Tuesday, September 20, 2016

RetroUSB AVS

Recently picked up a RetroUSB AVS console and wanted to write-up a little review and first impressions for it.

I wasn't really planning on buying one of these, mainly because I already invested in RGB Modding my NES and have it hooked up to an XRGB Mini, but the price was right enough for an impulse-buy.  Figured I'd see how it stacks up in comparison to taking the more expensive route with modding an original console.

First things first, packaging.




Pretty simply designed box, no frills, nice bright red.
Inside, everything is securely divided, but the quality of the inside dividers are a bit flimsy and you can see from mine there was some crushing that happened during shipping from the small tear and crumpling in the middle.  No matter, the AVS is still in perfect shape but I figured I should mention it.



The AVS comes with an HDMI cable, a USB cable and a USB power adapter.  One of the things I love about this system is that it can run off the USB as the main power source. This is great for keeping cables tidy, and doesn't require an extra wall socket if your TV has a USB port for it to tap into.


The design of the AVS is pretty slick and pays homage to the original NES. Unlike other HD clone systems out there that try to pose as more than it is, the AVS has a humble design that is in tune with the history of the system it's honoring.  Even the build quality feels like an NES! Slightly thin plastic like the original, but still sturdy and solid.



Back of the console has 3 ports: HDMI for A/V, USB for power and firmware updating, as well as uploading high scores to an online Scoreboard. The third connector is a Serial port for Famicom Expansion.  But that online Scoreboard sounds awesome, can't wait to try it out!


Here's a picture of how a standard NES cart plugs into the system.


The slot itself has a vice-like grip, and games that are inserted work first try.  So no need to blow your carts...but you should NEVER BLOW YOUR CARTS. Blowing is not a proper solution to making your old NES games play reliably. BITD people blew on their cart PCB's, introducing a slight bit of moisture to the connection to get it to boot-up. But this only exacerbated the problem as over time your cart PCB's would accumulate film and rust!  The best thing to do is get a couple cotton swabs and some Isopropanol to rub the grim and dust build-up on the contacts. Don't worry about the label on the back of your cart warning you not to use anything but Nintendo's official Cleaning Kit. It's exactly the same thing, rubbing alcohol. They just wanted to make more money on their product line.

Anyway, unfortunately I don't have any Famicom carts on me at the moment, but there is another connector under the hood that takes the Japanese carts in a standing position. Not an ideal position for those who want to keep the lid closed, but oh well.

I should mention that the plastic matches my NES controllers almost exactly. There is even a slight yellow tinge to it, as if it were sun-kissed like my aging controllers.


The menu system is pretty straight-forward and understandable right off the bat.  5 options:  Start Game, Cheat Codes, Input Options, Video Options and Scoreboard.


The Video output is really nice. It's maxed at 720p, which is perfectly fine for the original resolution being upscaled since it multiplies cleanly. Also scanlines look great and you can change their intensity.


I should mention that when I use my RGB modded NES and XRGB-mini combo, I also to use 720p w/ scanlines on because it looks better on that set-up than it being upscaled to 1080p.

In terms of lag, I haven't noticed any. Playing RC Pro Am is a pretty twitch based game and requires some fine tapping of the d-pad for making some subtle turns around the curvy tracks. It felt great and just like the original. I will eventually test more games with this but so far it's perfect. On my XRGB set-up I do feel a slight feeling of lag, not that I've measured it, but the AVS could have a slight advantage in that department.

So far I think this is the best HD NES clone unit out there. The price is right, it sits in that zone of not being crazy expensive but not cheap that you fear the quality level. From a software standpoint the system options are all anyone really needs.  I would say that not being able to tweak these options without having to restart the system is a bit cumbersome, but hopefully this can be changed in a firmware update. Another thing I hope they add is a soft reset by pressing all the controller's buttons at once. This might go against the spirit of the NES console, but it would be a nice upgraded feature.

All in all I'm happy I impulse-bought this. RetroUSB has been a great product provider, and I still swear by the Powerpak for my NES needs. I can also say their customer service is excellent. I've sent multiple emails to them asking questions about this unit, as well as if they plan on updating their mappers for the Powerpak (which they plan to in the future - hoping for VRC7) and they've been promptly responsive within 24 hours.

To support their commitment to this system, RetroUSB also released a slew of homebrew games, one of which called Twelve Seconds looks the most interesting out of the bunch. I'll maybe pick it up later on to try out but for now I'm going to play some of my other games and see if I can put up some decent high scores!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

CPS2 Multi Kit complete!

