Thanks to Levelhike for funding this purchase
Title: Levelhike: Nintendo 64/GameCube/SNES HDMI Cable
Release Date: 2019
Prelude to the Prelude
ADDED IN 2021: Since a lot of people read this review monthly, I feel the need to update this to indicate the time that has passed since the original review, since I used the device longer before retiring it. TLDR: Below are some opinions that still hold kinda true today, but I actually no longer recommend this solution for GCN/SNES at all, and it has to do with input lag and the shoddy build quality. Reliable people in the retro industry have done many dissections and tests beyond my capability, which pretty much indicate this is NOT A SUITABLE CABLE FOR GAMING. These are cheap HDMI cables that are thrown together on a whim from overseas and were originally meant for upscaling video devices. This means if you want one to play PS2 on your HD TV for the sake of the DVD playback, it’s a good get, but otherwise not one of these devices is apt for gaming. More Cybernator sessions ended up hurting quite a bit, yet all images in this review are still indeed captured from the actual unit. I have edited parts of this review where able to indicate newer thoughts on things.
Also as a side note since it’s long enough I can disclose this, but Levelhike got really irksome about wanting me to leave 5 star reviews for this on amazon despite me wanting to leave a basic review here only. Even on that shithole of a TG16 cable they bought for me. And yes, they “bought” for me, as in, unlike other things where you’d expect a review unit, they actually just refused to send them to me that way and wanted me to pay out of pocket and have them refund me the receipt cost via paypal?!? I didn’t think much of it then but hearing from peers, that pressuring is against Amazon TOS entirely which is pretty irksome to learn, so I’m being fully transparent to say I no longer endorse this product and can only recommend it for specific instances, like resolution switch issues. Now onto the review as it mostly was…
Before my purchase of this product, I would tend to stick to the tried and true AV cables for recording retro footage for the SeafoamGaming youtube channel. For the most part, this worked great, and I’ve used the AV cables to capture a bunch of stuff from the Gamecube and NES for the past few years, which came in handy for stuff like Eternal Memories. Unfortunately, one system that always gave me a big pain for whatever reason was the Nintendo 64.
For the uninitiated, the N64 had this weird quirk where it would switch resolutions depending on what was going on in the game. Usually, this would happen during a room transition, or during menus, and it would be pretty hard to notice using the basic AV cables on a CRT. However, in the age of HD TVs and monitors that support multiple resolutions, N64 games that switch resolutions in such a rapid manner do not play nicely with these displays at all. Plugging in the AV cables to an HDMI TV will have the image blip out every time a resolution switch occurs, and if you own a capture device like the Elgato, then good luck even getting footage from N64 games to record at all! Needless to say, that system was out of my capabilities, as were select games on systems such as the PS2 and Gamecube that swapped resolution for the sake of retro compilations.
So, this HDMI cable boasts the ability to the these three systems and their AV ports to output in an HDMI signal. How does it handle the compatibility issues on N64, and do these games look sharp enough to be worth dropping money on, when this is an already competitive field with a few other similar cables from POUND and Hyperkin?
For the majority of my testing session, I used this on my Nintendo Gamecube, which lacks the digital out port. Since this cable is meant to be used with the AV port, which is the same as on SNES/N64, I was still able to make great use of it, while also testing it on all systems. On gamecube, I tested the cable with a variety of Game Boy Player games, from Game Boy, GBC, and GBA titles, alongside a couple of more modern titles I owned.
For the GBA game I tested (Gradius Galaxies), I noticed how the text and overall visuals were much crisper and a bit brighter compared to when I recorded another GBA game for a playthrough a few years back. It doesn’t really upscale the image at all, and is really just a way to throw the signal into 720P without doing anything to it. Game Boy Color games I found to really pop on this display, with R-Type DX’s color mode being bright and colorful when output via this cable, and Game Boy titles, while lacking in color, also look pretty good, though I still advise that you only play with the black and white color palette instead of the default one the GBA throws a game. Most of the time, the palettes are terrible.
For the SNES, I threw three games at it: Cybernator, an underrated NCS gem, Arkanoid: Doh it Again, one of the final SNES games ever, and Data East Collection, a SNES Multicart from Retro-Bit that contains five Data East SNES titles. Comparing Cybernator to the Wii U VC version, the games look pretty much identical, with the text being crisp, the game looking really sharp, and the colors being pretty decent to look at, a bit better than the Wii U VC at points. However, for some reason, I noticed this weird striped line over the game during the pre-stage dialogue sequences. It was some sort of minor screen noise that definitely wasn’t there in the Wii U VC version, and went away after the actual stage started, so it wasn’t much of an issue. The game sounded just as great as it did on anything else, so audio wasn’t really a problem here, and all around it led to a very enjoyable time with this SNES gem.
The next game I tested was the Data East Classics Collection. This game does a resolution switch when booting up the selected game, so I had to see if it would do just that while I played it via the HDMI cable. I’m thankful to say that when I booted up Fighter’s History on the cart, my TV didn’t freak out in the slightest, and playing these games on the multicart were fairly straightforward as they looked pretty good, with sharp text and accurate colors.
