Analog video capture can be a nightmare. Capturing HDMI can be easier, but anything analog and retro is extremely hard to figure out; Both the hardware and software. This section hopes to fix that, allowing beginner-to-intermediate users with basic tools to get perfect captures of their RGB, Component and VGA hardware. I’ll also go over all the software options you’d need to process the video properly.
Video Capture Hardware
I’ll put beginner options first, but I recommend using the Datapath Vision for RGB. More on that below.
If you don’t want to go down the slippery slope of “pixel perfect” captures, there’s two easy ways to get started. Basically, just plug your consoles into these devices and don’t worry about much tweaking:
The RetroTINK products are affordable scalers, with models featuring composite, s-video, SCART and component video inputs (and the 5x has all of those). The 2x’s are simple-to-use solutions and will work well with any capture card that can accept 480p at 60 fps. The 5x can go as high as 1440p and has a lot more features, however you might not need that for basic capture.
The xrgb mini Framemeister has all the inputs of the RetroTINK 5x, as well as HDMI. It’s expensive and has a confusing and convoluted menu system, but when paired with FirebrandX’s profiles, you can get a great capture in the proper aspect ratio in 720p and 1080p. As long as you can get used to loading profiles over SD, this is one of the easiest ways to get excellent captures and is compatible with most capture cards.
The Open Source Scan Converter is an absolutely amazing scaler that does what many thought would be impossible: Zero lag scaling to 1080p, with uncompressed colors. With enough patience and knowledge of how it works, you have the potential to dial in near-perfect settings. Unfortunately, many capture cards have issues with these settings and while “generic” mode is more compatible, you won’t always get the best look.
If you already know how to use the OSSC, or have already followed FirebrandX’s guide to tweaking, then this might be an easier option for you. As long as you have a compatible capture card, you should be able to capture everything you need. That being said if you’re just learning how to do this, it might be easier to use the direct-capture method shown below, which is also a cheaper option.
I prefer to capture my classic consoles directly in it’s original RGB format with no scaler when possible. This is so I can scale the image any way I’d like in post-processing and because uncompressed 240p captures are much smaller. This method looks confusing at first, but I promise it’s not as bad as it seems.
At the moment, one series of PCIe capture cards are able to do almost everything required: The Datapath Vision series. I use the Datapath Vision E1s or E2s; Identical cards, but the “2” has two inputs instead of one.
I’ve briefly tested older versions of the Vision line and at first glance, they seemed to work well. I wasn’t able to verify against this guide, but if you have one, give it a try, as the software should be very similar.
Another excellent card for 480p and up is the Epiphan DVI2USB 3.0. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get resolutions lower than 480p working properly (I’d need to capture at 4x for the card to recognize the signal), however developer Michael Huth has created a guide and even an alignment tool for it. While I hope to someday get it working with retro-gaming resolutions, at the moment, this card should be used for resolutions between 480p and 720p, up to 60fps. Luckily, it can accept DVI, HDMI, VGA and component video, all utilizing the full RGB colorspace. Here’s Michael’s guides:
The above cards, as well as any others like them will work with VGA, component video and RGB. All signals will need a low-pass filter (LPF) applied to reduce noise, as with any analog to digital conversion. Also, the RGBs signals will need to present csync at a higher voltage than most SCART equipment outputs, often requiring a sync stripper. Luckily, there’s some inexpensive hardware that can accomplish just that:
One easy solution is to use the HD Retrovision component video cables, for consoles that are supported. Since they’re component video, you don’t need to worry about sync and they have a low-pass filter built in, so interference shouldn’t be an issue. All you’ll need is a cheap RCA to DVI passthrough cable and a coupler; Only around ten dollars of equipment!
The SCART Cleaner is an open-source (CERN OHLv2) device, designed for 15KHz (240p & 480i) retro gaming signals. This device is powered by USB, passes through audio and has toggle switches for both the LPF and sync stripper. More information can be found here: https://www.retrorgb.com/scartcleaner.html
Much like the SCART Cleaner, the Comp Cleaner is another open-source (CERN OHLv2) device, designed to accept component video signals ranging from 240p to 1080i. There’s a switchable low-pass filter that will allow you to add a low-pass filter to each range of signals. More details here: https://www.retrorgb.com/compcleaner.html
In my experience, most laptops and desktop PC’s introduce a lot of noise into the audio channels. I recommend trying your integrated solution first to see if it works for you. Hopefully you’ll get lucky and have one of the few motherboards that can record a clean signal! If not, here’s some sound cards that do an excellent job:
Both of the above solutions performed remarkably well and are verified by the MD Fourier team. I highly recommend checking out that project as well, including their Discord server: Artemio Launches MDFourier Audio Preservation Project
Software Solutions – Full Walkthrough Guides
First you’ll need to configure up your capture card (the complicated part). Then you’ll need to set up your streaming or capture software. Finally, you’ll need to know how to process the video when you’re done. Please be patient the first time you go through each section. I know it seems overwhelming at first, but I promise it’s not as bad as it seems!