GBA Cartridges on a Display

GBA systems display video at a resolution of 240x160 at a non-standard frequency (about 59.xHz). For it to be displayed on a TV or monitor, it needs to be converted to standard resolutions and their matching refresh rate, often resulting in frame stutter and windowed gameplay. This page will describe the current methods of playing GBA (as well as GBC games) on a TV or monitor. Game Boy-only options are described in the Super Game Boy page. Also, if you're not familiar with terms such as 480i, 480p, or interlaced video, I suggest you read through the 240p page before continuing.


Here are the current methods for playing GBA games on a TV or monitor:


Game Cube and Game Boy Player:

Much like the Super Game Boy, the Game Boy Player (abbreviated as 'GBP' on this page) is an attachment for the Game Cube that allows you to play GB, GBC and GBA games through your Game Cube's output.  At the moment, if you use it in conjunction with the GBI software, it's (in my opinion) the best way to play GBA cartridges on a TV.  Please see the GBP section for more info.

 

Wii U Virtual Console:
The Wii U has Virtual Console versions of some GBA games that look great.  As long as the game you're looking to play is available, it's a great choice.  Please check out the GBA on Wii U page for more info.

Retron 5:
The Retron 5 can play GB/GBC/GBA cartridges, but it has some shortcomings.  There's much more info available in the Retron 5 Review Page, but to summarize:  There is a lot of controller lag on the Retron 5 when playing GB/GBC games, but not much delay at all with GBA.  Overall, it isn't a bad solution, but I'd prefer to use official Nintendo hardware.

 


Super Retro Advance / Tototek Adapter:
There is an adapter available that allows you to play GBA games (but not GB or GBC) "through" your SNES. It plugs in just like the Super Game Boy and is powered by your SNES...but it has it's own separate video output, which is composite-video only.


Innovation TV-Out mod:
A company called Innovation made a TV-out kit that can be installed in the GBA. This had the potential to be an excellent solution, however it only outputs in 480i, resulting in a "flickery" picture. Also, a proper installation can be quite tricky.


Wide Boy 64:

The Wide Boy 64 is a Super Game Boy-like adapter for the N64. There are a few different versions, each designed so game reviewers can capture audio and video of handheld games using the N64's multi-out.  There are two versions:  One that only plays GB/GBC and one that plays GBA/GBC and GB.  They are rare and REALLY expensive, but produce a decent picture.  More info below.


 

Output Comparison:
Since the GBP is overall the best solution at the moment, I'll compare each of the other methods directly to it.  Each comparison was done at the same time with a fixed tripod and each picture had the exact same manual camera settings; I really wanted to make sure I took the most accurate pictures possible.


Game Boy Player forced 240p output via GBI or Swiss -
(240p photos will look identical for both):

If you have a modded Game Cube (or SD loader), you can force 240p output from your Game Cube (more info in the Game Boy Player page). At the moment, this is the best possible quality you can get from a GC / GBP. I'll need some time to take good comparison shots, but I wanted to put something on here right away to show the difference, so I used my PEXHDCAP card and my NTSC GameCube outputting RGB & VGA to take a screen capture comparison of the GBP running in native 240p vs 480p.  Both are in "normal" mode, with no filters or stretching.  You can see the 240p setting looks great.  Check back soon for proper pics:

 

Game Boy Player 480p - 240p via Extron Emotia:

If you want to use the original GBP boot disc, you can still get 240p without any console modding. This requires using an Extron Emotia to down-convert the signal from 480p to 240p (more info in the VGA to RGB page). Here's how the output chain looks:

GC/GBP Component video cables -> component to VGA converter -> Extron Emotia -> RGB monitor

The end result looked very good and (in my opinion) the 240p scanlines made the video output look much closer to what you'd expect. It wasn't as sharp as the Innovation adapter, but overall it was a better look. Unfortunately, this is a complicated and expensive solution, so unless you already have the equipment required, I wouldn't suggest this method. Click the picture for a full-size view:

