GBA on the Big Screen: FPGA Delivers HDMI and Every Feature Imaginable

The concept of creating a gaming portable out of a home console has been around for some time, but it’s hardly seen the other way around. There have been a few devices that dared to straddle the line (i.e., Sega Nomad, Nintendo Switch, etc.), but the two worlds typically remain separate. [Stephen] looked to explore that space by attempting to turn the Game Boy Advance into a “big boy” console. The FPGA-based mod kit he created does just that, and comes complete with controller support and digital video output in 720p over a mini HDMI cable.

The kit itself was designed specifically for the original model GBAs containing the 40-pin LCD ribbon cable. These original models were the early run of non-backlit screens that are also denoted by a motherboard designation that can be seen by peering into the battery compartment. RGB signals are read directly from the GBA LCD socket by removing the handheld’s screen in favor of a fresh flat flex ribbon cable. This method enables a noise-free digital-to-digital solution as opposed to the digital-to-analog output of Nintendo’s own Game Boy Player add-on for the GameCube.

At an astonishing 240×160 native resolution, GBA video is scaled by the FPGA up to 5x within a 720p frame. Of course some of the image is cutoff in the process, so options for 4x and 4.5x scales were included. As a wise man once said, “Leave no pixel behind”. Since Nintendo designed the GBA clock to run at 59.7276 Hz, [Stephen] removed the oscillator crystal in order to sync the refresh rate to a more HDMI friendly 60 Hz. This means that the mod kit overclocks GBA games ever so slightly, though [Stephen] included a GBA cycle accurate mode as an option if your display can handle it.

The video below is [Stephen]’s initial test using a SNES controller. Tests must have gone well, because he decided to incorporate a SNES controller port in the final design. Now all those Super Nintendo ports on the GBA are back home once again thanks to this “consolizer” kit.

For those seeking a comprehensive overview of all the Game-Boy-to-TV video solutions out there, there’s a great video from RetroRGB to view as well.

17 thoughts on “GBA on the Big Screen: FPGA Delivers HDMI and Every Feature Imaginable

  1. Nice one, HDMI can offer huge variations but, can you make any $ out of it beyond the transient joy of hacking. IOW. Hacking into HDMI with some processing to do something useful can be expensive for the hobbyist Or does it have to be when it comes to cro’s and development tools – a comparison chart would be good ?

  2. WANT! Where can I tell him to shut up and take my money?! ;) I have this old chinese adapter that lets you use the GBA as a TV. It attaches to the ribbon cable and outputs composite and S-Video, but most LCDs won’t sync to it. It sucks.
    Would be nice if Stephens converter could provide a piggy-backed regular display, so the GBA stays usable without an HDMI cable, because I just invested in a better, backlit screen for my AGB-001. He might be able to just fit it right into the enclosure. Or is there an electrical problem preventing that to work?

    1. It might be cool if the kit had a way to either retain the original LCD or incorporate an HDMI based screen to keep the system portable. But the GBA is cheap enough and game saves are stored on the carts so adding that to a mod like this would just be showing off :)

    1. From the article:

      “RGB signals are read directly from the GBA LCD socket by removing the handheld’s screen in favor of a fresh flat flex ribbon cable. This method enables a noise-free digital-to-digital solution as opposed to the digital-to-analog output of Nintendo’s own Game Boy Player add-on for the GameCube.”

      1. To be fair, the Gamecube has ACTUAL digital output (on early models), as the DACs were in the rather spendy component cable, rather than in the console. Made fro top quality component out, but it also makes for a Gamecube HDMI adaptor that’s 100% digital to digital, and 100% plug and play.

          1. I know. I was merely pointing out that on many Gamecubes… There is no Digital to Analog out, provided you have the right hardware and the HDMI adapter.

            I myself have the old Chinese sourced GBA to analog TV out adapter. Interestingly, it actually DID support a passthrough for the flex cable, and replaced the rear half of the shell with one with a digital video I/O connector. You could still use the GBA as a handheld, but then plug in the converter “backpack”, and it would then output to a TV, via analog. Still, I would like to find that pesky disc, as I have both the Gamecube and the GB Player.

            Agreed on the annoyance of that disc though…

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