Buffing A Classic Console
While it may not be Nintendo’s most successful console, I have a special place in my heart for the Nintendo 64, their first console with native 3D support (Though there were a few games on the SNES with 3D provided by a special chip in the game cartridges themselves). From Super Mario 64 to Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Donkey Kong 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and many others, it has its share of games that are remembered as classics.
The catch is, if you’re using the original hardware, it’s not simple to hook it up to modern TVs. Some don’t even have composite AV inputs anymore, or if they do, the result is a picture that doesn’t look as good as you remember if you don’t have an old tube TV to play it on.
The folks at EON decided to do something about that with the Super 64. Released on July 22nd, 2019, It’s a device that plugs into the AV Out on the back of your console, with an HDMI port on the back. It promises to provide an upscaled 480p output (twice the standard resolution used in most games) on your modern TV, with no external power required, no added input lag, no console modding, and an optional “Slick Mode” image enhancement feature. It makes some pretty bold claims, and it has a rather bold price tag at $149.99 USD. So let’s dive in and see how it holds up to its boasts!
An Eye For Quality
From the moment I received our review unit, I got the impression they weren’t cheaping out or cutting corners. Even the box it comes in seems lovingly crafted to resemble an N64 console, very similarly to how they designed their previously released GCHD adapter for the Gamecube.
The device itself is quite small (It barely extends beyond the footprint of the AC adapter) and fits neatly into the AV Out socket, with a small “foot” at the opposite end for stability. The build quality is very good; they definitely didn’t use cheap-o plastic here – it feels solid. Like the product’s claim, the only port on this thing is an HDMI port on the back. There are no other connections or anything else, other than a small button to engage the “Slick Mode.”
Thus, it operates entirely on power from the console itself. This made me wonder just how it was going to push out an upscaled and lagless HDMI signal given that it can’t possibly be getting much juice from that AV port. It apparently has enough to spare, though, since it has two LEDs on the top that light up when the console is turned on and to indicate if Slick Mode is on.
Nothing left to do but try it out I suppose!
Let’s Get Super
I’ll be honest, while I still had it set up with AV cables to my fairly old HDTV, I haven’t played my N64 in a quite a while. Seizing the opportunity of this review, I popped in Perfect Dark, one of my favorite games on the system, and was quickly greeted with a crisp, clean, pixel-perfect 480p image with none of the interference artifacts common to composite output on tube TVs.
The N64 is normally only running at 480i or less, so going from interlaced to progressive does make the low resolution of the console abundantly clear. However, it is completely free of interference, and the upscale to 480p allows for the image to be enhanced by the device by pushing the Slick Mode button on the Super 64. Doing so applies a nice smoothing effect to object edges, both in 2D and 3D games. Overall, the Slick Mode feature usually made games look much nicer on larger screens, although in a few cases, games with very clear pixel text look a bit blurry. Your mileage may vary from game to game. “Videophiles” looking for the pixel perfect look may not like this feature as much, however if you’re just looking to play the N64 on a modern TV with modern connections, you’ll definitely appreciate this feature.
The device claims that it introduces no lag to the output, which is a bold claim considering that it is capable of altering the output image with Slick Mode. However unscientifically, I played the same game for a while, with and without the SUPER64 attached. Overall, I didn’t feel like the device was impacting my performance in any way. Due to the lack of a capture card that accepts regular AV input, I couldn’t do a more scientific comparison, but I can assure you that if the device introduces any lag at all, it is so little that it is imperceptible.
One other thing to be aware of is this device uses a line-doubling technique to convert the 480i signal to 480p. This may be incompatible with certain capture cards. I had issues procuring screenshots for this review before contacting EON for help. They worked with me and determined that my internal capture card (Avermedia Live Gamer HD 2) didn’t like the line -doubled input produced by this device, and so I had to use a different device to capture screenshots (Some research has indicated to me that this capture card has issues with multiple AV to HDMI adapters, so this isn’t in any way a fault of the Super 64). Their support was top notch and this was the only issue of any kind I encountered with the device. Most capture devices should work, unfortunately mine does not.
Wrapping It Up
The Super 64 says it offers the best possible video quality you can get out of the N64 console, and without any hardware modification. On the whole, my determination is it lives up to that claim in every way. The only way to get a better image would be to go to emulation (i.e. not using the original hardware), or to modify your console. This device is a great follow up to their previous Gamecube adapter, with the only downside being it doesn’t appear to have the hidden options menu to tweak the video output. But that’s probably due to N64 hardware limitations; the GCHD connected to both of the video outputs on the Gamecube (digital and analog) and thus had more to work with and probably more power available, so I can’t hold that against it.
Really, the only downside is the steep price of just shy of $150 in the US. This product has a niche audience thus has a niche price, but for the people this product applies to, there is really no substitute. This is the only product of it’s kind on the market. It does live up to all of its claims, but I have to ding it just a little bit for the price.
~ Final Score: 9/10 ~
Review unit provided by EON. Box image courtesy of EON. Screenshots and product photo taken by reviewer.