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I receive a lot of email from people asking about VGA boxes, RGB monitors, scan rates, and things of a similar nature. It's a mildly complicated topic, one which I think becomes a lot more clear when you read our Video Primer and RGB Monitor Primer. Essentially the whole point of the discussion is twofold: RGB allows for the best possible image clarity for our video gaming purposes, and finding a suitable monitor for displaying these RGB images can be a problem.
Enter the Micomsoft XRGB-2. This handy little box (technically an upscan convertor) allows you to display RGB signals on your VGA monitor. Rather than purchase a monitor for the purpose of playing games, you can use your existing PC monitor. This will save you a bit of effort - you won't need to make adaptors for game systems to work on your RGB monitor, and it'll save on desk space as well.
The XRGB-2 will, however, set you back a little more than USD $200. Pretty expensive, you might think, when you consider than a VGA box for a Playstation 2 or Dreamcast can be had for less than $50. There's a lot more to it, however.
First off, a Playstation VGA box, or indeed, any commercially released VGA box in the sub-$100 range only converts regular Video or S-Video signals to a VGA compatible signal. As you read in our Video Primer, every time you convert a signal, you degrade the quality. This kind of VGA box provides a horrible picture, even compared to your regular TV. The signal has gone from four separate signals (RGB and Sync) and combined into two (Brightness/Sync and Colour) and possibly one more step - combined into Composite Video. The VGA box now decodes this signal, adding one or two more steps before the RGB signal is extrapolated. Then the box goes to work modifying the signal to VGA levels. You've gone through two or four conversion processes before the VGA upscan conversion even starts!
The Dreamcast VGA box is an exception. As seems to be Sega's habit with the Dreamcast, they were extremely forward-looking with its construction. The Dreamcast video processor is capable of outputting VGA signals without any upscan processing. A Dreamcast VGA box simply signals the DC to enter VGA mode, functions as a convenient audio amplifier for computer speakers, as well as provides a convenient breakout-box with standard Audio, Video, and S-video connectors. This is the only console to do this, ever.
The XRGB-2 device is everything that these other boxes are not. It will not only convert any RGB signal to VGA levels (including arcade boards which output over-bright levels) but it also converts Video and S-Video signals as well! This means you can connect almost anything to it. Every game system since and including the NES, every VCR, DVD and LaserDisc player, video cameras, etc etc. It features on-screen menu controls as well, and will store and remember your settings for each input source. You can adjust the horizontal position, tint, sharpness, brightness, contrast, colour saturation and even the gamma settings. VGA-passthrough is also featured, so when the unit is off your computer's VGA signal is passed through to the monitor.
It also has one feature which all other VGA convertors lack - selectable, fake scan-lines. When you run a low-resolution source and display it on a VGA monitor, every pixel becomes twice as tall. For some games this results in a filling effect, but for others it reveals flaws and can make some games very ugly. 2D fighting games suffer particularly from this. The XRGB-2 allows you to enable 'scan lines' which essentially replaces every second horizontal line with a very dark version of the line before it. While this may sound odd, in practice it actually makes the screen look a lot more like your TV did. It's likely not something you've ever noticed, but once you've seen it in practice, you'll forever wonder how it escaped your attention.
It's very well made, both internally and externally. The rear of the unit is absolutely stuffed with a plethora of input and output jacks. It features:
The front panel consists of one power switch, one sliding 'RGB STD/PCB' switch for selecting from regular RGB and arcade RGB, and six soft-touch controls. One selects the input source, one brings up the menu, and the other four navigate the menu.
The box it comes in is surprisingly heavy, until you realize what's included. It's packed with adaptors and cables of all sorts. The obligatory power cord is accompanied by a VGA male-male cable for connecting the XRGB-2 to your computer, one male-male headphone connector for your soundcard, one RCA-headphone adaptor for connecting it to a home stereo, and one cable for connection Japanese computers, which you'll likely never need.
In short, this box does it all, and it does it with class. Playing your old favourite games in RGB clarity on a VGA-quality monitor is something you have to see to believe. If your only machine is a Dreamcast, get the Sega VGA box. If you have more than one console, this is the box for you - the picture presented is far better than one derived from a cheaper VGA box which converts only Video or S-video. Sure, it's $200, but wow, what a box. Quality throughout, and there's no competition at even double the price. For the punch it packs, there is no question - money well spent.
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