Mentioned not long ago on this little blog, a German user has created a professional grade LCD for the Atari Lynx, Model II. Yes, yes, Lynx lost to the Game Boy and all that but it was the most well-liked system that Atari had put out after the Atari 2600 and it was way ahead of its time. First off it was color (4096 of them, which was more than the Genesis), it could handle scaling effects without a hitch, it had great sound, could network up to 8 units by just getting a ComLynx cable and the controls were perfectly ergonomic. The battery life left something to be desired though and it wasn’t the smallest handheld on the market (but even the original Game Boy was no GBA in terms of size). The original Lynx screen used a forgotten technology called “passive matrix display”, whereas LCDs we all know and love use active matrix (among many other features). As such, it would feature odd light lines in many games, sort of ghosting artifacts that if anything were a distinctive mark of the graphics. They could make things looked washed out depending upon the game however. If it had this modern LCD in it, which has a much faster response time, deep blacks, LED lighting and various other things you expect from today’s tech, then it would have blown everything else away – it would have helped the battery life too.
I finally got my kit and today I installed it. While I wanted to do a video, I was hit with numerous distractions during my attempt so both video and pictures during the time didn’t work out. There are others who have done that which I can link to. This is NOT a kit for beginners, it is not something you just plug and play. It requires about a couple of dozen wires and soldering to tiny points. Be ready with a good soldering iron you are familiar with. I was using a brand new iron that was different than any I had used before, which was a mistake. Same thing with the soldering core I used, I should have used something more familiar.
As such it was a little frustrating as my iron was too hot (which caused one of the gold contacts to peel off the board) and the solder wasn’t sticking to the iron very well, it would tend to turn into a black crust which I had to scrape off with some steel wool. Once a glop of solder dripped onto some microchip pins which are all very close. I was afraid that I had ruined the whole thing but I stuck with it, cleaned things up and was patient and it worked — both the LCD and the VGA Out piece.
One thing to note, the instructions are translated from German and they are not clear on a few things. For some reason it tells you to add three ground wires to the VGA piece but it only tells you where to solder one. In pictures I saw of others who had done it, it looked like they skipped two of the wires but I only noticed that after adding them. I ended up cutting them off since the VGA worked without them being connected to anything. I also wasn’t sure if the VDC and one particular ground input was related to the VGA out and it turns out they were not.
I used some small gauge wire, I think 18. Just some left-over wiring from an arcade game. I did make the mistake of being over-cautious and made the wiring TOO long. I was still able to cram everything in there but there isn’t much room. I should have trimmed 3-4 inches from what I did do (which I didn’t measure, I just played it by sight).
Overall while I’m not a super-beginner at soldering and electronics, I’m no expert by any means so given the mistakes I was making, I was surprised when I saw that everything worked without needing adjustments. It was nerve-wrecking since this is not a cheap kit and you only get one chance so I am very happy that it came together.
All that said, the results are worth it. It is like playing a new game system, the quality is very high. I’ve played several games and in one instance with TOKI, it had a 3D ‘pop’ effect with the sprites, which was very interesting to see. I also have noticed details that I never noticed before in the games. Lynx graphics often featured a lot of detail to them but it is more noticable now, especially on games like Shadow of the Beast. The VGA Out is cool as that is a feature that was promised long ago by various people online but no one managed to pull it off. That said, the pixels are going to be huge on the TV – some games like RoadBlasters I would rather play on the small screen after giving it a try but platformers like TOKI or a game like Crystal Mines II are like hooking up a retro game console to the TV.
The pictures of the screen on the Lynx are not done proper justice here which is too bad although I’m just using a cell phone camera. I would venture to say that Shadow of the Beast, Checkered Flag and Power Factor look like GBA games. I will have to do more experimenting and get back to you 😉