Saturday, April 4, 2020

New Retro & Modern Gaming Setup

I redesigned my office, and it deserved a new post to discuss the layout and the setup.

The old design worked great, but didn't look great.    I didn't show off my office very much, so I didn't care.  Now, I show it off all the time for streams and video calls, so I cared a lot more. 

The fundamentals of the system are pretty much the same, but time to revise and lay it all out.

My basic premise was to try and get the best signal I could out of the systems, and have things set to just work when turned on.   Originally I thought I would do everything on the one main TV in the bar, but I was inspired by the guys at My Life in Gaming that I didn't need everything on one system, particularly because I couldn't come up with a physical layout to fit everything.   With that idea, I decided to break it into two parts, with the older retro systems in my office.

I stuck with this on the redesign.

Additionally, I decided to focus on two standards for the video signals to try and make things easier.  For modern systems, the familiar HDMI cable would do.   For retro systems, I would focus on RGB, which is supported by many, but not all, of the older systems.  For those that didn't support it, I would  get the systems modified to support it.

With that, I couldn't decide about doing a CRT or HD, and so decided to do both.  My idea there is that the CRT is the "original" image, the way the system was designed. That's a full RGB video signal, but thus also standard def.   Next to it is the HD TV, showing the upscaled image -- converting the SD signal into a HD one. The SD signal is the way the consoles were designed, so if you are a purist that's the signal of choice, as well as being a reference for the HD one next to it when I compare. The SD signal has "scan lines", which are an SD artifact. The HD signal does not.

The CRT is a Sony PVM-20M2U.  It has RGB inputs.  I've connected that to a par of gscartsw_lite, units, each daisy chained in via a SCART to RGB cable.   (Running off that is the audio signal which goes to the speakers).   Each console in the rack is hooked up to that switcher.

For the HD signal, the primary gscartsw uses one of it's two outputs, to send a signal via SCART cable to the Open Source Scan Converter.  The OSSC does the work of taking that RGB signal and making a nice HD signal out of it.  The secondary gscartsw runs to the first.

That gives me side-by-side SD and HD signals, both for playing and for reference. 

I dropped the overly complicated cross runs -- this is all self contained.

In the retro section, starting at the top left, down and then to the next column, I have a a TurboGraphix-16 with TurboBooster to get RGB, a stock SNES (as it supports RGB), a Sega Genesis (RGB!), a Sega Dreamcast,  some of my handhelds, a RGB modded NES, a RGB modded Colecovision, a RGB modded Intellivision, an original Xbox, a RGB modded Nintendo 64, a PS2, and a Nintendo Wii (connected to the gscartsw via a GARO component to SCART converter).  The last column is three collections of handhelds, and then the RGB modded Atari 2600.

Moving from my office to the bar, there is the second setup.   This focuses on the HD systems.

The TV is a 4K LG, which has four inputs.  The first is for the TiVo, and the second is the OSSC line from the office for doing the big screen version.   There is a 4K HDMI switch which handles the Xbox One X, the PS4 Pro, the 4K Apple TV, and the Nintendo Switch, so the modern systems are on one switch.  The final HDMI input is connected to a DVDO Duo, which handles the switching of HD systems.   Connected are an Xbox 360, the original PS3 (which handles PS2 and PS1 backwards compatibility), and a HDMI modded Nintendo 64.

Finally, going into the analog port and upscaled is a Nintendo GameCube.  

Back in my office, I have a  several shelves dedicated to the portable systems, which you saw.  The games are relocated to the ceiling line in the office.   

In my office, I keep the NES, SNES, N64, Genesis, Sega CD, Dreamcast, OG XBox, Wii and Atari games, as well as the Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, 3DS, Sony PSP, Atari Lynx, and Sega Game Gear Games.  And yes, I have all those portable systems. 

There's a shelf in the bar that handles the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS1, PS2, PS3, PS4, GameCube, and Wii U games.  Everything has a case.  The NES, SNES, N64 and Genesis games all are in Universal Game Cases, and I replaced the CD cases for the PS1 with DVD style cases.  Covers come from The Cover Project, and the UPS store has been nice enough to print everything.

I've gotten wireless controllers for the NES and SNES which also have charging stations.    The Atari, Genesis, N64, and original Xbox controllers are in bins below all the retro systems.    The PS2 controllers are wireless now as well.  In the main room are stations for Apple TV, XB360, Wii, Wii U, XB1, PS3 and PS4 controllers all under the MAME cabinet, which Sharon has very deftly hidden.

Essentially, everything is ready to turn on and play.    A labor of love to get everything working and setup.   I have most of the "core" games for systems, and own SD card carts for everything that makes one, so you can load ROMs if needed.    I own most of the games from my childhood, and am working on completing collections of "every" Castlevania, Star Wars, and Star Trek game, and am missing just a handful of Street Fighter games.    (For those interested, my game list is here, although that's only the physical games.   Everything for Switch I've bought as digital download, and have a number now for XB360, XB1, PS3 and PS4 that are digital downloads too)

The point is to play the games, of course.   We've been hosting "retro gaming days" periodically, and have the systems on and fired up for play.   Let me know if you want to try something out -- or I'm missing a game you want to play.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Lessons from throwing Virtual Parties

Last night, Sharon and I tried out our first virtual party.    Anyone that knows us is well aware we like socializing, and we often act as cruise directors for some of our friends.    With our social calendars now entirely cleared and not leaving the house, we decided this wasn't going to work for us long term to just sit around and do nothing, so we decided to get clever and try something from our house online.   If a video producer and podcaster can't work together and create an online event on the fly, we have a problem.