Here's my Yellow CPS2 Multi Kit! Yellow rental case, new custom label, yellow LCD holder and yellow Service/Volume buttons!  




The kit is Darksoft's CPS2 Multi add-on board. It's a great piece of hardware that plugs into a donor CPS2 B-board (the game board) and takes an SD card for loading up all the CPS2 games. Installation wasn't too difficult as it was mainly plug-n-play, except for one small solder job to add reset functionality. 
The LCD is attached for selecting games and displaying what current one is loaded. 

Damn it feels good to be a gansta. ;)


Monday, March 28, 2016

CPS2 Multi Kit - Alternative Label

For my CPS2 Multi Kit, I was looking for a label that follows the theme of a majority of the original CPS2 labels. Something simple, that clearly states what it is, paying homage to the creators of this kit, and with more characters representing each game and in the classic all-blue look.

I decided to quickly pull together a label for myself:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

GCW Zero button update!

I recently got some new buttons and d-pad for my GCW Zero!



These new buttons are awesome upgrades, and feel so much better than the stock buttons that originally ships with the GCW.
Circular motions on the d-pad are smoother, and more precise, while the buttons feel more responsive and "solid".  Additionally, they're all a lot more quiet!
Besides, buttons in all red are pretty snazzy now. :)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Bullet Reign!

harveybirdman's BulletReign marquee! (on BYOAC).





harveybirdman's idea behind this project is to create a shumps tribute cabinet, hosting a slew of original PCB's of classic shmup titles.  The artwork theme is to re-create the older marquee look of some of those classic games from the mid-80's to the early 90's.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Original GBA Back-light Mod!

The Gameboy Advance is one of the last best 2D consoles to have graced the gaming world. I recently got back into GBA games but was tired of using my GBA SP due to the small buttons/d-pad, tiny case to hold, and crummy audio output. Not forgetting Nintendo's choice of forcing players to use an adapter just to be able to hook up earphones.

I wanted to play on my original GBA (AGS-001), but without a backlit screen, it's really difficult to stay interested.   SOoooo, I decided to look-up modding it for a backlight screen!
You can replace the original non-backlit GBA LCD with an SP's screen. A pretty simple mod, all you need is to hook it up via a ribbon adapter cable found online, and with a little case modding and a few solder points you have a perfectly comfortable playing experience on your trusty GBA!



I was able to find 2 non-working GBA SP's as donors, I do not condone ruining perfectly working units for this mod, or any type of mod that needs donor parts.


Whenever I mod anything, I try to keep as organized and clean as possible. I use painters tape to keep screws and parts separated and like to write labels on the paper to keep track of where things go (of course in this day in age, we have cell phone cameras to help as well!).  Here's are the parts disassembled for 2 GBA's.



I decided to spend a bit more money on getting the ribbon cable that has the 5-brightness settings, via toggling Select+L. I didn't want to put any janky switches into the case, and I prefer having more dimming options than just the 2-settings that a majority of ribbon adapters out there have.



Ribbon adapters connected to the SP LCD's:



The mod itself is pretty easy. Really the toughest part about it is cutting the plastic tabs inside the case so that the GBA SP LCD fits:


Here are the tools I used for the case modding:


Only 3 wires to solder onto the mainboard:



And voila!  Jimmy is happy!




Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Updates to Arcade Sticks

Decided to update my arcade sticks.


The shmup stick is now fully complete. I replaced the buttons with Sanwa OBSF's w/ clear plungers, converted it to a 6-button layout, and added a new flame ball-top!

I returned my fighting game stick to the stock overlay, and ended up cutting a new port panel (by hand) out of Black Acrylic.  This was done using only a Scoring Tool for cutting the Acrylic, a Rotary Tool for the rough-cuts, and a set of Shaping Files to get the clean edges and rounded corners.
Made for a much cleaner outcome this time, and used a smaller more square-sized RJ45 port (squares a lot easier to cut out evenly than ellipses):


Here's a comparison of the old Port Panel, to the new one. Definitely an improvement:

Cleaned up the wiring, added silent switches to the Sanwa JLF Joystick and Silent Pads to the buttons.



*Bonus pic: Decided to hook up my Dreamcast for some Under Defeat shmup action!  My Gradius stick works really great with that game, having an octo-gate LS-58 joystick, and Dreamcast support using the PS360+ via an RJ-45-to-DC cable.