HDMI Out On The Gameboy Advance

The Gameboy line of handheld systems from Nintendo have been wildly popular, but lack one major thing – a video output. This can be troublesome if you’d like to view the games on a bigger screen, for more comfortable gaming sessions or detail work like producing chiptunes. One option is to use the Gameboy Player for the Gamecube, however that system’s age means you’re out of luck if you want a crisp, clear picture on a modern digital display. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get HDMI output from a Gameboy Advance Instead?

A family resemblance?

When it comes to working with video signals, FPGAs can’t be beat. [Stephen] leverages an FPGA in this project to read the GBA’s video signals and convert them to the modern digital format. Unfortunately, it’s not a seamless install – limited space means the GBA’s screen must be entirely removed, replaced with the adapter in a manner resembling the terrifying Facehugger.

Packaging aside, the output from the device is nothing short of stunning – the graphics are absolutely crystal clear when displayed on a modern HDMI television. This is because the FPGA is capturing the exact digital output from the GBA, and piping it out as HDMI – there’s no analog fuzziness, conversions or noise to spoil the image. Output is a tasty 1280×720, upscaled from the GBA’s original resolution. For more details, check out the forum thread where [Stephen] runs through the build.

The only thing missing  is details – we’d love to know more about the exact hardware used, and any trials and tribulations during the build! As far as we can tell, the build doesn’t stop at just video – a SNES controller is used instead of the original buttons, and we have a feeling sound is being passed over the HDMI channel as well sound is piped to the TV from the GBA’s headphone port.

It’s great to see these projects for old hardware come out – modern hardware has the muscle to achieve things previously unthinkable on retro consoles. We’ve seen similar projects before – like adding VGA to an original Game Boy.



35 thoughts on “HDMI Out On The Gameboy Advance

  1. I think [Stephen] is onto something here…

    Challenge to creator [Stephen]:
    REV 0.2-
    Add in support to MITM* the signal from the display so both internal and HDMI displays can be used and doing said task on a more compact FPGA on a custom Kapton-film based PCB for maximum thinness. Try to keep the original press-buttons for the authentic look and feel.

    * MITM == Using the FPGA as a buffer between the LCD data-source and the actual LCD Data-bus whilst mirroring the bus in the FPGA for sending over the TMDS configured LVDS lanes (HDMI/DVI/DP++, not plain DP… that has no TMDS fallback support)

    1. That can be done, but right now I’m using an older Spartan 6 FPGA that gets a little toasty. The raised 3D printed shell also helps things stay nice and cool.

      I would rather use a backlit LCD and just knock out screen replacement and video out in one mod.

      But for now, one step at a time.

    2. Just noticed you said Kapton-film PCB. Good joke, but I’m just an EE grad student. No way I could fund the prototyping of that.

      I put the buttons back in here https://imgur.com/a/vFxlx The presses don’t feel right since I soldered to the actual button pads. However, there are small test pads that can be soldered to instead that won’t interfere with the feel of button presses.

      1. You actually can get stuff to make kapton-film PCB (AKA Pyralux). They sell it at Adafruit: https://www.adafruit.com/product/1894 . It’s actually surprisingly easy to work with using toner transfer. I’ve made a total of maybe 5 boards ever, and two of them were with pyralux. Only downside is that you can only do single-sided boards with that stuff, unless you want to try interconnecting layers yourself.

        And I’m an ME, so I almost guarantee you that your grad student EE voodoo will work better than whatever I kludged together.

        1. I need a two layer board with 0.5mm pin pitch, not sure how well a home etched board would work. I use Oshpark for pcbs, nothing fancy.

          Thanks for the link though.

          1. dirtypcbs.com makes Flex PCBs, 2 layer 0,4mm thick with ENIG, their ~10 pieces 10*10cm protopack with 98$ not really cheap but also not completetly out of budget. In fact I would consider it “cheap” for FlexPCBs.
            For 2 layers Flex I would not try home etching.

  2. “The only thing missing is details – we’d love to know more about the exact hardware used, and any trials and tribulations during the build!”
    Yeah, we’d love that for sure, the only missing thing is just what should be the main reason to report it here ! Because, without it, this is just an uninteresting read about another undocumented product that just sounds like an advertisement.