We put together a version one of the event, and it worked out pretty well, and we figured out the key elements that we're going to need to leverage to really make this work in the long haul. 

Information for Hosts

So, we put a video together for Tipsy Treats on how to host an event:

For those who like to read, here's some notes on things we covered from that video.

Before the event

· Send out a note to your guests that if they have not attended a zoom event or meeting before, they should practice with you or a friend before the event. Yes, it’s super easy to use these technologies for those that have done it, but I’m surprised how many people have not been on a group video call before. (I’m hopeful that the more events we do the less we’re all spending time on this)

· Make sure you have turned on “Breakout Rooms” in Zoom. You have to do this on your account BEFORE your event. Go to the zoom website, go into Settings, then Meeting, and you can flip on Breakroom. I also recommend “allow host to assign participants to breakout rooms”, because when or if the party gets too big, you can create smaller groups of people and you, the host, make sure the right groups are together.

· Turn OFF screen sharing. Do not allow people to share their screen. Pranksters are using it in bad ways, but additionally, even well intentioned or funny it takes over the entire view for everyone. If someone wants to share, they can hold up the image or text it to everyone.

Your setup

· I recommend having a stand for your phone. This allows you to point your phone at where you will be sitting and hanging out.

· Have a long power plug for your phone. Your phone will be on and running the entire event, and if it runs out of power, your party is over. Plug it in.

· Because of that, you need a larger screen to see everyone – which is good anyway. That is your TV. It’s positioned behind where your phone is so you can look at the party people.

· I also recommend a Bluetooth speakerphone that you can plug in. Airpods/Bluetooth headphone will do, but remember, you need this to work the entire event, so battery matters. My wife and I tried wired earbuds to some success, but v2 will have a Bluetooth speakerphone.

Event Space

· Just like prepping a regular party, the space matters. Have everything you’ll need around you, because if you have to go get stuff, you’re leaving everyone

· Lighting! Just like good lighting makes a party…. Totally different kinds of lighting make a virtual one. Regrettably, this means bright, not mood. Make sure your space is well lit, and you want the brightest light in the room so it’s at your face.

Starting up your event

· Start the meeting from your computer. This becomes your host station you can move around. Mute audio on this AND turn off video so you do not cause a feedback loop.

· Log into the meeting from your phone. Since it is on your stand, you will be able to switch to the MAIN camera on your phone (the back one) which is a lot higher quality.

· Now, turn on the screen mirroring option on your phone (I use an iPhone, so I use Apple AirPlay to mirror my phone to the TV

· Finally, hit “Gallery Mode” on your phone so you can see everyone, filling your TV with a Brady Bunch style of display.

During the event· Be prepared to explain “Gallery View” multiple times. It is on the top left hand corner for Zoom.

· Somewhere between 12 and 15 seems like the optimal for cross chatter.

· If things get too big, this is where you leverage “Breakout room”. You can create multiple rooms and break guests into groups, and you can select which room you are in too. This allows you to “mingle”. Keep an eye on anyone joining, as they end up “unassigned” and you will need to assign them to a room.

Information for Guests

Additionally, we put together a video you can share with your guests before so they know what to expect and how to get ready, as we found a lot more people than we expected are very new to this technology.

And, those tips written out:

First, if you’ve never done a virtual event, or if you’re not familiar with the platform the host is using, do a test run before. Trust me on this one, because while people are totally willing to help, things go smoother the less times the conversation stops for technical support. We’re all patient , but the longer this goes, the less people will want to do that.

Second, let’s talk about your camera. Think of this as the same as picking your outfit for a party when it’s physical. This is how you look.
  • Ideally, the camera is eye level with you. You want from mid chest to the top of your head to appear, and you want to appear normal.
  • Have the light in front of you. This will be flattering. Behind you is not great.
  • If you have to be at an angle, DOWN is better than UP. UP is up your nose. DOWN makes you look dashing.
  • Ideally, plug your device in, and put it on a stand.
  • Please do not move around the room with your camera. We all get sea-sick when you do this.
Next, let’s talk about the room and the noise. The way these work is that the virtual room will be looking for the noise to decide which microphone to broadcast. So all the stuff going on in your house will transmit.
  • This includes any conversations you have with people around you.
  • THUS, MUTE is your friend. It’s ok – it’s actually quite polite to mute.
  • Ideally, use your earbuds and a microphone. That works best. 
  • Be aware that two people in the same room on the same event will cause feedback unless each of you are apart from each other.
Finally, I’m going to give you a tip. What’s weird about a virtual event, particularly a social one, is that there is ultimately only one conversation going on. While normally different people can break off, or different conversations happen in small clusters, online there’s only one. This is important to know because you want to be inclusive of everyone on the call that wants to talk, and give everyone a chance. It’s a new social dynamic, so I’m giving you the heads up about it.

New Retro & Modern Gaming Setup

I redesigned my office, and it deserved a new post to discuss the layout and the setup. The old design  worked great, but didn't look ...