High-Box Transcoder (HDBox Pro) review (w/comparisons)


#1

Hey folks! Are you looking for a cheap way to play your last-gen fighting games on your PC monitor. Are you looking for a cheap transcoder/deinterlacer that is of good quality. Then you probably heard of the HDBox pro and its clone, the High-Box Transcoder. I’m going to be reviewing the later. It’s essentially the same as the HDBox Pro, save for a few differences which I will mention in this review, and it can be found everywhere on ebay for around $50.

I’m doing this review for a few reasons. One reason comes from the advent of this thread. Another reason being is that while there are many first impressions and people’s opinions on the box, I have yet to find one that truly goes into the details. The closest I found to a truly detailed review would be the one here. Be warned that because I’m going into such detail in this review, I will sound rather nitpicky. I’m not actually nitpicky, but I need to be so here so that people know exactly what kind of quality their getting with their box.

In this review, I will also be doing comparisons using the PC, Wii (High-box and V-Digi cables), and PS2 systems as reference points. The games I’ll be testing with are Melty Blood: Act Cadenza, Capcom vs. SNK 2 EO (only version I own), Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Wario Land Shake! (JP version), and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I will not be testing any Xbox360 games or PS3 games, as you can simply buy a VGA or HDfury for these systems. Also, the camera quality for some shots are not representative of the actual image quality on screen. Lastly, I’m using an HP A7217A (FW-900) CRT, so results may vary on LCDs and other monitors, but this should give you a good idea of the quality.

Now that I got that out of the way, let’s move on to the review itself.

*Table of Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Melty Blood: Act Cadenza - PS2 (High-Box 480i) vs PC (480p)
  3. Capcom vs SNK 2 EO - 480i
  4. Wii - 480i vs 480p vs V-Digi (480p)
  5. Super Smash Bros Brawl
  6. Wario Land Shake!
  7. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - High-Box 240p
  8. Conclusion*

1. Overview

When I first opened the High-Box, I noticed that along with the box, it came with a VGA cable, a male-male speaker cable (for the pc), and an AC adaptor. After I plugged it in the led turned on as red.

Once I set the box up, I figured out how to switch from pc mode to game mode. The box does not come with an on/off switch. In order to switch from PC mode to game mode and vice-versa, you must hold down the menu button for about one second.

Once you’ve done that, you should now be able to see the action on screen. In this mode, you can bring up the menu by briefly tapping the menu button. At this point you’re giving the color and display options. You have to select the options by holding the up/down, which is rather slow and unintuitive. In color mode, you can adjust the brightness, contrast, saturation and hue (though I’ve yet to figure out what hue does). In display mode, you can set the resolution of the box anywhere from 640x480 to 1920x1200. This is personal taste, but I prefer to stick to 640x480, as the picture seems slightly sharper with the CRT’s scanlines.

As for HDBox owners, according to a few sources, the latest firmware of the HDBox Pro seems to not be able to output at 640x480 for those interested. However, it does have some nifty settings that the High-Box currently does not have, such as sharpness, dark levels, and motion levels.

Likewise, for those who wish to use this converter as a bridge between the PC and the monitor, I advise High-box to not even bother with this feature as the image quality gets seriously gutted in the process. You get noticeable ghosting and halos that appear on the screen to give you headaches if you plan on doing extensive reading. Here’s the proof, though it seems to make it better than it actually is. HDBoxes are apparently not affected by this deficiency, so those who want the extra options and a working vga bridge should seriously consider plunking down the extra $20 or so for an HDBox.

Obviously, I’ve gone through the aesthetics of the box. Of course, I’m pretty sure you want to see how it actually performs in regards to the image. Well, now we go to the main part of our review; the comparisons. First up, Melty Blood: Act Cadenza.

2. Melty Blood: Act Cadenza - PS2 (High-Box 480i) vs PC (480p)

I chose this game for comparison because I like this game a whole lot. It has some great (read: cute) character designs, and more importantly, a very deep fighting engine to practice on. Naturally, this was the first game I tested with the High-Box. Of course, because it’s also on the pc, this will make a great comparison for the High-Box.

First thing to get down, the PC version runs in 480p, while the PS2 version only runs in 480i (like around 90% of PS2 games), so by default, the PC version has a clearer picture. Here’s a shot of the PC version for reference. This comparison will be more on how the High-Box handles 480i signals.

The first question to answer is how sharp the image quality in 480i is on the High-Box. The answer to that is decently sharp. It’s not quite as clear as a native 480p image, but it’s definitely serviceable. Here’s an image of the PS2 version to compare to. As you can see, the PS2 image looses some of the sharpness of it’s PC brother, but otherwise, it’s definitely comparable. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised of the quality that the PS2 image produced on the high box. Of course, this was without any motion on the screen.

Unfortunately, it was when things started moving where my first unpleasant surprise came at me. Whenever anything moves, anything around that motion becomes unstable. If I were to describe this instability, it would be something like a cross between dot crawl on a tube TV and/or flicker reminiscent of an NES game (on a smaller scale however). A perfect example of this is the heath bars in MBAC. Here’s an image of the character moving the screen to give you a good idea of what I’m talking about. Even on a still image, you can clearly see the instability on the character and around the life bar with the white lines flickering and such. This problem isn’t limited to just these things either. Any color change with result in a dot crawl sensation, such as with this super meter.