    Really, the “shut up and take my money” meme is the typical idiotic reaction that sums it all : don’t talk to me about the details, just sell it to me…

      1. Hey thanks Stephen ! That and your comments here are a start to really learn something about your work (much better than “look, he used an FPGA ! Digital only ! Crystal clear !”… next time you should write your HaD article yourself :)

        I really like the definitive DIY hint that you gave in your forum’s first post : “If anyone else would like to give it a try… the GBA is 15-bit RGB video and all the pixel data, pixel clock, and timing signals are clearly marked on the PCB silkscreen :)” (I just found them at the top edge of the GBA motherboard on this hi-def picture : https://bitbuilt.net/forums/index.php?attachments/game_boy_advance_agb-cpu-03_top_with_parts_pcb_scan_atv-jpg.1148/ )

        1. Actually, we wrote this article because it’s newsworthy – it’s the first Gameboy HDMI hack of its kind as far as we’re aware.

          What’s more, after talking with Stephen he kindly wrote up more on the project so we could later add it to the article, cause he does great work!

          I’m not going to apologise for drawing attention to great work just because we have to wait a little on the details.

    1. I somehow agree with you. If he doesn´t want to release the code ok, but a text page/entry with description of hardware, and the “trials and tribulations” would be the reason for the article to be in HaD, not just an orphaned video

      1. Yup, a Youtube video is absolutely the least informative thing you can have on something technical. We already know what it does, it says that in the title before you even read the article. This article tells us nothing.

        1. Yeah but this is Hackaday, where I come to be entertained by technical information. It’s puzzling, innit?

          I dunno how much money he’s expecting to make from people watching him play Kirby on a big TV with a bunch of wires in the foreground. There’s way better ways to salami-slice your way to ten$$$$ and possibly hundr£d$$$$ of Youtube monies, than with videos of niche nerd stuff where you can’t see the working parts up close.

          Stephan’s probably not doing any of this to make money though. Rather, just because he finds it interesting, which is why I’d like to read more about it.

          1. If you’re going to be critical of my work, the least you could do is spell my name correctly.

            See the above comment for some extra details. I’m going to make a webpage for the project at some point.

          2. Where did I criticise your work? I was arguing against Brian’s idea that it’d be smart to monetise your Youtube video. Because I don’t think it would be, and I don’t think that’s why you did the whole thing in the first place.

            As for your name, I also took that from Brian’s post. I really should have known better than to do that. So, pardon me for that.

            I’d like to see your web page when it’s finished, for readers of HAD it’d be a lot more interesting than a Youtube video. For Youtube, where it will generate comments explaining what HDMI stands for, and how the GBA wasn’t actually a SNES, I suppose it’s well enough. Different audience.

  3. “and we have a feeling sound is being passed over the HDMI channel as well.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, isn’t that cable with the green connector on the bottom right going into the headphone jack?

    1. You are right.

      Furthermore, his own youtube channel shows that it’s have been 9 month since the first prototype.
      Just look at his channel image, you will have a picture of an (older ?) prototype.

  4. No details = useless post.
    I have an old GBA with a broken screen and would loge to do this myself.
    Also, not having a written out report is lazy. Youtube is a trap for lazy most, and I despise having to watch minutes of mumbling to get to the content. (Not this video in particular, but in general)

    So please, make a lovely hackaday.io page and give us the details!

  5. “we have a feeling sound is being passed over the HDMI channel as well”
    Yeah? You sure? What tipped you off, was it the analogue 3.5mm audio lead plugged in to the headphone jack?

  6. My first thought, this is the reverse of the trend to make non-portable consoles portable. I think the idea is pretty cool (especially if the hand healds are cheap enough you can buy one to be connected to a TV, and one for on the go play).
    If you aren’t worried about preserving portability, I wonder what’s possible.

    My next question is if this FPGA is what it seems, an interposer to the LCD screen?
    Is there some sort of serial bus that could have been tapped that could have been lower impact?

  7. Thats pretty cool, but ill hold on to my money untill a later rev that includes a backlit screen on the handheld aswell (like he suggests wanting to make in one of the comments)

    Also when that does happen, plz sell a kit, i literally have several GBA’s in several states of picked apart :P

  8. This is a great hack!
    Many years ago, there was a commercial device called テレビでアドバンス (“Terebi de Advance” or Advance on TV) from Gametech that made a composite video out by tapping the ribbon cable on the Gameboy Advance, but of course that was before HDMI was a thing, so Stephen’s is far more useful today…

    I could really use a version for the Nintendo DSi or 3DS. I was using a mod that converted the video to USB to connect through my laptop, but that seemed to stop working reliably when I got a new machine, and I haven’t been able to get it going since, and the manufacturer has been no help.

    An HDMI out version would be so very nice…

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