Upgraded Graphics Gremlin Adds HDMI Video To Vintage PCs

An 8-bit ISA card with VGA, HDMI and composite video connectors

Although new VGA-equipped monitors can still be bought, the old standard is definitely on its way out by now, being replaced by high-speed digital interfaces like HDMI and DisplayPort. It therefore makes sense to prepare for a VGA-less future, as [Yeo Kheng Meng] is doing. He designed an 8-bit ISA display card with an HDMI output that enables even the very first generation of PCs to talk to a modern monitor.

The design is based on the Graphics Gremlin by [Tube Time], which is an 8-bit ISA display card that aims to be software compatible with the obsolete MDA and CGA display formats while outputting a clean VGA signal. [Yeo Kheng Meng] modified the board by adding a TFP410 HDMI bus driver and replacing the rarely-used 9-pin RGBI connector with an HDMI version. He also updated the HDL code for the Lattice FPGA, which forms the heart of the graphics card, to account for the new digital output. While he was at it, he also added a few features he was missing in the original product, such as the option to select the color displayed in MDA mode and the ability to output both HDMI and composite video at the same time.

The video below shows the updated card in action in an IBM 5155 Portable PC. The HDMI port connects to a modern monitor, while the composite video output is routed to the 5155’s internal CRT as well as a small color monitor on top. The IBM thereby joins a small list of retro computers that have received an HDMI upgrade — the Amiga 500 and PlayStation 2 being other examples. HDMI might be a lot more complex to work with than VGA, but luckily there are open-source implementations that do much of the work for you.

34 thoughts on “Upgraded Graphics Gremlin Adds HDMI Video To Vintage PCs

      1. Please tell me you plan to sell these on your site. I want one! Or perhaps incorporate it into the NuXT, which I already have a couple of but would definitely get another one with Gremlin HDMI support.

      1. Cheap AMD boards have VGA (along with a DP and HDMI).

        I can’t figure out why…
        They can charge more for boards with dual DP.
        But that connector and assembly has to cost an incremental buck. Nobody uses it. Yet there it is.
        Am I missing a large population somewhere with CRTs and cheap but modern computers?

  1. At this point, wouldn’t it better to let the original hardware rest in peace and just use an emulator?
    They’re more accurate, anyway, in so many way. They also have CRT filters, which HDMI monitors do not.
    All in all, I question sanity here. Old games and graphics applications need some sort of filtering to “look right”. VGA and Composite had a bit of blurriness, at least. And they were used by 4:3 monitors. While that’s no substitute for a 1980s TV grade CRT mask, it’s better than nothing. Blurriness is needed, so pixels of different color can blend together. As is, this HDMI version is useful for industrial purposes the most, to make some ~1981 CNC machine work with a cheap random TFT from the next best discounter. But that’s just my opinion, of course.

    1. Please don’t get me wrong, I knowledge the work here. Additional HDMI support (or even better, DVI-I support) has a use. But then, a proper CRT emulation should be implemented in the FPGA. An no, I don’t mean scan lines here (such a nonsense). I rather mean simulation of a phosphor screen (say, 0.5mm slot mask) and NTSC simulation (for CGA). Something like in this video here. The poor mask is ideal for CGA era games with bad graphics. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m79HxULt3O8

      1. The vintage software and their designers think otherwise. Video RAM content ≠ final image

        This is downgrade, not an upgrade.
        – Unless there are new Lotus 1-2-3 and Word Star users, of course. :D

        Here, text-output in MDA mode would be very sharp. Well, provided, that the aspect-ratio is properly set. Newish 16:9 stretches the letters quite a bit.

        Alternatively, let’s dump the vintage PC the same way we did with the CRT monitor. Those who don’t see the dependency/relationship between the vintage peripherals and the vintage PC itself don’t value things anyway and lack culture. They’re akin to those people ordering a hamburger at a fine restaurant. IMHO. ;)

        1. Look, ZX Spectrum is under development by enthusiasts nowadays. Who don’t want HDMI output, will not purchase this card.
          Who don’t want or cannot store or pay a CRT, will purchase.
          I don’t even think that a SW designer took in consideration in the 80’s that the CRT image will differ a bit from the RAM.

      2. Bilinear interpolation would be neat, at least. Either via HDMI chip or via FPGA.

        Hercules monochrome (MGA) is razor sharp and “digital”, too, but looks horrible if dithering is used.

        A bit of blur can make the checker board patterns looks smooth, so a grayscale can be ssen.

        Aspect-ratio correction would be nice, too.
        Because, old video standards didn’t use square-pixels.

        320×200, 640×200, 720×348 etc.. These were all non-square resolutions on vintage PCs, but were meant to fit an analog 4:3 CRT monitor (has no concept of pixels, but lines).

    2. At this point, wouldn’t it better to let the original hardware rest in peace and just use an emulator?

      ……… erm, I can’t believe you actually typed that. Retro computer fans do not care for your logical , sensible heresy.
      But seriously, it’s because it’s a hobby and it’s fun to mess around with the original hardware.
      Is it logical to own an Amiga 1200 in 2023? Not really, but I do. My PC can, and does run Amiga software through emulation way quicker than my A1200 does natively. However, that’s not the point because my PC is not an Amiga, it’s a PC.
      If the buzz for you is in software, then emulate and enjoy yourself, but some of us have ancient hardware because it’s what we find fun, that’s it, no other reason, we don’t try to justify it and don’t need to.
      Also, if someone wants to have a go at making hardware for PCs, then playing around with simpler early models can be a great learning experience too.
      Anyway, have a great day and I hope that answers the question for you.

    1. 8088MPH demo video as requested :). Not perfect, issues are listed in the video description.

      For Area 5150, the developer Jim Leonard himself has commented it requires the overscan sections to be shown in order to display as intended. Let me see if this is possible before taking a video.

  2. Looks like it does do VGA still but also HDMI. Awesome!

    Closets and thrift shops at least in my neck of the woods are still filled with VGA monitors. Sure, CRT has given way to flat screens but there is still little HDMI to be found among the cheap used stuff. And who wants to burn up the family big screen TV with an old retro computer?

  3. It technically only supports RGBI it’s a quick and dirty hack (summary).
    The lines for the VGA pallet IC aren’t routed to the HDMI device, which would provide a full(er?) VGA color spectrum output. Routing would have been more difficult and I believe the person was only concerned about support for his internal monitor and not a fuller VGA color gamut.
    This design works for the persons purposes. For full VGA support via HDMI, that would be a different matter.
    It’s possible to change this design a lot more “improving” it’s performance, however that would require new/changed verilog code as well as rerouting numerous lines.

  4. Just one technical note: the TFP410 is DVI not HDMI…. this implementation of the Graphics Gremlin uses a HDMI connector which allows HDMI compatible devices to operate in DVI mode per the HDMI specification.

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