I went a little nuts and got a Dreamcast last weekend off of Craiglist to celebrate its 10th anniversary. While playing Dreamcast on a 13" CRT connected through RCA composite was okay 10 years ago, I'm no longer a broke college student, so I wanted to get the best Dreamcast video experience possible.
The Dreamcast was ahead of its time in many ways-including its video output, which supports 480p. Unfortunately though, this resolution is only available through a VGA D-sub connector provided by the Dreamcast VGA adapter
. I chose one from an Amazon.com vendor which works perfectly. They do appear to vary wildly in quality, but I would take the risk and buy a 3rd-party box because the official SEGA VGA box costs much more.
If your HDTV has a VGA port, this is all you will need to connect. However, most HDTVs these days only have HDMI or component inputs. To get the 480p signal from the VGA box to your VGA-less HDTV, you will need a VGA to HDMI adapter.
I used this Monoprice adapter for my setup
. The price is right, although you don't have a lot of configuratibility. My TV reports the resolution coming from the VGA to HDMI adapter as 4:3 480p, which is perfect for my HDTV, since it is a 4:3 (fullscreen) native device. I assume the same 480p 4:3 signal would be output to a widescreen TV, and it would be up to the user to decide whether to stretch or "pillarbox" their TV.
As for the image quality, it is significantly better than murky, blurry composite input I was using previously. With the aid of progressive scan and full RGBHV color separation, motion is much more fluid and colors are bolder and more accurate. Although it doesn't push as many pixels as the newer systems, Dreamcast still looks great on the big screen. I could not detect any scaling lag as I played through Crazy Taxi
and Power Stone 2
. If you are playing Dreamcast via composite or svideo on an LCD or DLP panel, this will certainly cut down lag as the TV will no longer have to scale the 480i image produced by the DC up to your panel's native resolution.
The image produced by the adapter slightly too small for the TV and bowed on the edges, but that likely has as much to do with the imperfect geometry of my CRT-based HDTV than it does with the adapter.
Audio out is provided on the Dreamcast VGA box via a stereo mini jack or dual RCA audio. You can plug the audio in directly to your TV or receiver from there, or you can plug it into the HDMI adapter and have the audio digitized along with the video. I chose to use the HDMI adapter for audio as well as video, taking audio from the stereo mini jack on the VGA box to the dual RCA audio inputs on the VGA to HDMI adapter. The audio is very hot...I have to turn my receiver down about 20 "notches" to match the level of volume of other sources. I haven't determined if this is caused by the VGA box or the HDMI adapter yet, but I'll update this article once I figure it out.
All in all, if you still play your Dreamcast and you want the best possible connection to your HDTV, you need the VGA box and the HDMI to VGA adapter. Especially if you're using a flat panel, the improvement is well worth the price.