Light Guns and HDMI Mods

Point Blank was a super popular arcade light gun shooter that got an excellent PS1 port

Light gun games were super popular in the arcades I grew up frequenting during family holidays in the 80s and 90s. It is fair to say the genre is far less common these days (in fact the last noteworthy example I remember playing was 2006’s Aliens: Extermination). Older light gun games on classic consoles require an old-style CRT television and there’s really no getting around this. Some headway has been made in getting the new Sinden Lightgun working on classic hardware. While that’s great, it requires an extensive and lengthy setup and calibration and arguably it still doesn’t feel quite as immediate as a classic CRT light gun.

With that in mind, this article is here to answer the question, “will installing a HDMI mod in my console break compatibility with light guns, even if I still use a CRT display?” Before we answer that, let’s look at the test setup we will be using.

Firstly, classic CRT monitors don’t have HDMI inputs, so if your console outputs HDMI you are going to need to convert that back into analogue. To do this, you use a digital to analogue converter, or DAC for short. In these tests we will be using a HD Fury 3 HDMI to VGA adapter as this device is known to be lag free, high quality and to support 240p.

Secondly, some of the consoles we are testing here output both 15khz and 31khz signals, while others only output 15khz. Your classic CRT might accept only 15khz if it’s a consumer set, or only 31khz if it’s a VGA monitor. We’ll be testing on a Mitsubishi Megaview XC3730C multisync CRT that is compatible with both 15khz and 31khz for this article and will try both 15khz and 31khz modes where possible.

Thirdly, some HDMI mods for consoles do not allow pass through of 15khz signals at all. In these instances we will test to see if the line doubling breaks compatibility with light guns. It seems likely that it would, but you never know until you try.

With that all established, let’s get blasting!

Nintendo Consoles

Let’s start with the easy ones first. The Nintendo Wii doesn’t use light guns in the traditional sense, so isn’t affected by any compatibility concerns. The Wii (and also the Wii U, which offers HDMI output as standard anyway) will always work on any TV as long as you have a sensor bar below or above the set. You don’t even need to connect the sensor bar to the Wii, it passes no data back and forth to the console, it really just needs power so it can emit infra-red light.

There are HDMI mods for the Gamecube and N64 too but these consoles never got any light gun games. There is a HDMI mod for the NES/Famicom but unfortunately I do not have access to it, so let’s move swiftly on.

Microsoft Xbox

The original Xbox got a handful of great light gun games, including the awesome House of the Dead 3. The Xbox HDMI mod removes the original analogue video output from the console entirely, as well as removing 480i support, so we have every reason to be concerned about losing light gun compatibility here.

Xbox didn’t do light guns by half

The guns we will be testing are the incredible Sniper Scope Light Rifle & Shotgun. These were manufactured by Logic 3 and can be converted from a pump action shotgun style blaster to a sniper rifle. The guns are also supposed to feature recoil simulation but this didn’t seem to work on either of the two controllers in our possession. I’m far from what you would call a gun-nut but even I can’t help but find these toys to be fantastic fun to use, and almost as good as the arcade controller was for House of the Dead 3.

Starting with House of the Dead 3, this game works pretty well with the HDMI mod installed. Frantic arm ache inducing zombie blasting action with the pump action light gun is as fun as it has ever been. Given your weapon in this game is a shotgun, small problems with accuracy and jitter would go largely unnoticed.

House of the Dead 2 (which is included as an unlockable in HOTD3) has an interesting bug. The game will not recognise light guns at all, unless your console is set to interlace output. This bug crops up on an un-modded console too. The current version of the Xbox HD+ firmware doesn’t have an option that allows for 480i output, but interestingly the game still works as long as your Xbox dash settings are set to 480i only. To enable this, go into the Xbox HD+ app, then to “System Settings” then configure the app settings as shown below (click the picture to enlarge it).

 

 

You can set “Aspect Ratio” to whatever suits your set, but make sure all the video modes are deselected (grey). Save these settings and load HOTD2 again, and you will find you’re able to blast zombies just fine.

Next we tried the game “Starsky and Hutch”. This also worked reasonably well, at least on its calibration screen. There was some jitter to the cursor and at times it lost tracking around the edges of the screen. This seemed to happen more often on the HDMI setup than with the original, non-modded console. At the time I was testing this game I lacked a second player in order to play this game properly, as it’s pretty much impossible to drive and shoot at the same time, but the light gun definitely worked well enough for a quick blast.

