Articles

Sony PlayStation 2 :: RGB210 / MY LIFE IN GAMING

September 20, 2019


– In the mid-nineties, it might’ve seemed unlikely that a newcomer to the video game hardware business could achieve so much success that it would vastly overshadow all competitors in sales, in all regions worldwide, becoming, at the time, the best-selling console ever. As the major players began to prepare for a new console generation, expectations were especially high for Sony’s vision of gaming in a new century. The PlayStation 2 went on to sell even more than its predecessor, which means there are a lot of PS2 systems, a lot of PS2 games, and a lot of PS2 fans. But TV technology is very different from what it was at the height of the PS2’s popularity, and nowadays people are often disappointed by their favorite games looking a lot worse than they remember. So, how to get a better experience with your PlayStation 2? Welcome to RGB 210. (Theme Music) – Sony released the PlayStation 2 in Japan in March of 2000, and in other regions later that year. In addition to its games, the PS2’s popularity was bolstered by its support of DVD movies, hitting at just the right time to push the format into mass popularity. The console’s DVD drive also meant that games could contain more high-quality sound, full motion video, and other bits of game data than any other console that had come before, although some games were still printed on CDs, usually identified by their unique blue bottoms. Consoles from earlier generations generally display games in 240p, a low resolution progressive mode. It works very well to create a stable image and fast gameplay, but it’s not really how standard definition CRTs were designed to be used. Standard video content operates by sending an interlaced signal to the screen. Two fields of video alternate rapidly to create the illusion of a more defined image while using less image transmission bandwidth. In NTSC regions like North America and Japan, the standard was to display 480 interlaced lines at 60 fields per second, 480i. In PAL regions, 576i. During the previous generation, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, and Nintendo 64, many developers dabbled with 480i, often using it for title screens, menus, or occasionally, in-game graphics? but 240p was still by far the most common resolution. Ironically, it wouldn’t be until the Dreamcast, PS2, Xbox, and GameCube, the final generation to be primarily standard def, that CRT televisions would be utilized to their fullest extent, and 480i would become the dominant standard. The vast majority of PS2 titles output exclusively in interlaced form. We’ll primarily refer to it as 480i since we’re showing NTSC region consoles and games. If at all possible, be sure to watch this episode in 60 frames per second, because the correct look of 480i cannot be shown without it. There are a small handful of 240p titles, ICO is possibly the most famous, but there are several others, such as the Mega Man X Collection, certain NIS titles, and more. And if you have the right cables for it, a number of PS2 games are designed to support 480p, and a very select few even have an option for outputting an HD resolution of 1080i, although typically upscaled from a lower base resolution. Generally speaking, the PS2 is considered to be more powerful than the Dreamcast, but less powerful than the GameCube and Xbox. The PS2 was often said to be difficult to develop for, but its overwhelming popularity means that developers got really familiar with the system. Understanding what makes the PS2 hardware special should give us a greater appreciation for how its games look, and to help with that, we’ve brought in our good friend John Linneman from Digital Foundry. – It might seem surprising but the PlayStation 2 is fast. Very fast. The Emotion Engine, which pairs a MIPS III core with two flexible vector units and a floating-point unit, can perform geometry transformations at a remarkable speed for its day. With its fast on-chip eDRAM, the PS2 is also a bandwidth monster. When utilizing the graphics synthesizer, the system’s GPU, reading and writing to memory is basically free. With so much available bandwidth, developers could perform multiple passes to achieve the final output at a relatively high speed while enabling techniques that are not directly supported in hardware. Case in point, the hardware doesn’t support operations such as multi-texturing, a feature designed to save on bandwidth, but as bandwidth isn’t a real limitation on the PlayStation 2, it’s easy to perform the necessary passes entirely in software. The extra bandwidth also makes it possible to utilize full-screen effects, such as heat haze or motion blur, and complex particles without a significant performance penalty. Taken together, the fast geometry setup and copious amount of bandwidth enabled the PS2 to greatly outperform Sega’s Dreamcast at the time, while still hanging with more modern consoles like Gamecube and the Xbox. What makes the PS2 so interesting is how its design allowed skilled developers to produce unexpected results. Throughout its life, developers managed to implement features such as software based texture compression, simulated HDR rendering, advanced cinematic effects, pseudo per-pixel motion blur and more. Even games which shipped near its launch date already delivered fresh new real-time techniques such as depth of field, motion blur and advanced bloom lighting. The PS2 didn’t hold your hand in development, but its steep learning curve allowed skilled programmers to produce truly astounding results. Which, of course, brings us to its issues. On the developer side, PlayStation 2 required a lot of careful design work with minimal support for built-in tools. You’d have to worry more about memory and resources than on other systems of this era. Based on speaking with developers, it was a piece of cake to work with the Xbox, which managed a lot of your memory for you, but PlayStation 2 could only excel in the hands of the most dedicated programmers. On the consumer side, one of the earliest misconceptions centers on the jaggies or aliasing visible during gameplay. Many attributed this to the lack of anti-aliasing, but this isn’t entirely true as genuine anti-aliasing is almost non-existent on Dreamcast, Xbox, and GameCube. Part of this issue stems from the earliest development kits, which were limited to a low resolution 240 line front buffer forcing developers to rely on field rendering. By alternating between odd and even scanlines, the resulting image would appear higher resolution but the lower resolution per frame and lack of flicker filtering often resulted in more pronounced aliasing, hence the problem. The benefit of this can be found in that the average