I know what you're going to say - the Xbox has HDMI. Well, modern ones do. The Xbox 360 and its successors all have crisp digital outputs. But I'm talking about the original Xbox. This bad boy:
The OG Xbox's AV connector is... Let's be charitable, a bit weird. The console was released a few months before HDMI - so it isn't surprising that it doesn't feature that particular output port. Instead, it has a proprietary port which can output all sorts of different signals, depending on the cable plugged into it.
That's handy for multiple markets each of which may have a different standard for connecting to TVs. No point in having a SCART connector in the USA, for example.
The Xbox can pump out several different forms of video and 2 different forms of audio.
Audio is the simplest one to describe. It can output analogue stereo via two RCA ports. Or - and this was quite forward thinking of Microsoft - it can output 5.1 Dolby Digital! Delicious surround-sound. But, sadly, only via an optical cable (SPDIF / TOSLINK).
Video is trickier. The Xbox was released before the widespread adoption of HD TV. So was initially limited to 480i in the USA and 576i in the UK. The graphics chip is quite capable of 720p and 1080i - which some later games made use of.
Depending on the cable, and your TV, the Xbox could produce composite video, S-Video, and SCART at standard resolutions. For HD, it used Component (YPbPr) video via RGB cables.
So, how can this old console be connected to a new TV with HDMI?
There is no single box - that I've found - which will take in 720p component and optical, and then output HDMI. That just doesn't exist any more.
StarLink used to sell such a magic box. But it has been unavailable for years.
(If you think I'm wrong, and such a converter is still on sale in the UK, please drop a link in the comments.)
So, there are four main options if you want to get your old XBox working with a newer AV system.
Some TVs and amps will accept HD analogue video and convert it to digital. They will also take analogue audio. So if you're willing to lose audio quality, you can just plug and play.
Sadly, my amp only accepts 480i via component - which isn't really good enough.
There are a bunch of "Shenzen Specials". Cheap cables which will plug directly into the XBox and create and HDMI connection.
At the cheap end (£10-£20) there are composite to HDMI like these ones
They require a USB power supply and, according to all reviews, are a bit crap. The best they'll do is 480p.
At the next level (£25-£35) are component to HDMI cables
They will take the 720p analogue signal and produce digital video, but also seem to be limited to stereo audio.
At the top of the price range (£35-£45) is the Kaico XBox HDMI cable.
Again, it is limited to stereo audio - and some users report that the picture quality is quite dark.
Kaico have teased that they have a V2 adapter which can do digital audio:
Anyone wanna test sample for optical out (for Dolby) for Xbox OG on our v2 HDMI adapter? pic.twitter.com/dbJHPqRVRe
— Kaico Labs (@KaicoLabs) April 29, 2022
But no shipping date yet.
What options exist if you want proper 5.1 surround sound Dolby Digital audio? There are two solutions which offer that but, sadly, both are out of stock due to the worldwide chip shortage.
The Chimeric Systems adapter costs about £45 + shipping from the USA.
The Electron Shepherd is about £25 + shipping.
Both tap into the digital audio output of the XBox and mux it in to the video signal. They're probably the cheapest and easiest way to get the best picture and sound quality. But, alas, you'll have to wait for them to come back in stock.
I'm told there are over 2,000 backorders for the Chimeric!
Electron Shepherd do sell the circuit board which powers their solution - but that's a bare board and needs a connector, a case, and a little soldering.
Speaking of which...
The fantastic thing about the original XBox was how hackable it was. There was a brilliant scene of people making add-on hardware to unleash the full power of the console. A whole cottage industry of people making USB adapters and little LED strings for it.
So some bright spark has gone and made a shim which solders directly on to the GPU and grabs the digital video before it is converted to analogue! This is the MakeMHz XBoxHD+:
That - to be frank - is ridiculously clever. And, by all accounts, works well. Sadly, my soldering skills aren't up to the fine level of control necessary to make this work.
Unless I can find the fabled StarTech box, or the worldwide chip shortage suddenly ends, I think I'm left with only one choice. Time to buy a random cable off eBay and see if it fulfils the promises its box-art makes!
Expect a full review soon.