Friday, September 9, 2016

Hardware Review: Shinybow SB-2840 RGB to Component Transcoder

The Shinybow SB-2840 SCART-RGB to Component-Audio Converter

INTRODUCTION


For retro gamers outside of Europe, getting a great RGB setup takes quite a bit more effort. Our CRT TVs unfortunately lack the sought-after SCART RGB inputs that enable the highest possible quality output from a bevy of retro systems from the Super Nintendo to the Playstation 1 (if you're unfamiliar with RGB or SCART, please check out my Retro Gaming Intro Guide). The most talked about avenue is finding a Professional Video Monitor (PVM) with an RGB input, but there's another great option that's more affordable, and might actually be preferable to some on both price and aesthetic levels.

Consumer CRT TV tubes have unfortunately gotten a bad rap over the years, which I believe mostly stems from their lack of high quality video inputs. Many arcade monitors in the 80s and 90s used the same tubes as consumer sets, but you will probably remember them looking much better than your home TV. I still remember the Street Fighter II Championship Edition cab at my local arcade looking particularly stunning. Those tubes had the RGB signal of the game board directly wired to them, resulting in a brilliant picture with no degradation or distortion.

We may have never gotten RGB inputs, but high-quality Component inputs did start showing up on CRT TVs toward the end of their lifespan in the late 90s and early 2000s. And while these TVs can be had for cheap (and even free) on Craigslist, they still leave your RGB-capable console using inferior signals. That is, without a little help!

Two different RGB-Component Converters: Shinybow SB-2840 (left), modded SPECIALTY-AV (right)

Luckily for us, it's possible to convert an RGB signal to Component with a handy device called an RGB to Component transcoder (or sometimes SCART to Component converter, or RGB to YUV converter, or any variation thereof). The transcoders are entirely analog devices, and can convert an RGB signal in real-time to Component with zero latency and minimal quality loss (it's still up for debate how much quality is lost, but to the naked eye it should be nearly indistinguishable).

There are several brands of transcoders out there, the most famous of which being the CYP CSY-2100. To my knowledge it's no longer manufactured, but a few "CSY-2100 clones" have popped up on Amazon and eBay to fill the gap. I had initially grabbed the SPECIALTY-AV one off Amazon last year, and while it had it's downsides, I thought it did a pretty good job overall.

A few weeks ago, however, I ran into the Shinybow SB-2840 by chance while browsing the US reseller Ani-AV. If you know of Shinybow, you know their name means quality. They produce professional-level video products, which means that unlike the cheap Chinese knockoffs, they have higher grade components and more consistent QC. Being somewhat unsatisfied with various aspects of the SPECIALTY-AV, I decided to go ahead and give it a try. So, let's get to the unboxing already!

UNBOXING


Back of the box

Full contents

The inside of the manual

And of course, the device itself:

SCART RGB input side

Component & stereo output / power input side

Mounting brackets on the bottom side, and no need to open it and void warranty!

MY THOUGHTS


First off, price wise, you're going to pay at least $30 more for the Shinybow over the knockoffs like the SPECIALTY-AV. I feel this difference is more than justified though, especially for something so integral to your setup that you want to last and perform flawlessly. One thing to keep in mind is that these transcoders are completely analog devices, so the quality of the components in them directly effects the picture quality.

Build wise, the Shinybow puts the knockoffs to shame. The SPECIALTY-AV feels flimsy, and the metal cover is thin and will give if you push on it. Even the SCART port gives when you push a cable into it (not to mention the cable fell out on me several times). In comparison, the Shinybow is solidly built, and feels heavy and strong. All the ports feel tight and sturdy with no give. This is pro grade gear after all. You also get a nice built-in mounting bracket on the frame to help easily manage your setup.

By far the most convenient factor is that no color calibration is required for the unit. With the CSY clones you will have to open the device, and basically twist some knobs with a screwdriver in attempt to balance the picture. I spent some time watching howto videos and used the 240p Test Suite to calibrate the clone, but even after getting it as good as I could it still felt a little off. When I hooked the Shinybow up, I immediately noticed how much brighter and vivid the picture was, with bold colors and pure whites. Talk about user friendly!

One other distinction that sets it apart from the clones is that it has built-in stereo output. While it's possible to mod in stereo-out from the clones or use a pop-out extender, it's nice having high quality plugs and no worries of distortion.

Compatibility-wise, the SB-2840 should work with any sync and resolution you throw at it. I'm using a mix of Composite Sync (CSYNC) and Composite Video Sync consoles and all work fine. The Shinybow supports 240p, 480i, 480p, 720p, and 1080p resolutions, and while I haven't tried them all I have seen confirmation on the internet that it does indeed work with all. One thing to keep in mind is that the analog transcoding is only converting the colorspace, not changing the input resolution. If you feed in 240p, that is exactly what will come out.

Note: Always make sure to use a proper Component video cable. While you can use regular RCA composite audio/video cables (the yellow, red, and white leads) for Component, they are not meant for Component! The audio leads on composite cables are only rated at 35 ohm, not the standard 75 ohm required for video. Having the wrong resistance cables can lead to interference and other artifacts.

IN ACTION


So the big question is, how does it look? Well, it looks amazing in person, and while CRTs are hard to capture the vibrancy of, I've made a humble attempt with my phone camera. Here are some pictures taken with an iPhone 5 on a Toshiba 27A40:

Ninja Gaiden on RGB-Modded NES

Super Mario Bros 3 on RGB-Modded NES

Super Mario Bros 3 on RGB-Modded NES

Rondo of Blood on RGB-Modded PC Engine Duo

Rondo of Blood on RGB-Modded PC Engine Duo

Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts on SNES

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on Genesis

Metal Slug 2 on GroovyMAME (see my GroovyCube project for more details!)

Street Fighter II CE on GroovyMAME (see my GroovyCube project for more details!)

Mortal Kombat on GroovyMAME (see my GroovyCube project for more details!)

Mortal Kombat on GroovyMAME (see my GroovyCube project for more details!)

CONCLUSION


So, all in all, the SB-2840 comes highly recommended. It's a quality piece of gear that performs flawlessly and will easily last as long as your consoles. If you're using a Component-only CRT and need to get RGB on it, then it's easily your best bet at this time.

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