frame-rate of PlayStation 2 software is higher. A remarkably high percentage of the PlayStation 2’s library operates at 60 frames per second, or 60 fields per second. In the early days, the limitations on available display modes essentially meant that developers were forced to target 60 frames per second, not doing so would result in a massive performance penalty. Even as the software evolved and higher resolutions were opened up to developers, field rendering remained popular due to its speed and memory savings. You could even supersample from higher resolutions to produce very clean visuals in this mode, as we saw with Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance. The hardware of PlayStation 2 is a broad topic and one that could fill entire books, but the main takeaway here is that it is a fast, flexible system that demanded a lot from programmers, but rewarded them in kind. – Well, I think I get the gist of it, and in a sense, the PS2 was also designed to embrace CRT technology more fully than its competitors. Sega pushed VGA output as an alternative to 480i for the Dreamcast, while you might expect to find 480p support much more commonly in GameCube and Xbox games? but none of these features were supported by the vast majority of household TVs. While other companies may have wished they could’ve just skipped over 480i, Sony took the challenge head-on. Now before we talk about video cables, backwards compatibility, HD ports, and all that fun stuff, we’ve gotta sit down and have a talk about 480i. There’s no getting outta this because if you can’t come to terms with 480i, then it doesn’t matter what kinda cables you’re using, you simply aren’t gonna be happy playing PS2 games on real PS2 hardware. Let’s start with the sort of screen that the PS2 was designed to be played on, a good old consumer CRT. Interlacing of course creates a bit of a flicker effect as the fields alternate. It’s not particularly noticeable in large areas of similar color or over smooth textures, but it can cause issues against certain geometry edges or finer details. This might seem a bit annoying if you’re not used to CRTs, but give it a chance and in time you’ll probably stop thinking about it. And y’know, if you haven’t seen a PS2 running on a CRT lately, you might be surprised, PS2 games tend to have an ultra crisp and clean appearance on a CRT. Like, wow? did it always look this good? Another class of CRT are professional video monitors, such as Sony’s PVM and BVM line. These screens are usually of noticeably higher quality than consumer CRTs, but they do require more effort to track down. The Sony 20L5 is one of our favorites, due to being able to display 480p, 720p, and 1080i. However, when running in 480i, we noticed that the 20L5 has blank gaps between field pairs, perhaps due to its HD capabilities. It still looks great overall of course, but a much more basic sort of PVM, such as the 20L2MD, actually displays 480i a little more truly to the intent, with no noticeable gaps between fields. This is my preferred sort of CRT for most PS2 games. Another benefit of playing on a CRT, even a high-end one, is that video compression artifacts are masked extremely well, so FMVs look just as clean as you remember. In fact, a digital TV can reveal a trick many games use, cutscenes that I once thought were in-engine, turned out to be pre rendered… and not so nicely at that. Earlier John also addressed the misconception that the PS2’s contemporaries can do anti-aliasing while PS2 cannot. In reality, what the Dreamcast, Xbox, and GameCube do is force a sort of softening filter to combat interlaced flicker. At the time, this was generally considered a good thing, but in retrospect, what do you think? These images are all shot off a PVM-20L2. Does the de-flicker filter accomplish much of anything productive on the Xbox or GameCube? Are the PS2’s less filtered textures for better or worse? That’s for you to decide, but personally I feel that revisiting the PS2 on CRTs has helped me appreciate the look Sony went for. Some PS2 games do have some form of flicker filter, but it’s not particularly common. Final Fantasy XII offers it as an option. Modern displays are progressive by nature, so if they were to show raw interlaced content, it would look like this? the serrated edges are called combing artifacts. Thankfully, you’re not likely to see anything like this in reality. When you plug your PS2 or any other 480i source into your modern TV, the TV performs a “deinterlacing” process, essentially combining the information from alternating fields to fake a progressive image. How well each TV deinterlaces certainly varies, but it’s often difficult to see the difference between 480i and 480p on modern TVs. The downside is that most deinterlacing processes contribute to lag to some degree, but it may be acceptable depending on how sensitive you are to lag. Consumer-grade HD CRTs also typically deinterlace, since most of them aren’t actually pure analog TVs. Certain external scalers might do a better job of deinterlacing than your TV does, not to mention allowing for higher quality connections. With games running at 30 frames per second content, a good deinterlacing process should give pretty solid results. You’ll probably find that deinterlacing for 60 frames per second games looks fine for most of the time, but there can be more errors. One method that can avoid this is called “bob” deinterlacing, which is a form of line doubling. This is theoretically lag-free and sort of simulates the look of interlaced content on a CRT. It’s a little weird, but not bad if you can get used to it. Bob deinterlacing is used by the Open Source Scan Converter. We’ll talk more in-depth about how the PS2 behaves with certain video processors later in the video. But let’s face it, 480i is really low res compared to what people are used to nowadays. There are tons of HD ports of PS2 titles, and of course there’s emulation too, but if you want to play a game on real PS2 hardware, the first step is accepting what you’ve got to work with? and in most cases, that’s 480i. The PS2 was made for a world filled with CRTs, and in that context, it can look absolutely amazing. If you’re playing on an HDTV or even a 4K TV? well, of course it’s lower resolution than what you’d normally see on those displays, and no deinterlacing or upscaling method is going to quite make it look HD. Personally, I don’t think PS2 looks that bad when upscaled? you just have to have realistic expectations, and of course (no matter what you’re hooking it up to), good quality connections. – The PlayStation composite cable is likely the most common console-specific video cable in the world, having shipped with the PlayStation, PlayStation 2, and? for some reason… even the