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Why isn't there STILL a good way of getting VGA output from the C64?


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Considering this is considered one of the most iconic computers in history, why are we lacking a good way to get VGA support? I mean, I have VGA now on my Amiga's, IIGS has an option, so does Colecovision, TI99, etc via F18a. But for the C64 I can find nothing viable. I am not considering the Chameleon option or using S-Vid to one of those cheap S-Vid to VGA boxes either (already tried that and it sucks).

 

Is there anything I missed or anything in the works?

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I suppose there needs to be a FPGA core reimplementing the VIC-II. As you know that is a rather complex chip with new abuses discovered every year, so chances are that the first generation of the FPGA core will fail to work with some software. Besides the Turbo Chameleon, C64DTV and of course C64 cores for the C-One, there is the upcoming Mega65 (which though is meant to be a C65 replica, and the C65 itself may not have had that good emulation of the C64) and possibly more non-free cores. What it would take to make a daughterboard with a suitable programmed FPGA is beyond me, but so far it doesn't seem like a product that e.g. Individual Computers have announced. Even if the resulting RGB signal would be 15 kHz, I suppose scan doubling it would be possible to get it to sync on VGA.

 

I found some cores here, where one could also obtain a commercial license. As you can see, most of the test programs run OK but not all of them.

http://www.syntiac.com/fpga64.html

 

Some people discuss that there are high end S-Video converters which will do a better job than the cheap ones that suck. Now the output signal is not perfect S-Video neither, but it is worth researching if more expensive gear is the solution.

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So we have some way to go yet...unless there is an underground project happening that we do not know about. I guess looking into better s-vid to VGA adapters is the next thing. I tried some of the cheap ones on Amazon (that are "supposed" to work fine according to some youtube videos I saw) that just do not work right.

 

I have one CRT Commodore display now so I am fine for the moment, but whenever it dies I no longer plan on purchasing old CRT displays. After this one goes it is flat screen all the way.

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So we have some way to go yet...unless there is an underground project happening that we do not know about. I guess looking into better s-vid to VGA adapters is the next thing. I tried some of the cheap ones on Amazon (that are "supposed" to work fine according to some youtube videos I saw) that just do not work right.

 

I have one CRT Commodore display now so I am fine for the moment, but whenever it dies I no longer plan on purchasing old CRT displays. After this one goes it is flat screen all the way.

 

I've been where you are. I still have some original Commodore CRTs and I also purchased a relatively recent (2005) NOS Sony PVM that I use with S-Video.

 

Before I found the PVM, I hedged my bets by getting a Turbo Chameleon and an XRGB-Mini Framemeister. The XRGB has gone up quite a bit in price since I purchased it I'm afraid, but the good thing about it, is that you can use it for many different retro systems including an Amiga. It is worth the price. It works a lot better than those cheap converters from eBay.

 

I know you said you are not considering the Chameleon, but again, it provides a lot more than just a VGA output, so for me, it was well worth the cost. And if by chance all my others systems fail, I can still use it standalone mode, but I have a long time before that happens I think.

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What would be a good price point for a drop-in VGA solution, around $100? The F18A sells for $86+ depending on configuration, the FPGA driven 1541U2 is at ~$130 after VAT is discounted and the TC at nearly ~$270 which obviously is way too much. I saw that the author of FPGA64 is involved both with the C-One and TC, and given that it has been considered to exist a market for C64 Reloaded, as well as the SwinSID replacement chip (which not everyone like how it sounds), if the hardware emulation was good enough and the price was affordable, the drop-in chip probably had been here already. Enough people have asked about it over the years.

 

If you're interested, there is an entire wiki about Chameleon bugs of which a number relate to the video output. It is fully expected that it would have small flaws, just like software emulators don't cover every anomaly in the beginning. I don't know if the F18A is 100.01% of a TMS9918, or if the RGB enabled PPU on the NES otherwise is identical to what's there. Of course a system that from the start produces or is possible to obtain a RGB signal will be far easier to get VGA from.

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The XRGB has gone up quite a bit in price since I purchased it I'm afraid, but the good thing about it, is that you can use it for many different retro systems including an Amiga. It is worth the price.

 

This right here. I have the C64 feeding s-video into the XRGB-mini (to LCD HDMI) and the output is beautiful.

 

Though it is a bit odd that the C64 at this point doesn't have something developed for native video enhancement.

