Original Xbox to HDMI

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 original XBox console. It's large.

Mmmmm! Chunky!

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.

0. Do Nothing

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.

1. Digital Video, Stereo Audio cable

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
A connector which has a micro USB port and connects an XBox to a TV via HDMI.

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

A short cable, one end plugs into the XBox, the other has a small box with an HDMI port.

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.
A short cable ending with a silver box.
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:

But no shipping date yet.

2. Digital Video, Digital Audio cable

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.
A small video cable.

The Electron Shepherd is about £25 + shipping.
A small box marked XBox2HDMI.

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...

3. Soldering Time!

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+:

A circuit board with HDMI connector on it.

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.

Next steps

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.

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  1. I’d give a spoiler warning, but since this game is coming up to its 20th birthday next month, that’s probably unnecessary.

    Yep, it was August 2002 that everyone’s favourite Californian Nemesis of the Undead made her games console debut on XBox. As detailed at a certain BarCamp many moons ago, then written up as an early blogpost, The Buffster was my first introduction to console gaming, and I have never looked back!

    Fast forward to a rainy weekend a few weeks ago where Terry and I decide to have an attic clear out. Terry likes to hang on to old tech, and buried at the bottom of a crate was none other than our orginal XBox in all its black plastic and lime green glory! So we dusted it off, plugged it in & established to my surprise it actually still functioned. Terry then spent a happy few days figuring out how to get it to talk to our TV given that the original XBox predated HDMI.

    I was a huge fan of the show. But as allegations emerged of the showrunner’s character, re-watching it just doesn’t bring me the same pleasure it used to. But, by way of justifying to myself the fact that I really, really wanted to replay the game, I don’t think JW had a great deal to do with the game’s production.

    By some minor miracle the hard disk still had all the old saved games on it. But games were much slimmer beasts back then, and we have disk space aplenty so I went ahead and started a brand new playthrough. I vividly remembered having got completely stuck and rage quitting previously, but I’ve had nearly two decades to improve. Could I actually beat the game this time round?

    As it booted up, I got chills hearing the dulcet tones of one Mr Steward-Head giving the potted history of slayer-lore. Half a dozen of the original actors have re-inhabited their TV roles, which definitely enriches the game as a fan experience. While SMG declined to be involved, Giselle Loren does a terrific job of emulating the Valley Girl heroine.

    The plot consists of a standalone story which seems to occur at some point just prior to the episode Lovers’ Walk in Season 3. Willow is developing as a witch, Giles is still Watcher, Xander and Cordelia are still together, Angel appears to have recovered from his stint in hell, and Spike is on a fleeting visit to Sunnydale. We start with Buffy undertaking a training exercise, a neat enough conceit for a tutorial level, allowing the player to master (pun intended) the basics of running, jumping, kicking, punching & staking.

    The tutorial wraps up by having the slayer unexpectedly encounter the spirit form of the Season 1 Big Bad, at which point Buffy wakes from her nightmare, and the game starts in earnest. As you progress you learn various new button-mashing combos to better pummel your foes & gain weaponry which is useful, if not always logical. ‘Who knew hellfire didn’t melt plastic?’

    The challenge comes almost entirely from defeating baddies interspersed with some really quite frustrating jumping puzzles, and a rather punishing sparcity of check points. Many was the occasion I succesfully battled through a level only to miss a jump by a fraction, plumet to my death, and restart back at the beginning of said level. I started to get flashbacks of the various points where previously I had got stuck, to the point I could remember bits of dialouge verbatim: ‘Guess I’m hitching a ride on a freight crane’. Amazingly I managed to complete that on attempt 2 this time round. Some bits were trickier than others, but my hand eye coordination had indeed got better over the years. Was I going to be able to complete the game this time? Things were looking hopeful!

    Until I got to the sodding Dreamer Islands level. And then I was 23 again, screeching in frustration every time I mis-timed the rotating platform jump. To my credit, I did get further all by myself than I had before, even managing the bit when you cross the hall with the spinning blades, pick up the stone key and then the floor drops away so you have to cross back by jumping from ledge to ledge whilst still avoiding the blades. But try as I might, I just couldn’t get any further.

    Reader, I cheated. That miracle whereby all the old saved games were still there? I loaded up the one complete game which was the result of me, many years prior, having tearfully handed my then-boyfriend the controller and asking if he would do the jumping puzzle for me. His fine motor skills were always superior to mine. And to his everlasting credit he did manage it!

    This meant I could at least continue on, but without the benefit of the cool gear I’d saved up (15 hellfore bolts! 15!). The stage after the Island, the Dreamer’s maze, is the most puzzle-solvey level in the game, but by then fatigue was setting in. And of course knowing I was playing an old save meant it didn’t really count anymore. Gamer logic – what can you do? So I found a walkthrough, got to the final boss, dispatched the Master in short order (turns out I had half a dozen hellfire bolts on that save, which was sufficient), and finished the game.

    Approximatly 10 hours of fun, frustration and pure nostalgia!

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