The Best Nintendo Switch Accessory? The mClassic and You

Notice any difference between these two Banjos? Maybe around his backpack strap, necklace and jawline?

The image on the left is a shot taken with my phone camera pointed at a monitor running Super Smash Bros Ultimate in 1080p on the Nintendo Switch as usual. The image on the left is the same setup, but with an attached mClassic dongle switched to the ON position – also in 1080p.

What’s this, you ask?

The mClassic is a plug-and-play HDMI dongle produced by a Silicon Valley company called Marseille, with input from N.W.A founding member Arabian Prince, that claims to apply an anti-aliasing algorithm to any HDMI signal frame-by-frame while upscaling it to fit a higher resolution, all with next to no lag. A few months ago it was put up on an Indiegogo page and funded rather quickly. You almost can’t get more snake-oily than that in a modern tech pitch. But after a handful of YouTubers and tech site write-ups gave it their endorsement as a handy Nintendo Switch companion, I put down an early-bird discount order (negotiating myself down from ordering two, just in case it flopped) and a couple of shipping delays later, here it is in my hands.

The idea is you plug one end into your gaming machine of choice and the other into your HDMI cable, then power it with the included micro USB cable and slide the tiny toggle on the side of the dongle between the OFF, On and RETRO modes (the latter supposedly applying the advertised effect while also forcing a 4:3 aspect ratio, but I haven’t tested it). There are no settings to tweak; no accompanying app. You just plug, click and your graphics look better. That’s the idea, anyway.

I have wasted as little time as possible in taking a bunch of grainy off-screen comparison shots, in an effort to understand just how this thing is best used and if it’s worth its post-Indiegogo campaign price point of roughly $150 AUD. Your mileage will definitely vary, but there are some impressive results to be found here once you get your head around everything (Be sure to view on a high-resolution screen or get ready to zoom). I’ll get the bad news out of the way first.

This table represents the supposed major advantage of the mClassic over Marseille’s previous breakthrough product, the mCable, which came out two years ago boasting similar anti-aliasing innards but without the ability to switch itself off, a higher price point, no retro mode, and no automatic upscaling. After a bunch of frustrating shifting around of settings and parts without getting anything higher than a 1080p output, I realised that while there are technically no inaccuracies in the chart, the tantalising appeal of running Nintendo Switch games at 1440p is further away than it might seem.

There seem to be two reasons for this: Firstly, even when the Nintendo Switch is running a game at no higher than 30 frames per second, it likely still sends out a signal at 60Hz – perhaps to minimise delays in app-switching, sleep mode etc. If you follow Marseille’s table, you can see how much of an upscaling drop-off effect this has. We go from a potential 4K picture to a curiously double-barrelled 1080p/1440p one. Which is where we come up against the second hurdle: Nowhere on that table does Marseille promise a 1440p image, as it is only possible on “a supported monitor”. Well, despite the likes of Wulff Den getting a successful 1440p signal via an Elgato capture card, I can confirm that neither my Acer Predator X34 monitor nor my 2016 4K Sony Bravia TV are supported. Granted, the former is technically set up in an ultrawide aspect ratio and the latter is a filter-packed television, but both have displayed plenty of 1440p content in their day. Perhaps only an actual 2560×1440 resolution monitor will do the trick?

Anyway, onto the good news.

The mClassic has been marketed as a device for all game consoles, but there’s a reason beyond upscaling that most of the hype leads with the Switch. Many of the system’s most popular games have a habit of foregoing any kind of anti-aliasing whatsoever. That means more system resources to make models and effects look great, but plenty of jagged edges to be found as a result. While playing portably – especially on the Switch Lite – this is a wonderful trade-off, but when the console is docked the jaggies really come out to play. It is these very games that see the greatest benefit from a partnership with the mClassic.

Take this futuristic gun from the wall of the main hangar in Daemon X Machina, which seems to be custom-made for this kind of comparison shot with all its lovely diagonal lines. The mClassic’s algorithm smooths over most of the edges while leaving most of the detailing on the actual gun alone (You may need to click on the image to expand it in another tab depending on what device you’re reading this on). The algorithm isn’t perfect, because it’s scanning a frame as a static image without really knowing what objects are inside it, so it misses the bottom edge under the gun trigger entirely. Nonetheless, it’s a noticeable difference.

