Hidden TV-Out On The Nintendo DS Lite

The DS Lite was one of Nintendo’s most popular handheld gaming consoles, but unbeknownst to all, it has a hidden feature that could have made it even more popular. Digging through the hardware and firmware, the [Lost Nintendo History] team discovered the System-on-Chip (SoC) in the DS Lite can output a composite video signal.

The SoC can output a 10-bit digital output running at 16.7 MHz, but it is disabled by the stock firmware early in the boot process, so custom firmware was required. It still needs to be converted to an analog signal, so a small adaptor board with a DAC (digital-analog converter) and op-amp is attached to the flex cable of the upper screen. A set of buttons on the board allow you to select which screen is displayed on the TV. The adaptor board is open source, and the Gerbers and schematics are available on GitHub.

The current version of the adaptor board disables the upper screen, but the [Lost Nintendo History] team is considering designing a pass-through board to eliminate this disadvantage. The TV-out mod can also be combined with the popular Macro mod, in which the upper screen is removed to turn it into a Game Boy Advance. The Nintendo DS is a popular hacking subject, and we’ve been covering them for well over a decade.

32 thoughts on “Hidden TV-Out On The Nintendo DS Lite

  1. Wow, I even worked retail electronics (where grandmas would call everything “Playstation” even if it was Xbox or Gamecube) and back in 2004 when the DS launched I never heard it called anything but the Nintendo DS.

    Calling it a “Game Boy DS Lite” is profoundly wacky.

    1. It has just one screen. It is apparently a thing in the modding community to convert broken DSs into a “Game Boy DS” by hacking the top screen off, installing custom firmware and then running GBA games via YSMenu / TwilightMenu++, showing output on the bottom screen. Lots of stuff on Youtube…

      1. Thats referred to by and large as a “Gameboy Macro” because it omits the Dual Screen aspect and plays only Gameboy games.
        This doesn’t omit the second screen, it reroutes the second screen to an external display.

    1. For the portable consoles, Nintendo didn’t develop the SOCs. They were designed by their hardware partner, and Nintendo took what they offered. I suppose their hardware partner thought this feature might be useful, but probably Nintendo didn’t want any possible confusion between their portables and their TV consoles.

      I do wonder if those SOCs ever made their way into anything other than Nintendo products?

  2. Had the idea for the longest time of making a replica dual screen Punch Out cabinet, but it’s set up to play DS games. Aside from the difficulty in procuring plans or dimensions for those specific dual screen cabinets without tracking one down and doing it myself, the plan was to try and obtain a IS-Nitro Capture or Video, a non-consumer device intended for either magazines and other game reviewers to capture screenshots in the case of the Capture, or for kiosks and such with the Video. Not exactly the sort of thing that’s easily procured at the drop of a hat, plus would require some sort of modification to wire the controls up to the arcade cab controls, something I still don’t really want to do to what is a decently rare piece of hardware.

    This project would be an absolute godsend for the actual DS hardware side of things, if it had the ability to send video for both displays separately to two composite-outs. Also if it worked for official carts, but that would be more of a nice to have if anything.

      1. Given we have to install custom firmware and use an external board with components on it for this anyway, makes me wonder how possible it would be for a V2 to be set up so it either sequentially outputs the top/bottom display every frame, or interleave the two frames together at double the refresh rate, and have some sort of decode-type circuitry on the output board to spit out two video feeds from the single coming out of the system?

          1. ^
            Because, if I remember my geekier friend right, for emulation to be *good* on a system, that system needs to be running some 4X faster than what it’s emulating.
            He said that’s why the PS2 was such a pain to emulate—since it had multiple cores, systems had to not only run 4X faster than the PS2, but also do it multiple times to emulate the multiple cores.

      1. Because it’s not the same. Emulation will never be 100% perfect, and DS emulation especially last I was aware wasn’t exactly great, regardless of the power of the system emulating it. Plus if I were to go through all the trouble of building a cabinet for this, I want to do it properly. It might seem silly, but I’d want it to feel authentic, and that’s not going to happen with a PC emulating a DS.
        Plus using real carts would be infinitely more of a hassle, which while I’d give that up if it became absolutely necessary, if I can have the ability to have a card slot in it, I’m going to do it.

        1. Yeah, no. That’s just simply not true. Emulation can and will eventually be perfect and beyond that better than perfect., Which depending on the system, it may already be. People need to stop pretending like games are some super special magic software can only be run correctly on the system they were designed for. That’s actually absurd as a statement

  3. Waow the DS could output Composite signal!!!

    Like almost every other console on the market.

    Why do you think it’s so easy to add HDMI out to something like the NES.

    As lomg as a console generate an image you can tap it and output it anyway you want… Even the GBA can be modded to output through HDMI.

    CLICKBAIT

    1. Cant decide if either a troll or just ignorant about how analog and digital video works. Both of your nes and gba hdmi examples require complex fpga’s or cpld’s with custom boards and firmware to generate usable video output to consumer video equipment, so no they are neither easy nor cheap. They usually tap into the system video buffer to grab the frame data and have to format the data and generate the correct timings for it to work. This is using native digital video output from the onboard soc already in the ds and all that needs to be done is use a r2r ladder as a dac to generate the analog video to directly interface with a composite video tv/monitor. The circuit for this could be as cheap as a few dollars using a custom flex board. Totally different situations that you are handwaving away as identical.

    2. You’re missing the point my dude.
      The NES HDMI and GBA Consolizer mods are FPGAs put *in place of* the built in display that taps off the SoC *before* the signal reaches the display driver or display output and converts it into an HDMI signal.
      Easier with the NES because it already outputs to a composite signal. The GBA was a far more in depth mod because it was never designed with a composite signal in mind because its a handheld.

      This is a *built in feature* found ONLY in this version of the handheld and NO OTHER HANDHELD released by nintendo to output something close enough to composite that a simple DAC is all thats needed to pipe the entire display to an external screen.

      No FPGAs, no expensive hardware needed. Whether you like it or not, it IS an unusual and extremely interesting find in a first party handheld where no documentation even mentioned it as a possibility.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.