There was a time not that long ago when video game consoles didn’t support a common standard like HDMI, and we instead relied on a range of different analog connections to play low-res games on bulky CRT TVs. Composite video, the most common of these connections, resulted in blurry, noisy images, but hardly anyone noticed or cared at the time. Plug that same cable into your HDTV today and you may have a very hard time looking past the color bleeding, improper de-interlacing, and slow image scaling that results. This is where a product like EON’s Super 64 HDMI adapter comes in handy, but at $150, you might think twice before investing above and beyond the cost of the console itself just to upgrade its video output.
The Super 64 is still based on an analog video signal, but it draws on the N64’s S-Video encoder, which provides a noticeably cleaner image than composite. The Super 64 then upscales and digitizes the audio and video to send it over HDMI to your TV. While your TV also includes a signal processor that will upscale a composite or S-Video signal in roughly the same manner, the Super 64 is designed with retro gaming in mind, offering faster, more intelligent upscaling to 480p, which results in a cleaner image and less input lag than connecting a low-res analog source directly to your HD or 4K TV.
While this may sound complicated if you’re unfamiliar with these terms, using the Super 64 is a very straightforward process: plug it into your Nintendo 64, connect an HDMI cable to the other end and plug it into your TV, and start playing. The only option you have is to press a small button that activates Slick mode, which is just a fancy term for a smoothing filter that can blur rough edges–an effect that really just muddies the overall image. Otherwise, the Super 64 simply works, and that includes with notoriously finicky games that output unusual resolutions outside of the more common 320×240, such as Indiana Jones and The Infernal Machine. We couldn’t test every N64 game, but every game with an odd (and standard, for that matter) resolution that we tested worked without issue.
As a turnkey solution that just works, the Super 64 makes for a very attractive option if you’re put off by modern TVs’ improper handling of low-res N64 video. It does what it promises, and the physical shape of the adapter is very thoughtfully designed, with a bump on the bottom to help support the adapter as it extends out the back of your console. All that said, at $150, there are cheaper alternatives that not only provide similar functionality, but also work with any retro console you may own.
Mike Chi’s $99 RetroTINK-2X is the best option in the same product category. It accepts composite, S-Video, or component video inputs and properly scales the signal to 480p over HDMI. It does require USB power, and isn’t as robustly built as the Super 64, but the fact that it’s technically comparable (it, too, has a smoothing filter) and can work with multiple systems makes the high cost and proprietary nature of the Super 64 stand out as less cost-effective.
If you aren’t worried about playing multiple retro consoles and just want the best Nintendo 64 experience possible on an HDTV, you can go above and beyond the cost of the Super 64 to get an internal mod, known as UltraHDMI, that will provide numerous options including support for 720p and 1080p, and the ability to undo the Nintendo 64’s default pixel blurring that occurs on the processor level. The UltraHDMI mod is more expensive at $165, is rarely in stock at its primary distributor, and requires a complicated install that’s only for experienced electronics tinkerers, but if you’re ready to invest $150 for a good HDMI solution in the Super 64, you might as well consider that the best solution isn’t considerably more expensive.
None of this is to diminish the fact that the Super 64 is a good product that works exactly as promised, but it does highlight the fact that it sits at a very challenging price point. Whether or not the cost is warranted comes down to your personal sensitivity to video quality and input lag, and how dedicated you are to the Nintendo 64, versus retro gaming in general.
EON’s Super 64 is on sale now, but the first wave is currently sold out. Pre-orders for the next batch can be placed over at Castlemania Games.
Editor’s note: EON provided GameSpot with a complimentary Super 64 for review.