There's been a lot of chatter recently regarding the $750 RetroTINK 4K, a new-generation analogue-to-digital upscaling device designed around 4K TVs. As the apex of the RetroTINK line of upscalers, the RetroTINK 4K is, by all accounts, an amazing piece of kit (we sadly haven't had the pleasure of using one yet, but hopefully that will change soon) – but it's not the only option out there if you're aiming to make your old consoles look as good as possible on modern-day television.
In case you're still scratching your head and wondering exactly what an upscaler is, allow us to explain. Old consoles with analogue outputs don't tend to play nice with flatscreen TVs. While it's still possible to connect them up to many modern televisions, you often get a muddy image, as the TV is fed the SD signal and clumsily attempts to blow it up to HD resolution. The end result is a picture that looks pretty terrible and certainly doesn't do your vintage game systems justice.
Upscalers take the standard definition analogue signal and boost it up to HD resolution, which means the TV gets a nice, pure, high-definition image to work with. Furthermore, upscalers often allow you to add post-processing effects to make things look even better, such as CRT-style scanlines.
We reviewed the OSSC many years ago, and that particular device remains a solid option in this sector of the market – but Mike Chi's RetroTINK range has arguably become the gold standard when it comes to upscaling devices, and the RetroTINK 5X Pro is one of his most accomplished products.
RetroTINK 5X Pro Specs
- Input Ports: Composite (shared with green RCA jack), S-Video, Component, RGB and Composite on SCART connector
- Output Port: Digital Video to HDTV
- Source Resolutions: 240p/480i, 288p/576i, 480p, 720p, 1080i
- Output Resolutions: 480p, 720p, 768p, 1080p, 1200p, 1440p
- Input Filtering: Selectable low-pass filter for noise reduction
- Composite and S-Video Standards: NTSC, PAL, PAL-60, composite video is decoded with a high-quality comb filter to minimize dot artifacts or a notch filter for a vintage look
- Decoder: High quality comb filter that minimizes composite artifacts or notch filter for a vintage look.
- Optimal Sampling Modes: SNES/TG16 256, Genesis/Saturn/PS1 320, NEOGEO 320, N64 386, Saturn 352, PS1 384 in 240p. 288p counterparts to be added later
- Scaler: Polyphase interpolation (Bilinear Sharp and Bilinear)
- Deinterlacer: Motion Adaptive, Weave, Bob, Blend, CRT simulation
- Scanline Generation: Multiple types, adjustable intensity
- Latency: ~0.25 frames in Framelock, 0.25 to 1.25 frames in Triple Buffering
- Power: microUSB
When compared to the aforementioned OSSC, the $325 / £319 RetroTINK 5X Pro feels (physically, at least) a little more professional. Whereas the OSSC is almost hobbyist in nature, the RetroTINK 5X Pro comes in a solid plastic case, which will fit in nicely with your current AV setup. It lacks a built-in screen (something the OSSC incorporated because, in its early years, it lacked the ability to display information on your TV) and has three physical buttons on its top: Menu, Option and Input.
On the left-hand side, there's a SCART port, while on the back, you'll find S-Video, Composite / Component and L and R audio sockets, as well as the HDMI out port and Micro-USB port (for power). The unit is relatively simple then, but it ships with a remote control that grants you a wider range of options. The remote is used to tinker with things such as output resolution, scanlines, scanline strength, sampling modes and so on.
The headline features of the RetroTINK 5X Pro include many things which, when it was first released, were pretty groundbreaking in this (admittedly niche) sector of the market. It can actually output 1200p and 1440p signals as well as 1080p and below – the catch is that not all TVs will accept these. It also includes the first custom-made FPGA 'Motion Adaptive Deinterlacing Algorithm', designed to ensure that 480i games are free from lag and flickering (a very common issue with other upscalers).
You've also got a fancy "automatic optimal phase algorithm", which is capable of giving you the best possible image right out of the box. Furthermore, it features fully compliant CEA-861 standard 1080p modes to ensure maximum compatibility with as wide a range of TVs and capture cards as possible.
That sounds great on paper, but what is the RetroTINK 5X Pro like to use? Well, if you've ever experienced any kind of upscaling device in the past, you'll be aware that a lot of tinkering is often required to get the optimal picture. With the RetroTINK 5X Pro, you can still tinker to your heart's content, but we found that the default settings worked pretty much flawlessly across all of the systems we tested.
We'll kick things off with our RGB SCART consoles, which include the Mega Drive and Saturn. The connection process really is as simple as plugging in your SCART cable and making sure the unit is set to the correct input; while you can add scanlines and adjust their strength, there's no need to reach for the RetroTINK 5X Pro's remote beyond that. The results are remarkable; pixels look pin-sharp, the image is bright and colourful, and there's no latency to speak of, either.
Next up, we tried Component, using the GameCube as our test console and an Insurrection Industries Carby Component cable. This was perhaps where we noticed the biggest leap up from upscalers we'd used in the past; the image is so sharp that it almost looks like you're running the game via emulation on a PC, rather than on the original, two-decade-old hardware. It really is quite mind-blowing and even surpasses the image quality we've seen from the likes of EON's GCHD HDMI adapters.
Composite is arguably the weakest input option here, and it shouldn't come as a massive shock to learn that even the RetroTINK 5X Pro can't magically change that. When using a console like the N64, which already has poor image output, the picture remains soupy. Old CRT televisions did a good job of smoothing over this shortcoming, but in the HD era, there's no place to hide from the N64's sub-optimal output (we'd imagine it looks a lot better when run via an RGB-modded system, however).
S-Video is a connection that not many people will use, but the good news is that the RetroTINK 5X Pro handles it well – it's almost as sharp as SCART, in fact. The only system we have to hand that outputs S-Video is the PC-FX, and, short of running it through the office PVM, we've never seen NEC's ill-fated console look better.
RetroTINK 5X Pro Review: Conclusion
For sheer ease of use and functionality, the RetroTINK 5X Pro is one of the best analog-to-digital upscalers money can buy. It's blissfully easy to use and genuinely makes your classic gaming hardware look as good as possible on a modern TV setup. Connectivity for every analogue input you could mention is included, and the device has been well supported by regular firmware updates over time – a fact which means now is perhaps the best time to invest in one, as it has matured as a product.
If you're looking for a device which does all of this – and more – and you want to use it with your massive 4K TV and like the sound of custom modes and far more granular settings, then you might be better off saving your money and ordering a RetroTINK 4K (assuming you can get one, that is).
Even so, at $750, that device is twice the price of the 5X Pro – and to be honest, we were still impressed by how the 5X Pro performed on our 4K TV set. The 4K model may have superseded the 5X Pro, but that doesn't mean it's not worth a look today.
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