PS3. All video information is pumped through the yellow connector. Commonly available and easy to use, composite video represents the lowest form of video that the PS2 natively supports. Most new TVs purchased during the PlayStation 2 era probably had an S-video input. S-video is a huge leap over composite because it separates the video signal into two lines within the cable, the brightness information, also called luma, or Y? and the color information, also called chroma or C. Remember this, because luma also plays a major role in the PS2’s more advanced forms of video output. Official S-video cables are a safe bet if you can find them for a decent price. It’s typical for third-party cables to pair up S-video with with composite video, which is a risky scenario unless they’re pretty well made, like this Rocketfish cable seems to be. A super cheap set of cables by Tomee that we bought on Amazon actually performs not too bad considering the very thin wiring. But be aware that cheap cables like these often have some degree of audio buzz, which can be avoided by using the optical audio output, but please note that a handful of games do not output audio this way. A couple of no-name brand S-video cables, including a multi-console set, show why a composite video line is trouble: you might see it bleed visibly into the S-video line. It’s possible that the chroma part of the S-video signal can cause these problems too. But as long as you get a good set of cables, S-video is a great option for PS2 games, especially if you’re playing on a CRT with S-video inputs. If you want things to look just a bit crisper, plus have the option for resolutions higher than 480i, then you need to look into component or RGB. And this is where things get a lot more complicated. Let’s start with component, that’s the one with 3 RCA video connectors and 2 audio connectors. These cables break the video signal into three separate components, called YPbPr. Again, Y here stands for luma, while Pb represents the difference between blue and luma, and Pr is the difference between red and luma, leaving the green picture information to be inferred by what’s left over. That means that the green connector, Y, doesn’t directly have anything to do with green. In fact, it’s the exact same luma signal that travels down an S-video cable, which also means that it carries the sync pulses. You can test this out for yourself, because you won’t get a coherent picture at all without the green plug. In addition to looking a bit cleaner, the greater bandwidth of component video makes it possible to run higher resolutions such as 480p. While some games, such as God of War, Shadow of the Colossus, and Gran Turismo 4, helpfully put resolution options in their configuration menus, others don’t make it as obvious that a progressive mode is supported at all, sometimes requiring something weird like holding X and Triangle while the game is booting up. For more information, check out Wikipedia’s “List of PlayStation 2 Games with Alternate Display Modes,” but it might not be 100% reliable. Note that in some games, 480p may run at a lower color depth, bringing along with it visual artifacts like dithering, making it debatable whether 480i may actually be the superior choice. God of War and Radiata Stories both look clean in 480p, while others, such as Suikoden IV, just have a dithered look regardless of whether you’re in progressive or interlaced mode. Even Gran Turismo 4’s 1080i mode is impacted. But on the flipside, the 1080i mode exclusive to the Japanese version of Valkyrie Profile Silmeria doesn’t look dithered at all. As far as which component cables to choose, well, there are a ton of options. Stay away from inexpensive generic brands, such as what you might find on Amazon or eBay for under 10 bucks. Our tests show these to have a less vibrant picture, along with extra visual noise and even audio buzz. And it’s no wonder, the wires inside these cables are pathetic. Even deceptively thick-looking cables like Monoprice’s multi-console component cable may reveal pitifully thin wires once you cut inside. What a waste, right? The internal shielding on official Sony component cables is at least adequate, with completely acceptable results. Sony themselves released several revisions of their component cables over the course of the PS2 and PS3 generations, all of which work just fine with any PS2 system. You can identify most official component cables by the Sony branding on the connector. Monster Cables, infamous for their high prices, are nonetheless at least reliably well-shielded and high quality, making them a popular choice. Again, numerous revisions marketed as PS2 or PS3 cables were developed. One thing to keep in mind is that the RCA connectors on some can have a “death grip” that feels like it might ruin your device by pulling the outside of the connector off. Cables with a death grip have decimated this component switch I have. In our tests, this particular blue cable has the issue, while this black PS3-era cable feels great. A component cable by Psyclone provides similar results to the Monster Cables, but also has the death grip issue. You just never know what you’re gonna get, but knowing about this issue can prepare you for potential complications. Thankfully, Monster and official Sony component cables are not nearly as expensive or hard to find as GameCube component cables or the better Xbox component cables, but you might want to shop around before you commit to a higher-priced items. HD Retrovision, known for having made cables that convert Super Nintendo and Genesis RGB to component video, also have a few solutions in the works for PS2. This is a prototype for a simple PS2 component cable that contains no circuitry, but simply offers a new high quality option if you don’t already have one. We also have a prototype for an adapter that converts the HD Retrovision Genesis cables for use with a PS1 or PS2, which seems to work quite nicely. One thing that we need to address regarding component cables is PS1 backwards compatibility. As you probably know, all PS2 systems are backwards compatible with discs from the original PlayStation, and the results are generally very accurate. There’s a widespread rumor out there that PS1 games will not play on a PS2 over component cables, but this is simply not true. The problem that people sometimes run into is that many digital TVs will not accept a 240p signal over component, and of course, most PS1 games do run in 240p. But if you can connect to a compatible TV, component on PS2 is a great way to enjoy most PS1 games. So what about RGB? Is it better than component? Well, I think the first consideration should be which is simpler to use in your setup. There are some hoops to jump through when