mClassic 'Plug & Play' GPU Looks to Modernize Retro Consoles

Photo Source: Marseille Inc

Game companies often peddle in nostalgia. They re-release classic titles, revisit long-running franchises, and even remake decades-old consoles. But these experiences are rarely as good as we remember them, and that's why Marseille Inc is crowdfunding the mClassic, which it called "the first plug and play graphics processor." So far it's raised more than $355,000 from people who believe the device will actually be able to make old games look better.

So what is the mClassic? It's an HDMI dongle with an integrated graphics processor used to improve a connected device's video output with upscaling, anti-aliasing, and other post-processing technologies. Marseille Inc said on the project's Indiegogo page that mClassic supports upscaling to 1440p at 60 frames per second (fps) with the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch; it can also upscale Blu-ray content to 4K resolution at 24fps.

But the mClassic's true appeal probably lies with its support for retro consoles. It's compatible with anything that outputs via HDMI, and because there are legacy-to-HDMI converters for many retro consoles, that makes the list of supported hardware pretty long. The device's image sharpening and depth of field processing are supposed to help games played on retro consoles look as good now as we remember them looking when we were children.

The mClassic offers a specific "Retro" mode to that outputs with the 4:3 aspect ratio used when these consoles were popular instead of the 16:9 aspect ratio most TVs rely on today. It technically offers two other modes, too, but they simply allow people to decide if they want the mClassic's scaling to be active without having to remove it from their consoles. (Which could be a bit of a pain if their TV stands hide confusing jumbles of unmanaged cables.)

All of these improvements are supposed to arrive with just 0.2ms of additional latency. That's an important consideration for many of these games, where too much additional latency can mean the difference between having a good time and wanting to throw a controller across the room. Combine the minimal latency with the mClassic's small size and it seems like the device's only noticeable impact on a setup ought to be the improved visuals.

It's not hard to see the appeal of something like the mClassic. Who doesn't want to make it seem like their consoles are performing better or enjoy movies at a higher resolution? But this is the kind of thing that has to be seen--in person and with a variety of consoles and games--to be believed. It's possible that, like other post-processing tools, the mClassic will be perfect for some uses and disastrous for others. There's bound to be some variation.

That skepticism hasn't stopped more than 3,900 backers from contributing 7x the amount Marseilles Inc hoped to raise 18 days before the campaign ends. There are limited rewards available now: an Early Backer Special that offers the mClassic for $69 instead of the $99 it'll cost at launch, an "mClassic 2 pack super early" bundle that costs $125, and the "Early Bird Bundle Offer" that also includes an mCable Cinema for $150 instead of $240.

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.

  • bit_user
    Anyone considering this should scroll down to the bottom of the indiegogo page and take a good look at the "Video" chart. Based on that, it seems not to do any upscaling of interlaced video modes, which includes everything output by true retro consoles.

    It also doesn't seem to do any framerate conversion, which they seem to imply by touting 120 Hz. Well, according to their chart, the only way you get 120 Hz out is by putting 120 Hz in. All of the other modes seem to match input & output frame rates, as well.

    It's not hard to imagine they're doing something like Radeon Image Sharpening. Perhaps with some median filtering, in "retro" mode. I'm mainly disappointed they don't include deinterlacing, as that would most benefit true retro consoles. I also think that suggests they're not doing anything terribly fancy, like employing true super-resolution techniques.

    Their promotional video also mentions something about color enhancement. I'd probably turn that off, if I could.
  • coolitic
    It's just shitty upscaling and post-processing, literally not worth anyone's time or money.
  • babakamboora
    on their demonstration, the input lag was only tested on black screen, I would really like to see what input lag does it have while gaming, im sure that it will be beyond 0.2

    for people who will be using it for retro gaming, its not worth it too, it will add more input lag, + lcd monitor input lag will make some games unplayable

    I also like the look of raw pixels, why do you want to sharpening it and use some kind of anti aliasing ?!