Sunday, 3 June 2012

UMSA (Ultimate SCART Adapter) review

Well, "Real Life (tm)" has certainly interrupted my SCART hunt in recent times... spending time with friends, getting drunk, playing in my band, walking on the beach, listening to music, going to work, etc. All weak excuses, I know, but I'm here to pick up where I left off...

It's time to review Arcade Forge's UMSA (AKA Ultimate SCART Adaptor)!

Arcade Forge's UMSA - Ultimate SCART Adapter

What's the point of this UMSA thing?

Firstly, did you know you can use a SCART television as an arcade monitor substitute to play your favourite arcade and console games in full CRT glory? You didn't? Surely you did... you found my blog! Okay, if you're a random arrival, go read here. Everyone else, read on...

Blaupunkt SCART television as arcade monitor

So, anyone that's managed to crack into the magical world of VGA to SCART will know that there are a few hurdles you need to get over before you can experience the sheer joy of seeing your favourite retrogames back on a lovely, warm CRT screen (instead of nasty LCD).

First off, you have to find a decent SCART television. Easy in Europe or the UK, not too hard in Australia but pretty much impossible anywhere else in the world. Or so I've heard...

Second step is building your own VGA to SCART cable. Unless you can find someone willing to do the work for you, going DIY is really your only hope. Sounds like a simple proposition at first but things get tricky real quick. Dressing VGA and SCART cables is a very fiddly and confusing job. Then, once you've sorted out which strand is which, you face the infuriating task of soldering over a dozen wires into place on a SCART or VGA connector (or both, depending on your chosen construction). Trust me, this is extremely tedious work! I've built around 10 cables and I can now produce very clean and neat VGA to SCART cables. However, despite knowing the exact steps involved, it still takes me 2 to 3 hours of intense work and concentration to do the job right. Plus, my first few cables were disasters! I made mistakes, they were messy and simply didn't work the first time I plugged them in. It was only after painstaking fault finding that I was even able to get a picture showing. Even once I got them working they would break easily and had to be treated very delicately. Very frustrating and a real black hole for time. I won't even go into the depths of frustration you'll feel if you somehow Google the wrong schematic at the start of the process...

This is the whole point of the UMSA. Even if you're someone who's confident with a pair of wire strippers and a soldering iron, this gadget will save you a huge amount of time and effort. If you know nothing about soldering, don't even bother going down the DIY path! Just get yourself over to Aracde Forge and buy a UMSA. Trust me, it's the easiest (and arguably cheapest) way to get SCART gaming fast! If this option had of existed when I got into MAME/SCART, I would definitely have taken it.

Oh, I did mention that there were three steps... well, the third is to install some software that will allow your VGA to output the correct frequencies for use with a CRT television. Thanks to software such as Soft-15kHz and the CRT_EmuDriver (for ATI video cards), this step is a lot simpler to complete than the second.

In summary, the UMSA is designed to seriously streamline the setup of a PC (or Mac) and CRT based emulation system. There's no soldering involved: purely plug and play!

Just how much easier is the UMSA?

Here's how the Arcade Forge guys see things. The following steps were copied straight from their website:

Step 0: Install on your PC lower resolution with 15Khz. We propose to use Soft15Khz made by SailorSat. Turn off your PC.
Step 1: Connect UMSA via VGA cable to your PC.
Step 2: Connect UMSA via SCART cable to your TV.
Step 3 Connect UMSA to power supply.
Step 4: Turn on PC.
(Step 5:) Jumper UMSA according your need (positive or negative sync).

VGA, RCA audio, 5v power and SCART connections

Most people will never have to worry about Step 5 and the preceding steps are all incredibly simple. I know that earlier I said there were only 3 steps (find a TV, make a cable, setup your display driver) but that second step, making a VGA to SCART cable, involves over 100 hundred intermediate steps... none of that with the UMSA.

If you've ever attempted to make your own VGA to SCART cable before you'll already be appreciating the simplicity of what the UMSA has to offer. If you've never made your own cable and you're still thinking "I could save a few bucks by going DIY" then it's time for me to mention that the UMSA was designed by the absolute gurus of VGA to SCART gaming. Their schematic is a superior design, has gone through extensive testing and is built to a very high standard. I will freely admit that even my best soldering work could never match the quality of the UMSA I was sent for testing.

What other features does the UMSA have?