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It will have to be VIC replacement. Original VIC only outputs S-Video style signal, the replacement one would need to emulate every single function and quirks of VIC chip and the RAM chip and output in VGA or HDMI. The worst part is with easily a million game and utility programs for C64, some of them likely abuses illegal opcode and other undocumented quirks. Beta tester(s) would have to run shitload of games to find any that needs to be adjusted in the VGA chip before it can be released.

 

Most of other VGA upgrade were also full replacement and not a simple signal converter. A lot of computers and video game consoles of 70s and 80s had very simple output. C64 is probably the most difficult because there's so many games to test with.

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I would say $100 would be the right price. This is what you pay for an ECS or an F18A (around about) and I would pay $100 in a heartbeat to have a drop in replacement that provided my C64 with VGA output.

 

It's hard to see down the profit tunnel from the huge time investment required to X number of sales at $100. Basically it would need to be someone in it for their own personal education, not a financial decision.

Edited by R.Cade
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I guess looking into better s-vid to VGA adapters is the next thing. I tried some of the cheap ones on Amazon (that are "supposed" to work fine according to some youtube videos I saw) that just do not work right.

That's because there's more than one set of inards for those generic shells. The one i have works okay with my A600HD and C64DTV2 but won't touch the signal from anything 8-bit i've thrown at it.

 

The Mygica Gamebox units i take to retro events are significantly better than the cheap and cheerless option but cost more for that improvement (i think they're around $55 give or take) and there's still some lag and noise present; i haven't tried my Lumafixed machine on a Mygica yet but that'll hopefully make some difference to the latter.

 

The worst part is with easily a million game and utility programs for C64, some of them likely abuses illegal opcode and other undocumented quirks. Beta tester(s) would have to run shitload of games to find any that needs to be adjusted in the VGA chip before it can be released.

Illegal opcodes aren't an issue because that's down to the processor which isn't being changed out, but VIC-II emulation needs to be cycle accurate and, if working from scratch, that's a major ask. The Turbo Chameleon already has a reasonably accurate core but still stumbles (one specific edge case i keep forgetting to report is an old HSP crack intro where the FLD of all things craps itself) so that might be a starting point, assuming it can be made to work as part of a drop-in solution...

 

What would be a good price point for a drop-in VGA solution, around $100? The F18A sells for $86+ depending on configuration, the FPGA driven 1541U2 is at ~$130 after VAT is discounted and the TC at nearly ~$270 which obviously is way too much.

i think it depends on if you need the other functionality. If you want to get a theoretical $100 drop-in VGA solution and plan to add a 1541 Ultimate 2 as well, the price of both together isn't much lower than the Chameleon and the latter doesn't need any fitting or case modification for the VGA port.

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The latter is true, that for someone in the market for both a VGA upgrade and a 1541U2, you can get a TC when it gets back in stock. But if you already own a 1541 Ultimate of some sort, you might need to sell it to finance the TC.

 

So yes, the VIC-II is a complex chip with many ways to abuse it. I won't claim the VDP isn't as easily abusable, and perhaps there were years of development behind the F18A. By now we know there are one or more partial FPGA cores to emulate the VIC-II, but none perfect enough to sell as a standalone solution. Actually one could imagine the feature creep into the TC that also brought up its price, was due to the VGA output isn't as super perfect as originally intended, so they added more functionality to make it a desirable product anyway.

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I use a box that isn't VGA, but works really well getting an excellent display to a flat screen LCD/LED screen. It's the ViewSonic NextVision N6. This is rather old technology now, but the bottom line is that it works! It used to be quite expensive, and still brings about $100 for a NOS unit. This is one of those things you have to see to believe. I can't invite you all over, but here's some info:

 

http://www.hk.viewsonic.com/en/products/advancedtv/nextvision_n6.php

 

I just did a search of ebay, but they don't have a single new unit right now. You have to do some hunting - but It's worth the effort.

 

A word of warning though - do not loose the remote. Some options can extreme hard to access without it.

 

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It is going to be one of those things where *one day* there will be a solution. I was actually hoping for one for the C64 AND the Vic-20, and while I am sure the C64 will get something some day, who knows about the good ol' Vic. I am just amazed that the C64 (which is considered the ultimate 80's computer by so many) does not have an option available for modern video output while other more obscure computers like the TI99/4A do. In any case, I ordered a F18A for my TI99 to at least get one of my 80's computers to a modern display ;)

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But if you already own a 1541 Ultimate of some sort, you might need to sell it to finance the TC.

i just ended up with both [sheepish grin] but yes, i know a couple of people who did that after seeing my Chameleon in action.

