Levelhike: Turbografx 16 HDMI Cable Review

Thanks to Levelhike for funding this purchase

Title: Levelhike Turbografx 16 HDMI Cable
System: Turbografx 16
Price: $34.99
Release Date: 2019


Prelude

Earlier on, I covered the Levelhike cable for the SNES/N64/Gamecube. While it definitely wasn’t true HD and was more or less a quick way to plug a cable in and play older systems on new TVs without much hassle, I did find it immensely useful due to disabling the annoying resolution switching that SNES/N64 games can go through at times. Finally, Pokemon Stadium and other such games were fully streamable and in decent quality! There was some irritating noise issues though, and things didn’t look quite as good as it could have, but compared to other cheaper cables that look far worse, it was a decent recommendation for a plug-and-play fix.

So now I’m covering another cable I bought on a whim and Levelhike refunded my payment for, and that’s their HDMI cable for the Turbografx 16, my all time favorite gaming system. On the heels of the TG16 mini launching next month, Levelhike and Hyperkin released their own cables for the original system in the fall of last year, and I’m looking at Levelhike’s cable. Does this cable work as a good way to plug in your old turbo to a modern display, or does it mess up?

Presentation

For the testing session this time around, I threw all but two of the turbografx games I owned at the thing, to see how they compared both to the Wii U Virtual Console releases when applicable, and direct footage from emulators showcased on youtube. That means Victory Run, Vigilante, and Military Madness are the highlights of the day, so these three will put the Levelhike cable to the test.

But before I could even begin to mess with a game, I had to first get this bulky thing to fit into my system. The Turbo uses a weird expansion port you see, meant for the Turbobooster or TGCD, which add AV support. This means you cannot play CD games with the HDMI cable, nor can you use it with a device that saves game data for you. (Not that you can find a CD player in this day and age, all of them are way pricier by themselves than a Japanese Duo R!)

I had to first clean out the back pins very carefully, and even after doing that, the cable displayed a godawful purple image that was the result of loose connection to the pins on the back. Another clean later, and I finally got things in working order, though the cable does have some build problems from right out of the gate. For starters, if you so much as even blow down on the cable, it’ll go back to the distorted purple image: This is because the cable just doesn’t connect tightly to the back of the system, though this may be to prevent you from accidentally ripping out the pins when you disconnect it, as the turbografx controllers are notorious for getting stuck in the system and detaching upon disconnection. Still, this feels very cheap and when I finally got the cable in the perfect spot, it felt like a crazy task, but it was finally time to get to testing this thing proper.

First up was Victory Run, and during the little demo scene in the title, it looks pretty decent, with crisp text and vibrant colors. But upon letting the demo run for a while, I started to realize some concerning issues right away, unrelated to my cable’s connection. (As I did make sure it was firmly inserted and confirmed with others who’ve used this cable or seen it in action that these issues are consistent)

Screen Shot 2020-02-22 at 9.48.26 PM

The first is that the sprites seemed to have had a forced smoothing filter on them, and you cannot turn it off. That’s a huge gripe to someone who does not like blur filters, and it’s weird since the text in these games are not smoothed over and look fine. It seems it’s doing some sort of selective smoothing techniques, and it can make some parts of the course look hideous. Sometimes the blue car will become more or less smeary depending on how the racing action is, and it feels a bit on the concerning side. It’s not Johnny Turbo levels of blur, but it’s still a really stupid idea.

Next up comes from the way some colors are treated. In Victory Run, the sky should start off sky blue, then moving to a sunset before late night. Well, right here I have it with the sunset in motion, and just look at it:

Screen Shot 2020-02-22 at 9.48.45 PM
no thank you

It looks horrendous, mainly due to it seeming to want to make the sunset color brighter than it should be. It appears that the colors on this thing change up depending on what the system feels like doing, and while Victory Run isn’t too bad of an offender, it is annoying to see some colors just completely off to what they would look like on real hardware or on Wii U Virtual Console. At least the night-time driving looks pretty darn good still.

Screen Shot 2020-02-22 at 9.48.53 PM

Next up, I threw my only CIB Turbografx game at it, and that’s IREM’s Vigilante. On bootup, IREM’s company logo looks almost crystal clear with proper colors, making me hopeful for a great upscale that at least looks the part, but all that falls apart the moment the first stage kicks off. Immediately, I notice that the backgrounds to stage 1 should not look as red as they do, since they’re meant to be brown, brick walls. Yet here it looks absolutely fucking ugly, and that’s not the only thing that looks off: the player character is way too oversaturated and looks like he’s in direct contact with the sun, and nearly everything about this game is way brighter than it has any right to be, with a big allergy to the color brown.

