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On paper at least, the Gamecube’s Game Boy Player seems like a great bit of hardware. Containing exactly the same hardware as a real Game Boy Advance, the player can bring the thousands of Game Boy games to the big screen without using emulation. The reality of the device isn’t quite so stellar however. As we discussed in our article, Advancing the GBA to the big screen, over-soft scaling, frame-rate issues that cause stuttering and input lag are unfortunately problems that plague the device. Until recently, most gamers assumed these shortcomings were inherent to the hardware, but thanks to an interesting new software release from Extrems over on the GC Forever forums, it seems that at least some of the problems can be corrected in software. Named Game Boy Interface, this suite of three programs breathes new life into the Gamecube hardware, but can it make the Game Boy Player into the definitive way to play Game Boy games on the big screen?
Picking a Player
After you download the Game Boy Interface software from the link here, you will notice that the package contains three different .dol files (Gamecube executables). Rather than try to make one Game Boy player that suits everyone’s requirements, Extrems has made three different versions with different functionality. The three different versions of the player that are provided are standard, low latency and ultra low latency. To load the files, you will need some way of launching homebrew apps on your Gamecube. Fortunately our Cube is outfitted with a Qoob Pro modchip loaded with the latest version of the popular Swiss homebrew launching software. Starting with the Standard player first, this version has the most functionality, including the ability to zoom and move the picture wherever you want it and a function to save a screenshot to the SD card you launched the player software from. There’s currently a bug in this version of the player that will cause audio and picture interference if you have the Gamecube Broadband Adapter connected and an ethernet cable hooked up, so simply disconnect the ethernet cable while using the software. Comparing the image and scaling on the new player software with Nintendo’s original (set to “Sharp” scaling mode) definitely shows some improved sharpness in the Game Boy Interface’s picture as well as a much brighter image over all. The images aren’t exactly the same dimensions, but you can see the difference in the screenshot below. The left image shows the Game Boy Interface, the right shows the original Game Boy Player software.
The major drawback to the standard Game Boy Interface player is input lag. According to Extrems, the standard Game Boy Interface software has 2 to 3 frames (32 to 48 milliseconds) of input lag. This is of course on top of what your TV or display does already and is actually more than Nintendo’s own Game Boy Player software adds. In practise, you can definitely feel this when playing action games. Since the software runs at the NTSC standard of 59.94Hz, there’s still the problem of picture stutter/judder in games that have scrolling levels. RPGs or Strategy titles that don’t require precise timing are fine, of course, but for other types of games you will want to investigate the low latency and ultra low latency versions.
Farewell to the lag
The low latency and ultra low latency versions of the Game Boy interface sacrifice features in order to reduce the input lag. These versions also attempt to correct for the picture judder problem by adjusting their refresh rates in order to more closely match the ideal 59.7275Hz that the Game Boy itself uses. In practise this is at least partially successful, though results certainly seem to be mixed depending on which TV is used. The low latency version of the software runs in 240p, making it ideal for use with a Framemeister or an XRGB3. The ultra low latency version runs in 480p. Neither version supports zooming or scaling, so you will need to use a video processor of your own in order to do this. The DVDO Edge, with its easy zoom and pan controls seems like a good candidate for use with the ultra low latency version, but regrettably, its soft scaling engine and the ringing/halo effect the old ABT processors produce does the material no favours whatsoever. With the off-spec refresh rate, input lag jumps up to 25ms too, rather defeating the point of the ultra low latency version. A better choice would perhaps be a VP50 or a VP30, neither of which suffer from this high input lag bug.
The XRGB Mini FrameMeister is also a contender here, and scales the graphics in a much more pleasing fashion. It’s a shame that the scanline overlay did not work correctly when using the units zoom/pan controls with the ultra low latency version. Yes, Game Boy games never had scanlines in the first place, but the scanline effect fits the resolution of Game Boy games perfectly and looks very cool.
If scanlines are your thing, or you just want to play on a CRT, then the low latency version coupled with an XRGB3 or a CRT monitor/TV looks great. On the right here we can see the XRGB3/DVDO Edge combo running a Game Boy game on my Sony TV, with a little zoom applied courtesy of the DVDO Edge. The result is very pleasing, the scanlines all but mask the Edge’s soft scaling, stutter is infrequent and the input lag feels comparable to using the standard Game Boy Player software (thanks to the extra lag that the Edge is adding to the chain).
While the Game Boy Interface software isn’t going to make your PC Game Boy emulators obsolete, it’s a great little bit of homebrew coding ingenuity that opens up many more possibilities for playing your old Game Boy games on the big screen. It’s always good to have options and despite the various drawbacks the Game Boy Player is still basically genuine Game Boy hardware, so it is more accurate than any emulator. If you still use your Game Boy player, then you should definitely have the new Game Boy Interface software.