video mod.

Interested in the premodded N64 from hdRGB? Click here.

Interested in mailing in your compatible N64 into hdRGB? Click here and fill in your info. Or you can email them at hdrgbconsoles@gmail.com

Need to purchase that Scart to HDMI Upscaler? Click here or here.

Need to purchase that Nintendo 64 Scart cable from hdRGB? Click here. They accept PayPal via e-mail as a form of payment as well as the eBay purchases

Not interested in the N64 at all? Click here to see their other systems and services!

You can follow them on these outlets:

instagram: hdrgbconsoles
YouTube: hdRGB
Facebook: hdRGB

 

 

If you like the author’s work, follow him on Twitter @V1RACY

And as always, stay tuned here on Hackinformer.com for much more and follow us on Twitter @Hackinformer

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