Dan Birlew

Las Vegas Web Developer, Designer, Programmer, and Author

Recording from the Wii

Posted March 30th, 2011 at 8:00am by Dan Birlew in Hardware, Tech. Comments Off on Recording from the Wii

How do sites like GameSpot capture high resolution images from the Wii? This is a question I’m often asked, since I provide similar images for my strategy guides. If this site serves any purpose, it’s to educate the public and other games journalism professionals and strategy guide authors about what I do.

As I’ve previously discussed on this site, getting an HD quality image or video from a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 is relatively simple: just do a search for “HD Capture Card,” buy one, install it on a desktop (or even a laptop, these days), and connect your console to it via component cable. (HDMI uses encryption that blocks the use of recording devices, so you’re stuck with component.) Then you’re set to go. While some HD capture cards will handle NTSC input, say from a non-HD console such as the PSP, or as this article’s title suggests, the Wii, the visuals take a significant hit even if you use an S-video cable or component instead of standard composite A/V. After all, the NTSC standard is only 480i, setting a capture card to NTSC will not accommodate 480p. So in order to get the best possible image from a Wii, you need to improve the signal that it sends out. In most cases it’s the only way you’ll achieve 16:9 and at least 720p.

To increase the Wii’s signal you’ll need a device referred to as an “upscaler.” Probably the most effective and cheapest upscaler I could find is the VD-W3 Wii HDMI Upscaler Processor by VDIGI Electronics. For only $59 it will upscale the signal to 720p or 1080p and features HDMI output. Since the Wii signal is not HD to start with, there’s no HDMI cable encryption to worry about. You can then plug the HDMI out from this device into your HD capture card and record, as VDIGI themselves demonstrate in the videos on their site. This device has several positive reviews.

I suppose this would have worked for me if I needed to upscale the Wii alone. However, what about all those other consoles, like oldies such as the PlayStation 2 or the Xbox, or the PSP? What about recording from the PC? I felt I needed something a bit more broader in utility, something more professional.

After finding several Atlona products on Amazon.com I decided to search their home page. That’s where I discovered the Atlona HDMI Home Theater Media Center. As the diagram below suggests, this is a product that accepts input from virtually any signal source (HDMI, VGA, Component, Composite, or S-Video), upscales it to 720p, 1080i or 1080p, and outputs it through a single HDMI port. The front of the device features LED lights that indicate the active source, and you can switch sources simply by pressing the buttons on the face of the Media Center or by using the included remote. The remote also allows you to switch resolutions and aspect ratios, and to adjust display qualities such as brightness, contrast, saturation, sharpness, and more. Frankly if you have a lot of devices in your house, such as the diagram shows, this switching device proves extremely handy even if you aren’t looking to capture game images.

Atlona Home Theater Media Center with HDMI output diagram

The Atlona Home Theater Media Center allows for switching between multiple AV inputs, and upscales the signal.

Upon connecting the Wii to the Media Center, you’ll get an image output similar to the screenshot below. You’ll notice black bars around the image, but these don’t appear when connected to an HD monitor. However connecting the HDMI Media Center to an HD capture device produces the bars. Note also that most current HD capture cards will only record HD video at 720p or 1080i, and not 1080p. 720p will provide the sharpest image, whereas 1080i (interlaced) will have lines and motion disruption, similar to an older CRT television. Stick with 720p until better HD capture options emerge.

Wii video output uncropped

Uncropped Wii output.

So whatever images or video you capture from the Atlona Media Center need to be edited before showing others. This is easily accomplished with freeware such as VirtualDub. Download this software and extract it to your hard drive somewhere. Open the video file in VirtualDub and add the video filter “null transform.” Then on the Filters menu click on “Cropping.” On the Filter input cropping screen you can set the offsets for the four sides of the frame, or simply drag them down to the edges. The standard Wii screen offsets are as follows:

  • X1 offset = 31
  • X2 offset = 31
  • Y1 offset = 14
  • Y2 offset = 23

Why am I providing the exact offsets? Because some Wii games intentionally display an additional inner black frame around the edges of the screen. For instance, Metroid Prime 3 has additional black bars evenly spaced around, to simulate the insides of Samus Aran’s space helmet:

The problem with cropping the black bars out of the video is that it’s no longer considered HD. To regain the proper proportions, add VirtualDub’s “resize” filter and set the new size to 1280×720 absolute, aspect ratio disabled. The following video is an example of what you can get from the Wii, post editing:

The problem with “upscaling” the signal from the Wii is that it only converts one channel to another, it doesn’t actually improve the sharpness of the Wii’s graphics. While the resulting video is quite a bit sharper than the results of standard NTSC, it breaks up a bit. What you get, therefore, is a stretched image. Some pixelation and jaggies appear, which you’ll notice in either of the above videos by watching them full screen on a PC monitor. For comparison, click on the following 720p image (the kind of cropped and resized 720p as mentioned above):

Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess in 720p HD

Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess in 720p HD shows some stretch marks.

The breakage around objects isn’t hard to miss. But I found that this can be easily avoided if you’re not too attached to the HD format, and resize your video to 480p. The following is the same frame from a video resized to 853x480p, which is the Wii’s maximum progressive output:

Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess in native 480p

Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess in it's native 480p.

Much prettier, yes? Fewer jaggies and less pixel breakage. It almost looks as sharp as an image from an Xbox 360, just smaller.

And like I said, I wanted a device with broader utility so that I can record from more consoles. The PlayStation 2 video below was shot at 720p through the Atlona Media Center with wide black borders on either side, and then cropped to it’s standard 4:3 ratio. Looks quite sharp, eh? It would look even sharper if I’d gone the extra step and resized the video afterwards to the PS2’s native output of 720×480:

There are a few caveats in the quality control, however: the remote, which is required for picture and ratio adjustment, as well as switching the two AV inputs from Composite to S-Video to YPrPb. This thing is so tiny you’ll be paranoid about losing it for the life of the device. Furthermore it transmits via IR, meaning you have to be at least three feet away from the console. I set this thing up in my office, so I had to slide several feet away from my desk to change inputs, and could barely make out the onscreen display on my 17″ HD monitor. Also when connecting the product to an HD capture card, it will intentionally switch the red and blue output signals. If your input is component cable you can just switch the red and blue inputs to override this. However, if your input is VGA or HDMI, you’re screwed for capture. 😐 But if you’re looking to record HD quality footage from the Wii or other non-HD consoles, or want to improve the resolution on your HDTV, the Atlona Home Theater Media Center is still probably the best device you can get.

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