 

By now we know there are one or more partial FPGA cores to emulate the VIC-II, but none perfect enough to sell as a standalone solution.

The TC's is pretty bloody close now and even does things like scanline generation, but i expect there's a question mark over turning it into a drop-in solution; the TC does a lot of work around the VIC-II emulation so it might not "play nice" outside that environment. Then there's the matter of convincing the right people that there's a demand - i'd consider a drop-in for my "let's shove all the upgrades in" breadbin but that's not exactly a show of interest. =-)

 

It is going to be one of those things where *one day* there will be a solution.

There is a solution already... in fact there are two solutions, one cheaper but flawed (which will also work on the VIC) and one expensive which offers a metric bucketload of extra functionality including pretending to be a range of other computers! The problem is that there's nothing cheap and good right now. Someone may be working to bridge that gap but who knows...

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I suppose commercially it is a lot up to Jens at Individual Computers, since he sells the Turbo Chameleon, has been involved in the C-One and seems to have a commerical license of Peter Wendrich's Synthiac FPGA64 core (plus some licensed rights for Commodore IP, which doesn't really matter here than for bragging rights). Also Individiual Computers figured there is a market for a new C64 motherboard with modern components except for the custom chips that you have to install yourself. In that context, there should be a market for a $100-150 VGA solution that works as a drop-in replacement for the VIC-II, now that the TC has been on the market for a while and matured.

 

Any other manufacturer, and I think the journey would be longer as it might not be a smooth ride to get a commercial license from Synthiac to become a competitor to Jens but who knows, if the commercial potential at an affordable price has already been ruled out, perhaps someone else gets a chance to try and see for themselves if it will sell.

 

R.Cade - the VDP was not off the shelf in 1979, but it eventually became one as TI started to sell both the VDP and SN separately instead of just equipping their TI-99/4 line of computers. Commodore tried to sell at least the VIC-I to arcade manufacturers in the late 70's but failed. If it had worked out, the VIC chips might just as well have become off the shelf parts together with the SID chip that reportedly other manufacturers wanted to obtain but Commodore wouldn't sell to them. Though I doubt second sourcing a chip makes it any less technically complex.

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When it comes to the Turbo Chameleon however, it is an FPGA'ed C64 as stand alone. That makes me wonder how much of the REAL C64 is it using when plugged in to one? I know very little about that adapter which is why I ask. It kind of makes me think just because it can be one as stand alone (and other machines as well) that it is a little more than I am comfortable with when all I want to do is have the real hardware output a better video signal ;)

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I might be wrong, but it could have something to do with timing, that monitoring CPU activity to the VIC-II chip and mimicing the result in FPGA for VGA output added such a delay that in order to get it to speed, the cartridge needs to run its own CPU emulation as well. Perhaps a solution that is inserted directly into the VIC-II socket would not have a such delay compared to going through the cartridge port.

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I had a similar question. I found this on the icomp wiki:

 

  • Since the Chameleon emulates an entire C-64, doesn't it degrade the C-64 into a fancy docking station?

No. A lot of the original ICs are still used in cartridge mode. Similar to the CMD SCPU, the Chameleon replaces the following things:

  • The CPU
  • The main memory (RAM)
  • BASIC and Kernal (ROM)
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Searching around the interwebs, there seem to already be VIC-II FPGA cores (with scandoublers for VGA) out there that could probably be ported such as...

 

http://www.syntiac.com/fpga64.html

 

and

 

http://en.pudn.com/downloads169/sourcecode/game/detail779632_en.html

 

Not sure what the license situation for these are but if somebody is interested in doing a project like this then it might be worthwhile to contact the authors as a lot of the work for this may already be done.

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Here is a video where C64 to VGA was obtained. There is a link to where the modded S video cable is made. If someone could combine these things into a neat little box they would have many sales I am sure!

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hU-Sz3fqyVU

 

I tried it. Didn't work for me.

 

You can get some nice 20" DELL Ultrasharp on eBay for 40/50 euros with an S-Video & Composite inputs. Works fine.

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