Though the Wii isn’t HD-ready, we’ve seen its games rendered in native HD resolutions (720p, 1080p) through the magic of emulation…and I’ve been extremely impressed by the results. Games such as Super Mario Galaxy look absolutely amazing, convincing me that thorough developers make the most of Wii’s hardware despite the 480p limitation, going above and beyond the final display of these titles. Even New Super Mario Bros. Wii, a game light on graphics, enjoys a significant boost in background quality. Seriously, it looks like an art game at times in native HD resolution. The major problem with emulation? It’s not perfect; glitches and slowdown are common anomalies.
With the rumored Wii HD being kept under wraps, gamers are looking for an alternative. Enter the Wii HDMI upscaler by VDIGI electronics. I’d been interested in this product since announcement, finally taking the proverbial plunge as the price dropped from 80$ to 60$. Note that it’s very hard to achieve a fair full-fledged review because extensive testing is required to learn all the upscaler’s ins and outs. Results depend on your TV, your home theater setup, the games you play, etc. I’ve tested the upscaler with two different HDTVs, a couple of high-end Wii games…and I’m satisfied to offer a preliminary review for your enjoyment.
Very convenient. Let’s face it; an HDMI cable is the simplest one to plug in. One of the Wii’s problems is the difficulties that stem from using component cables. I conducted extensive testing with my older HDTV in order to set up the Wii correctly. Inserting the component cables directly to a surround receiver produces artifacts and washed out colors due to interference. Monster component cables didn’t fix the problem, and even then it’s not straight-forward unless your receiver is high-end. Mine is an Onkyo with PCM uncompressed capabilities and audio/video HDMI support (often hailed as the cheapest line of high-end HD receivers), yet does not upscale component signals to HDMI. In essence, you need to plug in component cables from your receiver to the TV on top of the default HDMI communication. Moreover, the audio and video parts of the Wii’s cables are stuck to each other and really short in length, thus it’s not possible to separate them unless you have cable extenders. They’re unreliable, and there are more to worry about.
I can’t even remember how finished the setup on my older TV, but the fact of the matter is that I needed more cables on top of the default HDMI one. With this product, that anxiety disappears. By following the simple instructions, you can play your Wii on HD displays in no time!
+ When the stars align, it works as intended. Note that this is an upscaler, so don’t expect dramatic improvements. You will appreciate the differences though, especially if you’re using a big screen HDTV. 480p signals are stretched to the extreme on displays bigger than 50 inches. Typically good-looking Wii games can look terrible on big screen TVs. The upscaler eliminates all the grain and muddiness seen in 480p displays on HDTVs, not to mention fleshes out the colors more. For example, score displays and numbers for Wii games are grainy on HDTVs. That isn’t the case with this upscaler. Also, in Super Mario Galaxy and SMG2, Mario looks blurry on HDTVs along with some textures. With the upscaler, Mario’s model is clear as crystal, and I fully appreciate his facial features. If little details like this bother you, worry no more.
+ Up to 1080p upscaling with flexible settings. Play around with the knobs to land your favorite setup.
+ DVI compatibility. I haven’t tested this yet, but it’s nice that it’s possible through an HDMI-to-DVI converter. A separate audio jack is featured as well in order to connect your Wii to PC speakers.
– Incompatibilities. I recommend trying this upscaler if your HDTV and/or HD-enabled receiver are relatively up to date. My old Samsung HDTV (36 inch up to 1080i only) and Onkyo receiver setup experienced issues with the product. It worked fine when I connected the Wii directly to my TV, but not through the receiver. There was no way to tell my HDTV about the separate home theater system with an HD receiver. However, my newer Bravia cooperates because of the better technology and customizable settings. After playing with the TV’s options, the upscaler and Wii worked fine. You’re mostly safe if you only care about the display, but add surround systems into the mix may require thinking twice about investing.
– Vague initial instructions. Since the product is foreign, the manual has some bad “Engrish issues”. From what I first understood, the upscaler must be on default settings–hardware knobs included–before turning the Wii on. You then enjoy results in real-time after adjusting the knobs. Turns out that I had it all wrong. After extensive testing on my newer TV, it’s apparent that default settings are only necessary during setup and they can’t be changed in real-time. Turn your Wii off, pick a new setting through the knobs, and then turn it back on for results. Talk about inconvenient.
– Outdated, fuse box-like knobs. To be fair, it’s simple to configure the product since the instructions are plastered all over the thing, but a software solution seems a lot more practical to me.
– Not universally beneficial. As I’ve said, there’s no life-changing improvement to be found here, just basic clean-up work. I’m satisfied with the results so far, but some of you may not be impressed. I think gamers who have experienced the Wii Dolphin emulator in action will walk away displeased. Super Mario Galaxy 2, Smash Bros. Brawl, and Muramasa are the games I’ve extensively played…and they look better than before. I’m sure other high-end games would look great as well (Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and The Conduit), but I would discourage thinking that older releases would be really impacted. Also, the clean-up is less significant for smaller HDTVs (20 inches)…you’re better off with decent component cables.
– More practical alternatives are available. I actually have no idea what these are, but the word is that some HDTVs up-convert component signals to HD resolutions. It’s not cheap of course, but it’s probably better to save up for an HDTV capable of that function in the long run.
– Random signal cuts. Though uncommon, who wouldn’t feel frustrated if your TV all of a sudden blanks during gameplay, or the audio disappears? A few seconds pass before re-syncing happens, which seems like forever during a fast-paced game. GameCube games have it a lot worse. Reports claim that some GCN games are incompatible with the product, so beware. So far, I’ve tried Mario Kart: Double Dash for a few hours and noticed that it takes a couple additional seconds for the game to display on TV in contrast to regular component cables.
The Lowdown: Critically divided. There’s something for everyone with the Wii upscaler. Its concept alone warrants a purchase, yet you may face unpleasant issues without proper research. If you want more out of your Wii from your HDTV (nitpicking on annoyances), I recommend looking into it. Big screen TV owners (above 50 inch) would definitely benefit. Obviously those who’ve yearned for Wii-to-PC connectivity get their wish. However, the rather steep price is a turn-off. I’m happy that VDIGI listened to consumers and reduced it recently, but 70$ including shipping is still a lot to ask. Gamers who are happy with how their Wii games look anyway should wait for the inevitable Wii HD or another significant price drop on the upscaler.
I currently have it connected permanently, so look out for updates as I play more games. Metroid: Other M should be a nice game to test as it has compressed FMV. The ones in Brawl look better through HDMI, so we’ll see what happens.