it comes to RGB on the PS2, and it may or may not be worth it to you. RGB of course is red, green, and blue being sent through their own lines inside a cable, usually with a sync signal on a different line. The typical cable for RGB on most retro consoles uses a SCART connector, this is a European wiring standard, but is compatible with any PS2 console. The less common Japanese equivalent, called JP-21, is also an option, but be sure the devices or converters that you plug your cables into are designed for SCART or JP-21. Don’t mix and match because the standards are not cross-compatible. It’s also important to know that SCART is not inherently RGB, it was designed to be a simple all-purpose analog A/V connector, and some SCART cables may in fact only be composite quality. Something to keep in mind is that technically PS1 and PS2 RGB cables are not intended to be designed exactly the same way. The PS1’s AV output capacitors are NOT for RGB, requiring the cable to have at least 220 microfarad capacitors to properly drive each video line. The PS2 on the other hand, has sufficient capacitors for RGB directly on the motherboard, meaning that equivalent capacitors in the cable will actually diminish the performance of the signal. Ideal PS2 RGB cables should either have no capacitors, or significantly larger capacitors to balance it out, more on that in a moment. Let’s take a look at this generic inexpensive SCART cable from Hong Kong. There are quite a few problems here? first, it has 220 microfarad capacitors, making it less suitable for PS2. The wiring is very thin, which in particular causes audio buzzing. In addition, this cable carries a composite video signal alongside RGB, the reason being to provide a source for video sync. As we saw with the S-video combo cables, non-shielded composite tends to bleed into other wires, wreaking havoc not only on audio, but picture quality too. This is why it’s important to remember that Y, the luma line, also includes a sync signal. While not exactly the standard method, there’s no reason that an RGB cable can’t be designed to pull sync from luma on a PS1 or PS2. This method is called sync-on-luma. Unlike composite video, luma doesn’t contain any encoded color information, which is the primary source of noise artifacts when running composite video alongside RGB video lines. Hence, it is much easier to use sync-on-luma to achieve clean results, and is absolutely the cable that you should buy in most cases. No PlayStation series console has a dedicated sync signal, called CSYNC, but sync stripping circuits installed inside certain cables can generate a CSYNC signal from luma if sync-on-luma happens to be incompatible with your equipment. We tested out PS2 cables from two manufacturers who specialize in SCART cables for retro gaming. The Florida-based eBay seller retro_console_accessories is now focusing on a new website, Retro-Access.com. Here you can buy their newest PlayStation cables, which have been considerably upgraded recently. PlayStation cables from Retro Access previously all had 220 microfarad capacitors, which is on-spec for PS1, and passable for PS2, but not quite ideal. The newest cables are now equipped with 1000 microfarad capacitors to split the difference, resulting in a universal cable that is suitable for both PS1 and PS2. All cables sold are wired for sync-on-luma, or CSYNC by way of a sync stripping circuit. A more robust coaxial cabling upgrade is available if you have a need for it, such as if you’re worried about noise when passing through a switch box, but in our experience it may not be critical for PlayStation consoles. The UK-based Retro Gaming Cables has similar offerings. However, they specifically sell cables as PS1 or PS2, so be sure you’re buying the right one for your console. The PS1 cables have 220 microfarad capacitors, while the PS2 cables have no capacitors. The specific cable we’re looking at here is the CSYNC cable for PS2 with the sync-stripping circuit. There is no particular advantage to using CSYNC instead of sync-on-luma, so choose it only if your equipment specifically requires CSYNC. If needed, Retro Gaming Cables also offers a cabling upgrade called Packapunch, but we haven’t had a chance to test it for ourselves. As a bonus, if you’re a fan of Guncon games like we are, then both sellers offer their own versions of light gun compatible RGB cables. It’s a common misconception that Guncon games must be played with composite video due to its required video passthrough connection, but really all it’s looking for is a sync signal. Note that Retro Gaming Cables’ version, which has the sync jack moulded into the connector, will require an RCA extension or the passthrough adapter that might’ve come with your Guncon 2, while the pigtail on the Retro-Access version can reach around the front. With any of these cables, you can play Time Crisis in high quality, and lemme tell ya, it’s a beautiful thing. In addition, if you have the passthrough adapter and want to use component cables, all you have to do is connect the Guncon to the green cable and you’re good to go! Just remember that these traditional light guns only work on CRT televisions. The PlayStation 2 requires that you manually select YPbPr or RGB. In the System Configuration, go down to “Component Video Out” and choose the correct option. The wrong choice will either screw up the colors, or you might not see anything at all. If you’ve got a blank screen and need to navigate the menu to fix this, reset the console with no disc inside, wait several seconds for it to fully boot up, then hit down, X? wait two seconds? down-down-down-X-right-X. Which finally leads us to the big question, which is better? Component or RGB? There’s a widespread belief that the PS2’s component video output is of somewhat poor quality, but our tests seem to suggest that as long as the quality of the actual cables are high, any meaningful difference between the two is pretty hard to see, even across multiple console variants. Again, the more important consideration is which is more convenient for you. When it comes to ease of use, 480p might be the dealbreaker for some people. Despite what you might think, 480p is totally possible with RGB over SCART, but the PS2 uses a bit of an obscure method for it. If higher resolutions are activated while in RGB mode, the PS2 turns off the usual composite and luma sync pulses and instead sends sync only down the green line. This is called sync-on-green, and to be honest it’s a bit of a pain. If you’re lucky enough to own a high-end professional monitor that supports 480p, like the Sony PVM-20L5, then you can use sync-on-green over RGB, but you’ll have to manually switch from “external” sync to “internal” sync? and back again when you’re