Thanks to the thoughtful design philosophy of the UMSA, you can use any brand of SCART, VGA and RCA audio cable you choose. So, if you want to use the cheapo $1 Chinese made VGA cable you bought on eBay, that's okay. The beauty of the UMSA is that you could also choose to use professional grade video cable and audiophile quality audio cable if you're so inclined. It's your choice. Also, you can determine the length of the cable yourself. This is a very cool aspect of the UMSA since it offers flexibility in price, quality and cable length.

Also, the use of an external 5v power adapter to control the switching voltages (that set your TV to the correct RGB input mode and picture ratio) means that you don't have to worry about compatibility between video cards or wiring up some messy setup that draws from your computer's power supply in order to provide the correct voltages. Much cleaner and safer the UMSA way.

The UMSA in action!

The following screen shots show the kind of image quality you can expect once you've correctly setup your PC and connected it to a SCART television using the UMSA. To demonstrate the compatibility of the UMSA, I'll update this review to include screenshots from several different brands and television models in the future. For now though, the included screenshots are of my main Blaupunkt that I modified to have external picture controls. Also, GroovyMAME was used in conjunction with the CRT_EmuDriver to reproduce the native resolutions and refresh rates each game.

Street Fighter II (title)
Street Fighter II (in game)
Mortal Kombat II (title)
Mortal Kombat II (in game)
Ghouls'n Ghosts (title)
Ghouls'n Ghosts (in game)
Rainbow Islands (title)
Rainbow Islands (in game)
Pretty nice, eh?!

Conclusion

In my opinion, the UMSA is seriously one of the best things to happen to SCART gaming. It provides retro gamers with a simple and cheap method of recreating the visual aspect of arcade (and console) gaming using cheap yet high quality SCART televisions. It's incredibly simple to setup and the results are spectacular.

For anyone just getting in SCART gaming, I can't recommend this product enough! For those who already have a working VGA to SCART setup, I urge you to check out what the UMSA has to offer. You might find that the excellent build quality of the UMSA and ability to use high quality VGA and SCART interconnects provides worthwhile quality boost over your current setup.

Overall, an outstanding product! Well done Arcade Forge!

Extra screenshots:

Some vertical games running on a little Sanyo C14EA10 (chassis A7-A14):

Raiden (title screen)
Raiden (in game)
1942 (title screen)
1942 (in game)
Extras shots:
Here's a stack of screenshots showing the UMSA working with a variety (brand, size, chassis type, etc) of SCART televisions (test units courtesy of Rob):

Altered Beast (Blaupunkt IS 70-49 VT)
Golden Axe (Blaupunkt IS 70-49 VT)
R-Type (Commodore 1084)
Street Fighter II (Commodore 1084)
1942 (Grundig T 55-640 text)
Snow Bros (Grundig T 55-640 text)
Metal Slug (Orion 34BUC T8200A)
Willow (Orion 34BUC T8200A)
Shadow Dancer (Philips 25GR6771/79R)
Rainbow Islands (Philips 25GR6771/79R)
Knights of the Round (Sony KV-340D)
Hammerin' Harry (Sony KV-3400D)
In the Hunt (Teac CT-M516ST)
Caveman Ninja (Teac CT-M516ST)
Strider (Loewe CT1170)
Metal Slug (Loewe CT1170)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Loewe CT1170)
Moon Patrol (Grundig ST 70-800/9 Top/Log)
Bubble Bobble (Grundig ST 70-800/9 Top/Log)
Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (Grundig ST 70-800/9 Top/Log)

20 comments:

  1. nice review, very convenient device, will be picking one up... welcome back!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey, awesome review :) Glad that you like our work :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Could you please post pictures of more stressful video mdoes, especially those that run at 240 scanlines at 60 Hz? Games like R-Type Leo (Irem, 1992)! Rainbow Islands is not the best example to test since it is only using 224 scanlines / 60 Hz, but I can clearly see you are already in trouble provided the portion of the screen is not visible! I mean, such a product can only be great if the TV is able to handle the video modes 100%.

    Also, does that device sends the TV automatically into RGB mode or do you have to switch it manually? Very important as well...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sure, RGB and AV is switched automatically.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Nice review!
    Could only agree, its a great device! Got into this a couple a months ago when I realized that I wanted the "real thing". Bought the UMSA +a SonyTrinitron KV21LS(20euro almost never used)and using soft15khz. The picture is mint! You can send any low res and it displays it real nice.In the beginning I had some resolutions that displayed outside the screen but I got into the Sony service menu and could quite easy make adjustments so everything is now displayed correctly. Can recommend using auto res switching emulators, think it saves one from alot of hassle with manual changing. I have used it with FBA,ZSNES,FCEUX,EPSXE,PCXS2 etc and its works great!
    Highly recommended!

