From Composite to HDMI

Back in the good old days most of us had to tune our home computers into a CRT television via an RF connector. The signal was pretty good most of the time and as long as picture quality and sound was respectable we could spend hours playing games or coding. The purists amongst us still to this day prefer to hook up an old computer or console in this manner, even if there is modern-day LCD, LED or OLED televisions around. But as some of you might be aware, you can get different results with a mixture of fuzziness and jail bars ( vertical lines ). Even when using Composite or a Scart connector the results can be so variable.

Back in 2011 when I owned another Commodore 64 setup I had a Chameleon 64 Cartridge from Individual Computers. Not only did this act as an amazing SD card solution for loading and saving programs, but it also allowed for you to output the video signal as VGA. Even though HDMI was available back then, this was quite a step forward from the traditional video connection on an 8-bit computer.

I currently use an Ultimate 64 as my main Commodore 64 solution. Even though it is an FPGA, it’s very accurate and allows for HDMI and S-Video output and connections via older hardware ( 1541 Floppy Drive and a C2N 1530 Tape Deck ). You can gather that these signals will be much purer and give a crisper and more refined picture quality. At this point, we are now moving away from old school video signals!

So now, lets really confuse the matter and leap over to another well known 8-bit computer

Hang on, what’s this? It’s a rather obscure clue to a device that’s concept originates from the country of the above Stroopwafel ( so tasty! ).

This device is called the ZX-HD from Byte Delight. It allows a ZX Spectrum to output it’s video output as HDMI. I had my ZX Spectrum+ video output set as Composite until I heard about ZX-HD and ordered one. Due to a fascination with rekindling a retro computer passion across the globe, Byte Delight became swamped with a larger volume of orders than normal and several customers had to wait a bit longer. I waited around four weeks for my order to be dispatched and arrive.

I originally ordered my ZX-HD without a Raspberry Pi, for this is the wonderful piece of hardware that allows for the ZX Spectrum to output as HDMI.

A case is also included that keeps everything safe and sound whilst plugged into the back of your ZX Spectrum. Assembling the whole device as easy and an accompanying set of instructions helps you if you are unsure.

Once everything is put together and safely plugged into the back of your ZX Spectrum whilst switched off. You then first turn on your TV to the desired HDMI port and then your ZX Spectrum.

As prompted, you press ‘RESET’ on your ZX-HD to start and away you go into the wonderful world of HDMI picture quality.

There is no sound at present carried through HDMI for the ZX-HD. At a guess, the sound signal would have to carry from the ZX Spectrum somehow into the Raspberry Pi. This may be a huge technical feat or a matter of a simple software change.

Even though the ZX-HD classically plugs vertically into the back of the ZX Spectrum, my fantastic divMMC from The Future was 8-Bit plugs directly horizontally into the back also. This still serves as a wonderful SD card storage solution to loading favourite games.

The picture quality is absolutely amazing and the wavy lines don’t appear when seen by eye, only when photographed. Of course, I could have shown any game, but for some reason, Manic Miner was chosen as an example.

Even with a close up photograph it looks crisp. Again, those wavy lines, don’t do it any justice. Seeing is really believing!

If you really think about it, the ZX-HD device could also be an amazing similar solution serving other 8-bit computers, like the Amstrad CPC series and Commodore 64 etc. The technology, as it stands proves this. Presuming that a cartridge slot would be the most common place to use it from or maybe the expansion slot maybe? And again, what about audio?

So, who knows what the technological future will bring us. What can we expect next?

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