done with your 480p game. The Open Source Scan Converter, which is increasingly becoming our preferred upscaling solution if used with a compatible HDTV or 4K TV, also supports sync-on-green. When switching to 480p mode, you’ll have to toggle the input from RGBS to RGsB. Unfortunately, the XRGB-mini Framemeister, which is by far one of the most popular upscaling solutions, does not support sync-on-green. You can use external boxes like an Extron Rxi to convert sync-on-green to a format the Framemeister can accept, Another hassle with sync-on-green is for those who use automatic SCART switchers. Typically these rely on detecting a sync signal for auto-switching, but since sync isn’t in the usual spot, they’ll switch away from the PS2 as soon as 480p is activated. In the case of the GSCART, you can get around this by plugging the PS2 into port 8, which is the default if no other input is detected. Unfortunately, this method does not work with the newer GSCART Lite, and currently no workaround has been developed. Don’t be confused and think that a CSYNC SCART cable will solve sync-on-green problems? all that does is turn sync-on-luma into CSYNC. Sony did make an official Linux kit for PS2 that included a VGA cable, which, again, is hamstrung by sync-on-green. Even if sync-on-green happens to be compatible with your favorite computer monitor, you’ll never even be able to see 480i content with this sort of setup. A recent development that shows some promise are internal PS2 mods being worked on by citrus3000psi, which may provide a simple and inexpensive way to use CSYNC instead of sync-on-green. We have not yet had a chance to see the results for ourselves, but if RGB, 480p, and convenience are all important to you, then keep an eye on this project. 480p and other resolutions can be forced through certain homebrew methods. Years ago, an unlicensed disc called HDTV Xploder was available, though apparently it was not considered to work very well. Today, the simplest way to tinker with resolutions is with a multi-utility called Free McBoot. You can buy memory cards on eBay with Free McBoot pre-installed, which includes an application called GSM. Simply press square, select, then start to force the system into 480p. Know that this works only in certain games, Some games look great in forced 480p? while many others have inconsistent aspect ratios. So while it’s a neat tool for certain games, it’s sadly not something you can always rely on. You can also force the system into HD resolutions, but since it doesn’t change the internal render resolution, there’s really no reason to. So you can see why we say that to enjoy PS2, you kind of need to accept 480i as a fact of life. Select games have excellent native 480p modes, and those are great to enjoy when you can, but by and large, count on playing the vast majority of games in 480i. Component and RGB both provide pretty great results, and we don’t think you should worry too much about whether one might be better than the other, as long as you buy good quality cables. – We get a lot of questions about the “PS2 to HDMI” adapters that you can find all over Amazon. They’re sold for really cheap by a number of no-name brands. Of course, the PS2 does not provide a raw digital signal, so these are simply analog to digital converters. They do not upscale and simply pass digital 240p, 480i, or 480p to your TV. The guys over at HD Retrovision spent some time investigating these boxes and have concluded that there are primarily two types? and we don’t know of a good way to tell which one you’re gonna get. Let’s call the first one “Type A.” Type A does not support 240p, so don’t count on playing PS1 games. But the real dealbreaker is that these are even noisier than the cheapest generic component cables! Black levels are also crushed considerably, resulting in lost visibility in horror games. Then there’s what we’ll call “Type B”, these do support 240p, so PS1 games are good to go, if your TV supports 240p over HDMI. it is considerably brighter and video noise is significantly less noticeable compared to Type A. So for a moment it seems like Type B may not be an awful solution, but black levels are a bit gray, poor sampling causes more severe stair-step issues, and the audio is a bit overdriven. So these PS2 to HDMI adapters are primarily for those who have no component inputs. Even still, we recommend considering other solutions. Let’s take a moment to talk about how some of the more popular video processors handle PS2 games. The XRGB Mini Framemeister can accept RGB and component with the proper adapters. While the Framemeister overall looks pretty clean, it inherently generates a bit of noise for any input, which you might notice in certain scenes, especially in large areas of the same color. However, the Framemeister is very good at deinterlacing. Make sure to choose “Natural” as the Image Mode for interlaced content. For progressive sources, like 240p or 480p, set the Image Mode for “Picture.” 240p is of course the Framemeister’s specialty, but 480p is not considered one of its strong suits. Most HDTVs will upscale a 480p source just as well or better. If you’re interested in perfect integer scaling and ease of use, we recommend downloading Framemeister profiles from FirebrandX, the Pixel Purist. These include 480i, 480p, and backwards compatibility profiles, useable with either RGB or component. Because these profiles double the size of 480i within a 1080p frame, note that the there will be some black space above and below the game window. The most recent versions of the profiles have been painstakingly balanced for color, and both darker and brighter PS2 games look just great. You also have a choice of using sharp or blurred profiles. I keep wavering back and forth on which I prefer for PS2 games. With blurred settings, certain text and 2D art can look very nice, almost HD. But other artifacts can crop up, and 3D geometry edges still look pretty low res. John Linneman recommended also recommended to us a middle-ground scaler setting that we’ve really taken a liking to. A variety of Framemeister scaling styles have been used throughout the episode. Which do you prefer? It’s not quite the same as the crisp yet smooth CRT look, but overall the Framemeister mostly gives you the tools to make PS2 games look reasonably good on a modern display, with a relatively small lag penalty, plus whatever delay your TV might add, tolerable to me, but your mileage may vary. The most exciting alternative to the Framemeister is the Open Source Scan Converter, or OSSC, developed by Finnish engineer Markus Hiienkari and sold at the UK-based Video Game Perfection. As of the time of this episode, it is up to hardware revision 1.6, which now includes a regular HDMI port with embedded digital audio output and the option to input component audio via the 3.5 millimeter jack. The OSSC is a line multiplier rather than a scaler, resulting in no lag aside from your display’s inherent lag, and spitting out the exact same refresh rate that it takes in. The downside is that certain systems and certain modes might not work on certain displays, hopefully you won’t run into issues with the PS2, since its output is fairly on-spec compared to systems with widespread compatibility issues, like the Super Nintendo. 