The good news is that this problem seems to be limited almost exclusively to PS2 games, as maybe the lack of anti-aliasing on the PS2 is the cause of it. Likewise, every PS2 game seems to have this issue, although the severity of it varies from game to game. So far though, MBAC seems to have it off the worst.

Next up, Capcom vs SNK 2 EO!

3. Capcom vs SNK 2 EO - 480i

I know what you’re thinking, but I bought this game well before I got truly interested in the fighting game genre and I wanted to try this game (I only had a Gamecube back then). Like Melty Blood, this game runs in 480i only, so I couldn’t test this with the V-Digi cable as that only accepts progressive signals.

Anyway, first thing I noticed was that the game looked slightly blurrier than Melty Blood. Whether this is the hardware ir some sort of anti-aliasing, I’m not sure, but the picture is slightly softer than I expected. This image here shows a slight lack of immediate clarity on the pixels. This trade-off does some with a plus side though; the picture, when moving, is far more stable than games on the PS2 are. Not to say it’s gone, there’s still some dot crawl and interlacing artifacts associated with 480i, but it’s nowhere near as noticeable as games on the PS2 were. Here’s some artifacts that occur with all fast-moving 480i images (note that it only affects the character, and not the entire screen as it seems like in the picture).

Overall, on the Gamecube/Wii, in 480i-only games, you get a far more stable picture in exchange for immediate clarity. Color me pleased.

4. Wii - 480i vs 480p vs V-Digi (480p)

This is just the Wii Menu using the High-Box at 480i and 480p, and the V-Digi, which can only output at 480p. I honestly didn’t see much of a difference between the three modes. Here’s the shots for 480i, 480p, and v-digi. Not much difference, so that’s all good. Of course, we still have to do the games, and so we move to Smash Bros. Brawl.

5. Super Smash Bros Brawl

With this game, I tested it using the sharp mode that’s in the game, so these pictures lack anti-aliasing. Because of this, the floor and textures will seem to flicker a lot when the screen’s in motion. However, the resolution does seem to affect the amount of flicker.

In 480i, the pixels are slightly less sharp than the others, and the floor seems to flicker heaviest. In 480p, the floor flickers almost as much, but the sharpness is slightly more defined. Lastly, with the V-Digi, the flicker is least noticeable, and the details seem to be the most defined. The v-digi wins, though slightly.

6. Wario Land Shake!

This game supports 480i and 480p, and it’s 2d. So this game is perfect for testing the images side by side. Also note that like Capcom vs SNK 2 EO, the picture is very stable compared to most PS2 games, so motion is a non-factor in this comparison.

Firstly, here’s the game in 480i. As you can see, the image is quite blurry and the lines don’t have a clear definition. Next up is 480p. Although not the clearest, you can at least see the line definition. Lastly, we have the V-digi here. The line definition is clear as day and obviously the best looking of the three.

Last but not least is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

7. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - High-Box 240p

I tested this game for nostalgia, and in order to see how well the High-Box can handle 240p signals.

The verdict, definitely better than 480i. Here’s a screen of it without motion. As you can see, it’s comparable to, if not better then, the clarity of a PS2 game. Just as importantly, the stability of the picture is comparable to that of a Gamecube/Wii game when it’s moving. The only negative is that when in motion, the pixels loose some of it’s clarity, but it’s barely noticeable and definitely not serious. So for those looking for a cheap way to play 240p games, this way is very feasible.

8. Conclusion

To sum how the box performs, it depends on the game and system. It seems that PS2 games in general trade stability in favor of image sharpness, and vice-versa for Gamecube/Wii games in general. Differences between 480i and 480p seem to be mostly negligible, and 240p games seem to play very nicely.

Overall, the High-Box isn’t perfect. It’s lack of stability on PS2 games and lack of clarity on Gamecube/Wii games prevent this from being a truly serious alternative to other transcoders/deinterlacers on the market, such as the XRGB-2/3 and the iScan. Nonetheless, on it’s own, this still produces a very good quality image. Not to mention this, along with the HDBox, are the only transcoders I know of that are able to accept both interlaced and progressive signals, making it a good example of the “jack of all trades, master of none” saying. Combine this with a price point a mere fraction of it’s competitors, and have a product that is clearly the best bang for your buck. Recommended!

Comments and suggestions are most welcome. I’ll edit this whenever something important shows up or whenever I feel like it.


#2

I can now confirm that the instability of the picture for PS2 games is definitely dependent on the game itself, and very likely the way it was programed.

Arcana Heart 1, for a good example, has a pretty stable picture. The image stability in Arcana Heart 2, on the other hand, is absolutely horrendous (Far worse than even Melty Blood). Even without the slowdown, where it should look similar to the original, Arcana Heart 2’s image shakes and crawls worse than a rattlesnake. I couldn’t take pictures of this as I’m too busy/lazy, but just take my word for it that AH2 looks far worse than the original. Of course, this also shows that the stability is a software cause, not a hardware one.