Silent Scope Complete complete yielded some different results, the gun was almost recognised, but try as I might, even with contrast and brightness dialled up to the max, I couldn’t get it to work properly. This game also struggled to work on our non-modded Xbox and it is probably due to age and the size of my CRT and the purity issues it has in some corners, as this game is notorious for requiring an over-bright CRT.

All these results were with the games running with 480p output. If you are using a classic CRT television that only supports 480i then you are totally out of luck if you have HDMI modded your Xbox. I’ve reached out to Dustin and the MakeMhz team for an option to restore 480i output for use with with compatible DACs, or for a way to restore analogue video output and should we hear back from them I’ll update the article.

Conclusion – After HDMI modding your Xbox, you can get some basic light gun functionality by using a DAC and a 31khz compatible CRT. The added jitter we noticed in some games means that if you really enjoy playing light gun games then our advice is to hold off on getting your Xbox HDMI modded, or pick up a second console for your light gun setup. It is a shame that retaining the consoles analogue output along with the HDMI mod couldn’t have been an option. While I realise “no cut” mods are all the rage, I’d much rather cut a small hole in my consoles shell than cut any functionality from the machine itself, as is the case here.

Sega Dreamcast

Currently the only Sega console with a true HDMI mod is the Dreamcast. Fortunately for light gun fans the DC Digital won’t interfere with your light gun games at all, since it doesn’t remove or alter in any way the analogue video output.

Official Dreamcast light gun, picture from Wikimedia commons/Wikipedia.

The light guns we will be using for this test are the original, official Sega Dreamcast guns as shown in the picture.

First of all we tested the DC Digital with the DAC. House of the Dead 2, Confidential Mission and Death Crimson 2 were all tested via the DC Digital’s HDMI output (set to 480p mode). All three games worked using the HD Fury 3 on the Megaview CRT.

I then went back and tried House of the Dead 2 using 480i output mode (480i via the HDMI output, set to pass through mode and then into the DAC). This time, the gun didn’t register consistently and the game kept saying it was pointing off screen when it wasn’t. It’s unclear if this is something to do with the DC Digital, the DAC, or just how this particular multisync monitor handles interlace. Keep in mind this really doesn’t matter since you can still use a standard SCART cable from your DC Digital modded Dreamcast to a 15khz display and this will work identically to an un-modded Dreamcast.

Conclusion – Since the analogue video output is not removed or altered in any way, there’s no reason to hold off upgrading to the DC Digital if you still use your light guns. Because even a microsecond of lag can affect a classic CRT light gun, our advice is to leave an RGB cable connected if you want to play Dreamcast light gun games, though a DAC works reasonably well in a pinch.

Sony PlayStation

The PS2 has a lot of light gun games but no HDMI mod at the moment, so let’s skip directly to the PlayStation 1 and the PS1 Digital. The good news here for light gun fans is that, in this case, the HDMI mod doesn’t disable or tamper with the analogue video output in any way. Instead, the link cable functionality has to be sacrificed, although it’s promised to return via WiFi at some point.

While it lacks recoil, the G-Con 45 is light but feels good in your hands, and causes less arm ache than other, heavier light guns

The gun we will be using for this test is the Namco G-con 45 (known as GunCon NPC-103 in other countries) which is one of the most popular PlayStation light guns. There’s at least one other type of gun on the PS1, known as the Konami Justifier. I do not have access to this hardware so I cannot test it, but I would be extremely surprised if it behaved significantly differently.

G-Con light guns require not only a CRT but an additional composite video feed into the back of the console. This is supposedly to improve the accuracy of the gun by tying it to horizontal sync rather than vertical sync. In practise this does seem to work and the G-Con was the most accurate controller with the least amount of jitter out of any of the light guns we tested in this round-up.

If you are thinking this additional connection might improve compatibility with the HDMI mod then unfortunately I can confirm that is not the case. Unlike the DC Digital, the PS1 digital can’t pass through 240p or 480i, so if you use the HDMI output from the console, you’re looking at a minimum of 480p on all games. In 480p output mode and using the HD Fury 3, the gun registers a hit but it is wildly off target and impossible to correct with calibration. A 15khz compatible CRT is still a must for PS1 light gun games.

Conclusion – Since the analogue video output is not removed or altered in any way, there’s no reason to hold off upgrading to the PS1 Digital if you still occasionally use your light guns. If you ever use the link cable however, you might want to hold off just a little longer until the WiFi implementation is done.

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