480i options on the OSSC have been expanded with firmware updates, two interlaced output modes are offered, passthrough and 3X, and two progressive deinterlaced output modes, 2X and 4X. The 2X and 4X modes employ a method called “bob” deinterlacing. In this implementation, it line doubles or quadruples each field, which, if you were to look at it frame by frame, gives it a pixelated look. In motion though, it kind of looks like interlaced flicker on a CRT. At times the bob technique is very effective, while at others it may be a bit distracting. However, if you prefer the look of your TV’s internal deinterlacing process, then you can simply use the passthrough option to send a digital 480i signal to your TV instead. I’m a bit unsure how I feel about bob deinterlacing myself, so that’s definitely a handy feature. We have been unable to test the interlaced 3X mode due to compatibility issues. With 480p content, the OSSC’s default option is a straight pass-through of 480p as digital output. However, there is an interesting alternative, which is a 2X mode that outputs 480p as 960p. If your TV doesn’t mind the weird resolution, then the result is ultra sharp, though whether you prefer this over the softer 480p passthrough is totally up to you. Among the OSSC’s greatest strengths are the quality of its analog to digital conversion, which does not add any apparent noise that’s not caused by your cables? and its color handling, which is incredibly accurate. If you’re curious about more budget-friendly upscaling options, watch RGB 105. If your main problem is simply not having any component or SCART inputs on your TV, then generic scaling boxes or the GBS-8200 actually offer decent performance for 480i content. So let’s suppose you feel compelled to spend… more money. We’ve been getting questions lately about the mCable Gaming Edition by a company called Marseille. This is an HDMI cable with active circuitry that claims to improve image quality through anti-aliasing with virtually no lag. Considering anti-aliasing pretty much doesn’t exist on PS2, we decided to go ahead buy one to test out for this episode. Huh, well, I can’t deny that what we’re looking at here is pretty darn interesting. The way that edges are smoothed over can at times give certain parts of the image a painted or smudged look, especially as characters or objects are farther from the camera. Output from the mCable is 1080p and some scaling artifacts may be visible. It also messes with color a bit? but what do you think? Is it an improvement overall? Again, remember that the source is still really low res, so even if much of the image looks smoother, you will still see plenty of of crawling edges? they’ll just look a bit different. Of course the PS2 went through numerous revisions over the course of its life, but we’ve seen little evidence to support significant visible variations in the quality of video output from system to system. Comparing a relatively early unit to various other models, including Slim units, they all seem to perform similarly enough across various scenarios. The bigger considerations when it comes to choosing a PS2 system is reliability and hardware accuracy. The disc drives in launch window consoles have had a tendency to fail earlier, while 39-thousand and 50-thousand series systems have a reputation for still working like champs. Japan got a unique PS2 system called PSX, which includes some DVR and video editing functions, but sadly we’ve heard that they aren’t particularly reliable. There even exists an LCD TV with a PS2 built into it? sold only in Europe? at a budget price? in… 2010? it’s hard to believe it would be anything special, but sadly there’s not much of a feasible way for us to test one. Modding guru Voultar tells us that the first Slims, the 70-thousand series, are essentially perfect PS2s in miniature, the same chips as a 50-thousand series fat model, but on a radically consolidated mainboard. But soon after, Sony removed the main chip that handles PS1 backwards compatibility, the R3000, and replaced it with an emulated solution. The trouble is that not only does this make PS1 playback a bit less accurate, but PS2 games could also use the PS1 hardware for minor functions, which means PS2 gameplay can be impacted in some situations. I’ve personally used a 90-thousand-1 Slim quite a bit in recent years and never encountered any obvious issues, but it is something to keep in mind if you’re a stickler for original hardware. Sony went into the next generation thinking they were unstoppable, but were quickly humbled when consumers showed that brand loyalty may not go quite as far as five-hundred-ninety-nine US dollars. At the time, Sony considered visionary hardware design and backwards compatibility to be essential to its brand, so the PlayStation 3 launched with the PS2’s Emotion Engine CPU and graphics synthesizer on board. PS2 game functions that were originally handled by the PS1’s R3000 chip were moved to the PS3’s Cell processor. The PlayStation brand’s rehabilitation took years. Lowering the cost of the PS3 was essential. The PS2 Emotion Engine was soon removed from the board, while the PS2 graphics synthesizer remained, for a time. Because CPU functions were now emulated by the Cell processor, these are sometimes called “software backwards compatible” or “partial-emulation” PS3s. This was the only option when PS3 launched in Europe. But PS2 backwards compatibility was not to last, and the graphics synthesizer was removed, once available stock of the Metal Gear Solid 4 bundle dried up, that was it. Years later, after the slimmer redesign, at a time when Sony was in a more comfortable position, they began to release PS2 Classics on the PlayStation Store, all thanks to a newly-developed PS2 emulator that could run entirely in software on any PS3, For the systems that do support PS2 discs, compatibility is not bad, broadly speaking… although peculiar issues can crop up in games that otherwise seem to work. We’ll have to leave it to you to research game-by-game compatibility issues across console revisions, but what we can do is give you an idea of what kind of picture quality to expect when it does work. For starters, let’s take a look at how things work