mClassic and the Nintendo Switch
The Switch is an interesting use case because it relies on a low-power ARM SoC provided by Nvidia’s Maxwell graphics architecture. At launch, several games struggled with performance. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild famously ran better in portable mode than it did while docked because it couldn’t handle native 1080p graphics in docked mode. The Wii U version, which only made it up to 720p, ran better than a docked Switch, too. Nintendo eventually fixed those issues with an update.
However, some Switch games (Diablo III, for instance) run at sub-1080p resolutions to keep the action moving smoothly. Can the mClassic smooth over those edges better than whatever methods the games themselves employ?
To find out, I locked my Switch in 720p mode while docked, and then captured three images from Super Mario Odyssey. There are four images here, and I think that they basically speak for themselves, but I’ll talk about them anyway.
Super Mario Odyssey in 720p mode, mClassic off
First let’s look at the Switch in 720p mode with the mClassic disabled. This should basically replicate what the game looks like in handheld mode. As you can see, the bench and rail in the background have quite a few jagged edges in them. The bass player and Mario both have pretty jagged edges to their rounded hats. We’ll treat this image as a baseline, and see what the mClassic can do with it.
Well here’s a surprise. Even with the mClassic on, the image was still captured at 1280 x 720. I double-checked both the unit and AVerMedia RECenter’s settings, and it showed that the image was coming through at 720p. It seems likely that since we’d been using Retro mode up until now, the Regular mode processes at the image’s native resolution. I’ve contacted Marseille for confirmation, and will update this when I get an answer. Even with the lower resolution, you can see the effects of the processing in the bottom rung of the rail and bench seat. The two characters’ hats are also smoothed over. Despite the lower resolution, I think the mClassic did some nice work to this image.
When it comes to easily boosting image quality, it’s hard to beat a higher resolution. According to Digital Foundry, Odyssey runs at 900p, but when action demands more performance, the resolution can dip down to 810p or even 720p. The image above doesn’t have a whole lot going on, and as a result, the detail is much finer than the 720p image above. Mario and his compatriot have much more detailed outfits than they wore at 720p. You can still see some jagged edges on the bench and railing, though.
Can the mClassic fix those issues from the previous image? In a word, “yeah, kinda”. If you zoom in, you can see the railing does have the antialiasing filter applied, but you can still see the stairtstep effect.The characters’ hats have been softened a bit. Overall, the scene looks better under close inspection, but I had a hard time noticing those effects on these cartoony Switch graphics when I was playing the game.
Low-end PC Hardware Enhanced by mClassic
Finally, we’re going to take a look at what the mClassic can do for a basic PC trying to play 3D games. In this test, I played Typing of the Dead: Overkill at 1280 x 720 with and without the mClassic. Unlike consoles, the PC can switch resolutions, so it’s time to see how the mClassic does against real 1920 x 1080.
Our test subject is a Ryzen 5 2400G, which has Radeon Vega 11 graphics, with 16 GB of Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3000 memory. Since the Ryzen’s integrated graphics struggles just a tiny bit at 1080p, I slapped a Radeon RX 560 2 GB from Sapphire into the machine for higher resolution tests. Despite the relatively low amount of VRAM, this card has no problem running many games that cause the Ryzen to stutter at 1080p at the higher resolution. This test will determine if your $100 is better spent on a graphics card or the mClassic.
Without further ado, let’s check out the images.
Typing of the Dead: Overkill
Again, the mClassic helps a bit, just like we saw with Uncharted 3. The mClassic smoothed over the aliased sections of the image, although they seem to stick out a bit more in this scene than they did previously. It’s obviously not a full-resolution 1080p image, though. Let’s see what that looks like.
What about native 1080p?
The difference between 720p upscaled by the mClassic and native 1080p is night-and-day different. In this case, your $100 is probably better spent on an upgraded graphics card (or saved up towards one). That doesn’t just apply to this scenario where we’ve gone from integrated to discrete graphics, either. That $100 is a big chunk of a new graphics card. To get the most out of PC games, we think you should go that route.
The mClassic can also upscale 1080p to 2560 x 1440. Subjectively, it looks better than 1080p, but not as good as native 1440p content. The mClassic can also scale 1080p and 1440p content to 3840 x 2160 UHD. Unfortunately, the mClassic only supports HDMI 1.4 so you only get 30 Hz. 4K seems like a bad idea given those constraints. If given the choice between 1440p at 60 Hz or 2160p at 30 Hz, I pick the lower resolution every time.
On the other hand, the mClassic’s 4K upscaling could be useful on an Xbox One or PlayStation 4, since many of those games don’t run any faster than 30 frames per second on those systems. If you have an upgraded Xbox One X or PS4 Pro, I’d instead use those consoles’ higher native resolutions. While most games on Xbone and PS4 don’t support native 4K, the drawing techniques they use—like checkerboard rendering—are convincing.