Wednesday 29 May 2013

Review: Hanzo VGA Box and Scanliner

The Hanzo is a VGA box with a built-in scanliner made for the Dreamcast. A device that greatly increases the picture quality from the system and something that every Dreamcast enthusiast should own. Seeing games like Skies of Arcadia, Phantasy Star Online, and even the recently-released Sturmwind in 480p truly is the way Dreamcast games were meant to be played.

For those not in-the-know know, the Dreamcast was capable of outputting a 480p VGA signal straight from the console without any modification. It did, however, require a separate device that plugged into the standard A/V port to allow this. At the time it was basically used to play the Dreamcast on a computer monitor, projector, or high-end CRT television. Fast-forward to today where everybody has high definition TVs with VGA support, it's no wonder the price of VGA boxes has skyrocketed in the past couple years.

The Hanzo does not fail at its promise and the picture looks amazingly clear, crisp, and colourful when compared to the standard Dreamcast A/V cables. The difference is almost unbelievable on a modern flat panel LCD. Yet another reason the Dreamcast was ahead of its time.

Screenshot compare of standard A/V (left) and Hanzo (right)
A large complaint that some people have with the VGA signal on LCDs is that 2D sprite-based games or games made in lower resolutions don't look authentic on modern TVs. Those types of games were usually made for arcades where CRTs were the norm and they had a very distinct look to them because of the presence of scanlines. Scanlines are basically gaps, or blank horizontal lines, produced on a CRT because of a combination of low native game resolution and interlacing on the monitor. The Hanzo attempts to remedy this complaint by allowing you to introduce visible scanlines to the picture, recreating the look of classic arcade games.

Screenshot compare of no scanline (left) and scanline (right)
I'm not a big fan of artificial scanlines; I prefer the bright, crisp look of the native picture but for those of you who absolutely love scanlines, the Hanzo does a great job. It even gives you the option of putting the scanlines on the odd lines or the even lines depending on your preference and the ability to change the size of the scanlines which I'm told looks better when the picture is upscaled.

The Hanzo itself feels to be of high build quality. All the plugs and switches seem to shield the sides enough so that I don't feel it's a big deal that the box is not fully enclosed. The plexiglass on the top and bottom looks pretty slick too with the logo laser-etched into it. From what I understand, beharius (creator of the Hanzo) hand builds these. It's nice to know someone actually spent the time to produce a quality product instead of mass-producing cheap crap.

This all sounds amazing right? Well there are some caveats to using a VGA box on the Dreamcast.  Mainly that not all games are compatible. Some early games were shipped with a flag on the disc that prevented them from booting into VGA. The Hanzo lets you get around this by setting one of the switches to 15KHz(480i) mode to bypass the check, then switching back to 31KHz(480p) to enjoy your game. Other games are completely incompatible with VGA.
For a complete compatibility list click here.

The slight compatibility issues aside (most of the incompatible games are crap anyways) I am enjoying playing my Dreamcast on my HDTV in beautiful 480p. Especially Sturmwind which I just received last week and am currently working on a review for. So stay tuned!

A big shout out to beharius for creating such a wondering product at a decent price. I believe he is working on an official website for the Hanzo so I will link to that as soon as it's up.

Thanks for reading.