Screen Shot 2020-02-22 at 9.47.16 PM

Why is the game like this? It’s way worse than any other rerelease I’ve ever seen, and it baffles me as to how bad the cable handles it. Combine that with the cable’s poor smoothing effect, and you have one normally colorful and crisp game made butt ugly. And yes, I made absolute sure that the cable was secured, but even when I readjusted and cleaned everything and made sure it was firm, it still destroyed the colors.

Screen Shot 2020-02-21 at 12.14.15 AM

Last but not least, is Military Madness, the classic Turbografx strategy game! Thankfully, this game looked and felt the best of the bunch, with the title screen only having the issue of being just a touch brighter than it should be. Unfortunately, there’s still a major color issue with the game, and that comes from the surface of the moon you’re battling on: In the screenshot below, you can see that we’re battling on purple land for whatever reason, but we’re actually supposed to be on brown land.

Screen Shot 2020-02-21 at 12.41.37 AM

I have no idea why this cable loves to just destroy certain colors and leave others alone, but the weird part is besides the map color being incorrect, the rest of the game looks pretty much fine. Battles are as they should and the music sounds great, even being in stereo. It’s still a disappointing issue nevertheless, and a huge sign of low quality across the board, though I’m at least more inclined to play this game on my TV than any of the others.

Gameplay

Visual thoughts out of the way, it’s time to see how I think the games feel with this cable! And honestly, just like with the other cable, you’re going to see some minimal lag. It’s there, but it’s not too gamebreaking usually, and is only a few frames. I at least was able to control things properly and react quickly in Vigilante, but in all honesty my bigger gripes were with the horrific colors and smoothing effects I mentioned earlier. For me, playing a game that just looks completely off is one way to easily destroy any sense of fun, and needless to say, outside of Military Madness, I wasn’t feeling any fun when the games looked so ugly.

Screen Shot 2020-02-22 at 9.47.57 PM

Sure, they still sound fine and play fine, but when I’m spending around $40 for a cable like this and I get this sort of atrocious image, the sort of thing I could get better quality from a cheaper AV plug from Hyperkin out of, then I can’t just let things sit. The GCN cable had some mild smoothing too, but it was much less noticeable, and the games looked pretty much the same as they should, with none of these awful color problems I’m seeing today. This is an absolute inexcusable product for the price, and it honestly feels like something made on the cheap from cheap parts.

Screen Shot 2020-02-22 at 9.47.37 PM

In fact, some of my friends did some digging, and it seems like they are made from cheap parts out of China, along with the sort of things Pound and Hyperkin make. Apparently, all of these cables even have very similar internals, just upgraded and tweaked anytime a company makes a new printing. (the original POUND cables for instance, only had 16:9 support with major smoothing and bright colors, making them way worse than what we have now, since at least this also has a 4:3 option) The Gamecube cable just might have been the best case scenario for these cables due to it being newer and thus better deserving of a buy, but it’s still disappointing as to how cheap this turbografx cable looks for the same exact price.

For the price a consumer is spending on this, it’s just not excusable for the games to be the way they are, and I don’t even feel a new revision could do much to fix this unless it totally used different parts and ditched the smoothing and color changes altogether. But at that point, I might as well get a AV cable and upscale it with an HDMI converter, or go the Retrotink route. When even the best looking of my games still has color problems, then it just goes to show that this device wasn’t really made with quality in mind.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this Levelhike cable was something I at least hoped would do what the Gamecube cable did: Let me plug my Turbografx 16 into an HDMI TV with a decent signal. Didn’t have to be true HD upscaling, just proper colors and a decent looking plug and play option for the system, since most people who’re gonna buy this will buy it more so for compatibility than for crispness. But somehow, they just utterly botched this in almost every possible way: The colors are horrible, there’s still mild visual noise, and there’s a fugly smoothing option that just kicks on whenever it feels like it. For $40, this is just a ripoff, plain and simple, and I’m very disappointed by how this product turned out. I know for a fact it isn’t a defective cable, due to my peers giving me corroborating evidence with their own insight and by analyzing the footage of other channels who’ve used this product with similar games. (Alien Crush for instance, apparently causes the purple background to vanish entirely) It’s just a low quality product in general, and I have to hope that if there is a new version, it completely eliminates all the issues I had with this one.

I cannot recommend this cable at all. Even as a plug-and-play option, the way it utterly destroys colors in these gorgeous games on is just downright insulting to me. The only prop I can give the system is that it outputs sound in stereo and correctly at that, but otherwise this cable just doesn’t do the Turbografx any justice at all. It’s a big shame, since I was overjoyed to see more modern accessories for the Turbografx, but this cable is nothing but junk in it’s current form, and you should stay away.

Thoughts on the Review?

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