when you’re using digital output with HDMI. Keep in mind that while the games can be upscaled to HD, the rendering resolution remains unchanged, which means most games run internally at 480i, and the PS3 system performs its own deinterlace. The results are generally pretty solid, but as usual, you might catch a deinterlacing error here and there. When you activate a game’s native 480p mode, the system outputs 480p instead of doing its own upscale. In the system menu, you can go to Game Settings to set your preferred defaults. Under Upscaler, “Normal” displays a 4:3 image with upscaled output in 720p, 1080p, or whatever resolution you have your PS3 system set for. “Full Screen” stretches the image to 16 by 9, so it’s only really useful if you’re using a game’s widescreen mode. “Off” overrides the PS3 system resolution and instead displays in 480p. As for the Smoothing settings, well, that is what’s most interesting here. With Smoothing “Off,” the results are just about what you’d expect, it’s similar to the best results we can manage to get with RGB to the Framemeister from a real PS2. So what happens when you turn Smoothing “On”? Amazingly, I’d say it cleans up the image considerably, aliased edges are smoothed over reasonably well, and there appears to be absolutely no sharpness penalty. Personally, I can’t see any reason to NOT use the Smoothing function, and I believe it offers a tangibly improved image over Framemeister scaling. But do launch window PS3 consoles and partial-emulation consoles produce the same visual results? The answer turns out to be, “not quite. ”For one, partial-emulation systems turn in a wider aspect ratio, some circular objects appear more round, but we’re not positive whether it would be considered more accurate. With Smoothing “Off,” results between consoles otherwise appear similar. But the most interesting thing is that for the partial emulation system, turning Smoothing “On” seems to make the image appear not only cleaner, but also crisper. The launch system’s result tackles aliasing a bit more comprehensively, but both offer what is in my opinion a clear visual improvement. Do mind, it still looks rather jagged and low resolution. Don’t expect a miracle here, but it’s still very well done, and is arguably the best visual representation that you can get on a high definition display when using some form of real PS2 hardware, incomplete as it may be. Or? can you go one step further? With the aforementioned mCable Gaming Edition, combined with the PS3’s smoothing function, we found some pretty neat results in PS2 games when the system was set for 480p. This is certainly not convenient or practical, and not all of the mCables effects are good… but it’s certainly interesting to consider what might be possible if you were to take things this far. Of course the PS3 can also output analog video, and visually, you should expect pretty similar results to a real PS2. Composite, S-video, component, and RGB, including sync-on-green for higher resolutions, are all supported. The Smoothing function is once again the secret sauce for improved image quality on CRTs too, once again showing less apparent aliasing compared to a real PS2, while not negatively impacting overall sharpness. But unfortunately, there is simply no way that the PS3 can output 240p, meaning that when connected to a standard definition TV, PS1 and PS2 games that are 240p will unfortunately be interlaced. Also, despite what Wikipedia might say, we had good luck with using Guncon 2s on full-hardware as well as partial-emulation PS3 consoles. Here’s a fun trick we learned from Bob of Retro RGB, If you’re a fan of VGA computer monitors, you can buy this inexpensive HDMI to VGA adapter on Amazon. Set your PS3 for 480p, and you’re good to go. Having said all this, do we recommend backwards compatible PS3 systems as the ultimate way to play your PS2 disc games on an original hardware or semi-original-hardware solution? Well, it’s up to you whether it’s worth the risk. Game accuracy varies wildly, especially on partial-emulation consoles, and then there’s the Yellow Light of Death. It may not be as iconic as the Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death, but these fat PS3s are still not necessarily the most reliable consoles ever made. I had to have my own Metal Gear Solid 4 bundle system replaced by Sony with a refurb after two to three years of use, and I now primarily use a Slim model just because it feels like a safer long-term bet. And anecdotally, friends who have tried to have so-called repair services fix their dead fat PS3s have not had lasting success. There is also of course the question of lag. Our tests lead us to believe that there is no difference between full hardware and partial emulation PS3 consoles in this regard, and that Smoothing has no effect on lag. However, analog output to a CRT appears to be not as responsive as a real PS2, although more technical testing should be done before drawing firm conclusions. We have to give a big big thank you to My Life in Gaming viewer Scott Davis for letting us borrow his launch PS3 for this episode. Scott also wanted us to let you know that if you enjoy digital audio formats like DTS, they will not work over HDMI while playing PS2 games, SSX3, for example. You’ll just have to choose a different audio mode or else you won’t hear anything at all? or connect with an optical audio cable. As for the PS2 Classics that can be purchased and and downloaded for play on any PS3 system via full software emulation… again, don’t expect a bump to HD. The emulator’s setup may vary on a game-by-game basis, for instance, the lack of deinterlacing errors in Contra Shattered Soldier suggests an internally forced 480p, but this is not the case with Maximo. Compared to the 1080p output of hardware-based backwards compatibility, the maximum upscale for PS2 Classics tops off at 720p. Unpleasing scaling issues can crop up, like the jagged text box edge that simply isn’t visible with any other method of playing Persona 4. And while this may not fairly represent PS2 Classics as a whole, this obvious visual glitch in the first scene leaves a bad impression. The PS3’s PS2 Classics library does include a handful of fan-pleasing favorites? but the overall selection is too spotty to seriously consider as a PS2 replacement. Homebrew hacks have made it possible to inject your own PS1 and PS2 disc images into your PS3 hard drive to play via software emulation? the finer specifics of which aren’t really a topic we’re interested in exploring too deeply for this episode, because it sounds like compatibility is a serious issue. As a bit of an aside to finish up our discussion on the PS3, don’t forget that all PS3 systems can play PS1 discs via emulation. This functionality