    ReplyDelete
  6. This seems awesome. I think its the motivation I need to build my own cabinet after so many years of holding back.

    Perhaps its a silly question, but except from the original resolutions, can it do the original refresh rates too? especially those weird unusual, like 53, 59.something etc?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yes, GroovyMAME can reproduce the original refresh rates if your video card and TV are up for it! Even all those odd ones that fall somewhere between 50 and 60 Hz.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sorry to bother you again but I didnt manage to find an official list of supported video cards. I understand that only ATI cards are supported.

    I have a X1300 (I think, something with an X for sure) Pci-Express sitting around here, will that do for or the unusual refresh rates?

    If yes I will order it right away :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Not sure about the X1300 off the top of my head... I have an X300 that works very well. Perhaps ask on the GroovyMAME forum...

    ReplyDelete
  10. I read about some x1300 having problems with some modes, resolutions too. Theres also the option of soft15khz, and fiddlign with registry settings etc. I also have a nvidia 6200.

    I ordered the UMSA anyway, will start building my dedicated, crt based emulation machine, and figure out the odd modes and details on the way :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Useful review, thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Great review!

    I have recently picked one of these up and am using it with 'Groovymame' on my recently purchased BE5-chassis Sony KV-21x1U but have discovered a problem I was wondering if you could help with.

    When I go into the service menu to adjust the geometry (the screen in most 60hz modes are off the top and sides), it does not keep the settings! I have obtained the service manual and it states, "Deflection System Adjustments should not be carried out whilst using an NTSC (60Hz) signal" - great!

    I can change all the setting and get a pretty god picture but as soon as I switch off, the settings jump back again. In fact, if you switch between sources while in the service menu, you can see the settings change and the TV accepts changes in 50hz mode no problem.

    Have you ever come across this before? Should I be on the lookout for a better Sony? or does this problem have a fix?


    Many thanks and keep up your fine work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm using the UMSA with a Philips 21" television manufactured in the early 00s. Everything is saved and working fine, the only problem is that adjusting some modes affects some others, but still it's really easy to change it back.
      While I haven't tried with a Sony television, I definitely recommend using a Philips.

      Delete
    2. I'm not sure about the particulars of your Sony but finding the right combination geometry values can be tricky. For me, the ultimate SCART TV should have analog controls so that the sizing can be easily adjusted without having to enter any menus.

      The bonus is that TVs of this vintage tend to have the most "authentic" looking image as well.

      Older Sonys, Philips, Grundig/Blaupunkt/Siemens have internal trimpots which can be externalised. Keep an eye out for these models...

      Delete
  13. Hi! With this gadget can i connect my regular crt tv to my computer? No need for a special graphics card except using the soft15khz drivers?

    Please reply at nikanorr@msn.com

    //Kim

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, if by a "regular CRT TV" you mean a television with a SCART input. As for video cards, some are better than others. In general, ATI is the best bet. Plenty of info out there... check out the GroovyMAME forums!

      Delete
  14. Great review.. im going to buy one.... but i like to know if the image is steady?
    I ask this because i´ve got an Original ArcadeVGA, and even in BIOS the screen is always interlaced...
    Best regards.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hey guys! I wonder if somebody could help me please? I have setup my CRT with UMSA and it looks fantastic! I have tried running mame emulator, PSX emulator, Genesis emulator, Snes etc - you name it! They all look great! However one BIG problem im having is that I am getting tearing in all games with ALL emulators, normally I would just go into the options of whichever emulator and enable Triple Buffering or V-Sync, however I have noticed that if I do that then all I get is unbearable stutter! and thats in ALL the emulators!? My graphics card is AMD Radeon HD 4550 512MB - and Im running Windows 7

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hi, I'll try to get a picture of my Pandora's box 4s on my B&O MX7000 CRT with the UMSA, because via scart over the supergun the picture is running through vertically. I guess it's something incompatibility between the PB and the MX7000. Hopefully it'll work.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I wouldn't use a UMSA to connect a JAMMA PCB since the sync should already be composite. For that purpose I made my own cable using 150 ohm resistors on the RGB and sync lines. Works great!

    ReplyDelete