 

Wii U Virtual Console:

The Wii U does a great job displaying GBA games, as long as you run it in the "pixel perfect" mode. It even looks great on a CRT, both running in 480p and downscaled to 240p. Something to note: If you set your Wii U to 480p widescreen, you can run GBA games in "pixel perfect" mode and they'll fill the whole screen, since the GBA's vertical resolution of 160 pixels can be multiplied 4 times to make 640. This is a great option for a 480p widescreen CRT or possibly even 480p/720p flat-screen TVs. That being said, if you have a 1080p display, running the GBA game in 1080p "pixel perfect" mode won't fill the whole screen, but it will look better then running 480p in full-screen. More info is available on the GBA on Wii U page, but overall, it's my opinion that the games look even better then the GBP. Also, you can click the picture below for a full-size view:

 

Retron 5 vs Wii U in 720p:

There's much more info in the Retron 5 review, but I wanted to include a picture comparison on this page as well.  Also, since the only resolution supported by the Retron 5 is 720p, I thought the only fair comparison would be to the Wii U Virtual Console.  Overall, the Wii U seems to look a bit better, as the Retron 5 looks like the contrast and brightness are too high.  Overall, I'm not a big fan of the Retron 5 as a solution though:

 

Super Retro Advance:

The Super Retro Advance only outputs composite video and the aspect ratio is off.  That being said, for the money, it's a surprisingly good solution.  Please check out the SRA review for more info (click for full-sized).

 

GBP vs Innovation Adapter:

Since the Innovation adapter only outputs 480i, I wanted to test it against all stock outputs from the GBP, both with the component video cables, as well as the PAL RGB cable (more info on GC outputs can be found here).  The Innovation adapter (lower-right picture) has a sharp video output, but when comparing with the GBP's original boot disc, the GBP in 480p was a better choice, due to the 480i interlace flicker in the other options.  Any of the 240p solutions will be a better choice in most scenarios.  Click the picture for the full-sized versions:

 

Wide Boy 64:

Thanks to Zachary Lobertini, aka Mic The Microphone I finally had the chance to test a Wide Boy 64 for myself!  The video looked pretty good, as long as you pressed Z and turned off the filters that are on by default.  Unfortuately the zoom modes weren't great;  Just hitting zoom on my TV looked better and neither looked as good as the Game Boy Interface's zoom (or running a Game Cube through a processor that zooms, like the Framemeister or DVDO's).  The sound was pretty disappointing though and in my opinion really took away from the expereince. 

If the Wide Boy 64 was as cheap as a Super Game Boy, I wouldn't be as critical of the sound and I would probably rate it almost equal to the GC/GBi solution, because of ease of use (just buy it and plug it into an N64) and because it looks great through the UltraHDMI.  Unfortunately, for the amount of money it sells for, you can get an HDMI-modded GC with a GBP, plus an SD card solution to run the GBi...AND combine it with a high-end DVDO scaler.  Even all that is still much cheaper then just the Wide Boy 64.  For that kind of money, this is a collectors-only device and for general use, I'd definitely recommend using a GBP/GBi combo instead.

See for yourself below:  The first two screenshots are taken via an RGB mod through an OSSC (click for full-sized).  The bottom picture is actually taken via the UltraHDMI in 1080p with the de-blur feature turned on.

Finally, here's a video that demonstrates the two different filters, zoom mode and sound.  It was taken via an RGB-modded N64, through an OSSC (Open Source Scan Converter) in 720p and into a USB3HDCAP:

 


 

Conclusion:

When I play GBA games, my first choice is (shockingly) the Wii U Virtual Console on my 1080p plasma, using a SNES controller via a Wii Controller Adapter.  That's pretty surprising, since I almost always prefer the look of a CRT.  If the game I'd like to play isn't available on the Virtual Console, I'll then use the GBP via GBi - Sometimes via the ULL version on a CRT and other times on a flat-screen. 

Please click here to go back to the GBA page.