was never removed from any version of the PlayStation 3. For more information, watch RGB 206. – Sony took a very different approach to the design of the PlayStation 4, resulting is an impressively optimized but ultimately very “normal” PC-like architecture. Given the very particular design of the PS3 Cell CPU, backwards compatibility was ruled out. Sony also omitted PS2 and even PS1 emulation, marking a sharp turn from PlayStation tradition. But in late 2015, Sony began to trickle out digital downloads of PS2 Classics for PS4, running on a new software emulator. There are a number of benefits over the PS3’s PS2 Classics. Most obviously, the internal render resolution has been increased very noticeably, although perhaps not as much as you might hope. According to Digital Foundry, it’s just north of 720p. For the purposes of viewing on a high resolution display, it’s hard to deny that this is visually an improvement over PS2 hardware, but aliasing issues hold it back from a more ideal presentation. Digital Foundry’s framerate analysis shows very interesting results, with the emulations on PS4 typically performing better than original PS2 hardware, but definitely don’t expect perfectly smooth results by any means, even with Boost Mode on PS4 Pro. Also note that we’ve heard about 50Hz issues on PAL region releases. As always with emulation, you aren’t going to get a perfect recreation of every effect. Other issues may also arise, like the occasional audio stutters we heard in Rogue Galaxy. You could also make an argument that higher-res 3D graphics don’t blend so well with the original 2D assets or a level of detail that was originally designed for standard definition TVs? making for a less cohesive presentation. I mean, yeah it’s great to see some of these games get a re-release, but there are also some strange choices? for example, Jak & Daxter ironically enough has a proper HD port for PS3, and the emulated version on PS4 just doesn’t feel as clean. Speaking of HD ports, while they have plenty of detractors, it’s been one of our favorite gaming trends. With modern games having so much going on and assaulting your eyes with so many granular details, sometimes a good old PS2 game in high resolution is just the break you need. When properly handled, HD ports, or “remasters” if you prefer, have more potential than straight-up emulation because the developer can go back and tune the game to suit the new hardware that it’s running on. A higher level of detail can be pushed farther out, and the highest resolution textures available might be implemented, or even redrawn in some cases, At this point, it’s pretty much expected that character models will be at least moderately revamped with a higher polygon count. FMV renders can be given more refined upscales, and additional lighting and other effects are sometimes implemented to make it all look a touch more modern. And very often framerates are optimized for much better stability than the original versions, or in some instances you might even get a leap from a target of 30 frames per second to 60 frames per second… although 30 frames is sometimes too intertwined with a game’s original code to feasibly tamper with it. Remasters on PS3 tend to run between 720p and 1080p, while Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II have managed to push a native 4K resolution at 60 frames per second on PS4 Pro! Some studios, like Bluepoint Games, have even built an entire business around handling high quality conversions of games from earlier generations. Now, they aren’t all good, some HD ports are infamously bad, the Silent Hill HD Collection for example, while others are pretty no-frills, but at least technically sound. There’s something to be said for the idea that this reduces the technical artistry that went into many of these games… which were so tightly designed around the PS2 hardware and pushed it beyond what anyone would have believed it’s limits were. Luckily it feels like a very significant portion of the PS2’s most iconic games have already been properly remastered, sometimes with multiple ports already. But what if you want to see what Dragon Quest VIII looks like in HD? Seriously, why does this still have no HD version? Well obviously, we’re talking about emulating PS2 games on your PC. Emulation is changing every day thanks to dedicated communities that have worked some really impressive magic. That said, we aren’t super tuned into the scene ourselves, and don’t want to pretend we are. The particulars of emulation could fill entire videos themselves, which is better left to the real emulation experts, so this is just a quick look. In the world of PS2 emulation, PCSX2 seems to be the biggest game in town. It’s open source and completely legal in and of itself. It does require the PlayStation 2 BIOS to run, which they can’t legally distribute, but they do provide you with the tools to extract your the BIOS from your own PS2 console via homebrew. Typical of emulators for disc-based consoles, you can run your own copies of the game straight from your DVD drive. PCSX2 seems to have brought the state of PS2 emulation to a much higher level in recent years. They tout very high compatibility, easy controller support, resolutions beyond 4K, and plenty of graphics options. It can’t always match the developer’s touch of refinement when compared against the best official HD ports, but the appeal of raw resolution and the ability to hack, edit, and tinker might be just the thing for a lot of people. – Final Fantasy. Metal Gear. Devil May Cry. Rachet & Clank. Kingdom Hearts. God of War. Okami. Persona. Shadow of the Colossus. All just a few of the iconic PlayStation 2 titles at the base of its incredible legacy, but they are all also games that, since then, you’ve been able to play on more advanced platforms. But those games are far from the whole PS2 story. The PS2 is a treasure trove of cult classics, hidden gems, wonderfully weird experiments that we can’t believe were actually made, and that one dumb game you used to play with your friends that probably no one else cares about. The PS2 has one of the broadest libraries in gaming history. Is the PS2 retro yet? Or do you think it’s still kind of modern? Was the PS2 your main console in college? What you had as a little kid? Your introduction to the wide world of online gaming? Whatever your reason for revisiting the PS2 library (or checking it out for the first time), whether on an original console in composite or component, on a CRT, an HDTV, a 4K TV, a PS3, a PS4, your computer, whatever, no matter how you play the PS2’s greatest strength will always be… that is has something for everyone! (Subtitling done by Jordan “Link584”)

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