The last SNES title I threw at the cable was Arkanoid, which resolution shifts EVERY SINGLE TIME you go into a menu or to a new stage, or die. It’s very obnoxious on a capture device and this was the SNES game that wouldn’t play nice on my TV with AV cables. So how did it look here? I’m very pleased to say that the game looks great! The resolution switches no longer blank out the TV, so you can go into menus and die as you please without the signal cutting out, and it’s wonderful! Being a pretty decent version of Arkanoid overall doesn’t hurt either, and like the other games the fonts looks sharp and not smeary. However, I did notice a bit of that visual noise show up for brief bits in the menu, which went away when I did anything else, so it appears minor noise will show up if the game tries to do a resolution shift. Considering the poor build quality of these cables, I’m not surprised this cropped up sadly.
So with Gamecube Game Boy Player games and SNES titles working just like they should for a cable like this, it was time for the ultimate test and the main reason I was willing to purchase this product and write a review for it, and that was trying my very limited N64 library with this. First, I had to dig it out of storage, which was a bit tricky due to the fact that I barely touched it due to assuming it was broken due to it not reading carts well. Turns out, all I needed to do this whole time was give the N64 cart reader and the carts themselves some rubbing alcohol, as this fixed the issues I had and made it so that my games wouldn’t randomly freeze if so much as a light gust blew against the cartridges.
With the system up in working order again, I plugged in a game that had basic, yet still noticeable resolution shifting, Namco Museum for the N64. The game shifts resolution when it feels like it, though not too often. I go to try out a couple of the included arcade games, and no TV interruptions in sight! We’re looking good so far, and speaking of Namco Museum, these games look pretty OK with this cable. I noticed in Ms. Pac-Man and Galaxian that the colors and font were just as vibrant as they needed to be, which ended up being a huge improvement from how it looked plugging in the AV cables to my HD TV. It seems that if you have a retro compilation that benefits from the sharpened font, this cable or others like it will do wonders in making them look good instead of adding an awful smoothing filter or darkening the image due to AV usage.
Only one more test remained… And that was Pokemon Stadium. An absolutely horrid game for any capture device, since any prior attempts I used to play this with my Elgato and the AV cables would make the capture device throw a fit. You couldn’t start a battle without a screen transition that shifted resolution, and every single turn did one of these transitions, making the game cut in and out like it was flickering madly. It pretty much meant that playing this game on an HD display with AV cables was near impossible, and that one game was the catalyst for wanting a device like this to begin with. Would this stop the constant flickering, and make playing this on my TV doable?
Yes, I can confirm that Pokemon Stadium works just fine with this. Finally, you can make moves and do whole battles without any annoying cut-outs due to the transitions! It’s almost a miracle, but it was a very big relief to see nevertheless. However, this also was the game with the most amount of visual noise by far. Since the game shifted so much in resolution, I assume the screen having visual noise is a side effect of all this, along with the shoddy build quality in general, so you still have poison to deal with.
With all those positive thoughts about the cable and how it makes games look and sound, just how do these games play on an HDTV? After all, there’s still the case of input lag and such.
Well, to be frank, I’ve never been one for input lag, and usually when people complain about it, I almost never notice such a thing. Maybe it’s due to me growing up with retro games via HD compilations or by rereleases, but the only major case of awful input lag I’ve noticed so far, was the horrid nature of the Sega Genesis Classics collection on Switch. That compilation just had abysmal input lag that was very noticeable compared to the Steam version of the game, and it was never fixed.
Basically for me, if I can press the button and have the action performed in a few seconds or less, that’s good enough for me. If I jump and I don’t jump where I should, then it’s bad. Considering how a few of the games I threw at this such as R-Type on Gameboy and Namco Museum had precision moments, I’m confident enough to say that the games are only average with this cable. There’s quite a bit of input lag that’s unavoidable with these cables due to poor build quality, and most of the time they add several frames of lag that fluctuate. In the original draft of this review I felt I didn’t notice anything, but as I played more intensive games that didn’t have the lax input timing of the stuff I threw at this game, I realized just how pretty horrid this cable is for input lag: if it’s something basic like an RPG that won’t require much precision, then you’ll be good, but don’t even think about playing something like a mario or sonic game on this thing, less you want to die constantly in them. Pretty inexcusable in my book.
In conclusion, as a three-in-one deal, this LevelHike cable did what I wanted it to do: Kill resolution switching. Unfortunately, it ends up producing a bit of noise as a result of this and poor build quality, but besides that, I can play some formerly troublesome games this way, making N64 capturing a lot easier. Still, besides killing resolution switches, you’re honestly way better saving up the dough for a cheap retrotink and going with that, since it’ll do the same thing only without the lag and with much better quality. For $30, this is grossly overpriced and honestly you can produce the same poor result with an AV to HDMI converter box for $15, if you just want an inexpensive thing to record footage without resolution switch woes.
I no longer recommend this cable in 2021. It can fix the resolution issues plaguing these three consoles, but it’s such a shoddily made cable with so much input lag and lackluster build quality, that it’s just not at all worth thinking. It may seem to get the job done “good enough”, but in reality for $30 you can just get a HD Retrovision set for more, if you have a compatible console for those cables, and those work way, way better for modern displays! Retro gamers deserve better than the levelhike, and I now hope to make amends for not realizing the nature of these cables until it was too late.