Video Capture

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 Tutorial

Video Capture Hardware

I’ll put beginner options first, but I recommend using the Datapath Vision for RGB.  More on that below.

Beginner Options:

If you don’t want to go down the slippery slope of “pixel perfect” captures, there’s two easy ways to get started.

RetroTINK2x

The RetroTINK2x is an inexpensive line doubler with composite, s-video and component video inputs.  It’s a simple-to-use solution and will work well with any capture card that can accept 480p at 60 fps.  It won’t get you the best quality, but it’ll get you great quality at the least amount of effort.

Framemeister

The xrgb mini Framemeister has all the inputs of the RetroTINK, plus RGB.  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.

Intermediate Options:

The Open Source Scan Converter is an absolutely amazing scaler that does what many thought would be impossible:   Zero lag scaling to 1080p.  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.

Expert Options:

I prefer to capture my classic consoles directly in it’s original RGB format with no scaler.  This method looks confusing at first, but I promise it’s not as bad as it seems.

Capture Cards:

Datapath Vision

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.

Epiphan DVI2USB 3.0

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:

http://retronn.de/imports/capture_setup.html
http://retronn.de/imports/dvi2pcie_align_tool.html

Capture Interfaces

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:

HD Retrovision

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!

RCA to DVI Passthrough Adapter:  https://amzn.to/2GWm6Rj
RCA Component Video Coupler:  https://amzn.to/2EiNcQO
RCA to 3.5mm for Audio:  https://amzn.to/2NhmhHG

SCART2DVI

The SCART2DVI 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:  http://www.retrorgb.com/scart2dvi.html

Comp2DVI

Much like the SCART2DVI, the Comp2DVI is another open-source (CERN OHLv2) device, designed to accept 240p and 480i component video signals with a switchable low-pass filter. Higher resolutions will work, but the filter isn’t designed for ED or HDTV resolutions, so you may get some interference.  More details here:  http://www.retrorgb.com/comp2dvi.html

Other products

Voultar has also prototyped a similar product with dual DVI + SCART output designed for streamers.  He’s posted the design on OSHPark for anyone who wants to make their own, but as far as I know, no design documents are available.  I assembled one myself and it works great.  Here’s links to the device, as well as a BOM and component map that I verified.  The only difference is the DVI connector I used from Digikey needs trimming to fit.

Voultar’s Dual-Output board:  https://oshpark.com/shared_projects/6o0jvLnD
Verified BOM and Component Map:  https://www.retrorgb.com/assets/dvi/VoulSCARTtoDVI.zip

 

Audio Hardware

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, I’ve found some internal sound cards with both half-height and full-height brackets that do an excellent job:

Asus Xonar SE (preferred device):  https://amzn.to/2GRViS3
Asus Xonar DGX:  https://amzn.to/2TawITb

I’d really like to find a reliable USB audio solution as well, but haven’t been able to find one.  It’s possible that if your computer’s USB bus is “noisy” that clean USB audio capture would be impossible.

 

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!

1) Tweaking the Datapath Capture Card

2) Capturing with Amarec

3) Scaling your captures

 

Conclusion

Once again, this guide looks like a lot more work than it really is.  It might take a few tries to get used to everything, but I promise after doing this once or twice, it’ll seem like second nature.  Maybe some day, we’ll have an easy-to-use USB capture card that automatically detects all settings and eliminates all phase tuning.  Until then, setting hsize and dialing in phase is annoying, but a small price to pay for near-perfect captures.