Here’s another comparison where the disparity is clear – even if the photos aren’t. This shot from the 1080p world map of Mario Tennis Aces shows how the mClassic can soften the edges of shadows and clean up both angular and round objects rather nicely when there is no anti-aliasing present already. The monolith on the left and the two blue circles on the right almost look like they have more detail to them with the mClassic switched on, building a strong case for Marseille’s little processor.

This one was just for fun, because The Alliance Alive is not the kind of game I’d ever want to play docked. It’s a remaster of a 3DS JRPG and so it shines on the Switch Lite first and foremost. But it has some delicious results – The sawtooth edges of the table, chair and barrel are gone while the clarity on the lamp enters a new league. However it also shows that the mClassic isn’t interested in inventing outlines where the developer has only provided hints – The protagonist’s hair and clothes remain pretty much the same.

Now let’s look at what happens when the mClassic applies itself on top of a game that already has a bunch of post-processing going on.

You really need to click to expand this one. Dragon Quest XI S is already a gorgeous game that uses a bunch of tricks to make up for the Switch’s relative lack of power and smooth out a sub-native-resolution image. The mClassic has some problems identifying where to apply its magic here, but the edges of the hook in the bottom left are buffed out and our handsome hero gets a bit of a glow-up to his eyebrows and his lone anime-protagonist hair strand. Sometimes its the little things, although the softening of the game’s deliciously crisp text that comes along with these tiny improvements might not be worthwhile in my opinion. Time will tell.

Even less obvious is the effect on this section of Mario vs Rabbids Kingdom Battle. My photography skills render the always-fidgeting Donkey Kong extremely unhelpful in these pictures, but the gentle curves of the sand and grass on the right get an ever-so-slight bump in smoothness that resembles the effect you might get by nudging a typical anti-aliasing setting on PC.

The complete lack of customisable settings on the mClassic can be frustrating when it has to deal with games that rely on constantly-adjusting resolutions to maintain a steady framerate. Luckily, many of these don’t drop below 720p, so we can finally take advantage of the included upscaler in a consistent way with two significant games: Astral Chain and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Simply go the Switch’s TV Output settings and manually set the output resolution to 720p, and the mClassic will take over the upscaling duties from the Switch itself, resulting in a permanent 1080p image with anti-aliasing included. Is this annoying to do on a game-by-game basis? Yes. Is it worth it? Well, let’s see.

The top image here is the Switch running at 1080p, the bottom is 720p with the mClassic doing the upscaling. The difference is subtle in places but the jaggies on the player character’s elbows, thighs and backpack are almost completely smoothed out, as is the lower (grey) line on the building above the right-hand pillars. The real kicker is seeing this in motion, where resolution adjustments just don’t happen anymore. Astral Chain is a visually noisy game where fine details often don’t matter, but it’s nice to see some improvement on an otherwise locked-down console.

Here’s Xenoblade using the same setup as I just mentioned. Though the game’s character models have a kind of out-of-focus filter applied over their textures to make up for the insanely ambitious scope of the game, there is no such effect on the edges of said models, nor the majority of the game’s background elements. What’s more, the Switch barely upscales the game from 720p at all. So the mClassic sure does an awful lot here. Check out those wires, the lamp, the edges of Nia’s ribbons, and even the underside of the sail. Wow. A shame that creature had to step out of frame while I was switching modes.

Though the mClassic likes to tout its Retro mode, I haven’t seen or heard much about any grand visual improvements to be made to classic 2D games. I tried it out on Celeste but noticed literally no difference. The pixels are just too big so the algorithm leaves them alone. However, I was curious to see how it might affect a 2D fighting game with slightly-pixelated hand-drawn art. This BlazBlue CrossTag Battle comparison was the result:

Some of the lines remain untouched, while others – particularly around the faces and clothing seams – get refined to bring out a surprising bit of detail. Not what I expected at all, and cool to see.

Now for my favourite of the games I tested: Fire Emblem: Three Houses.

For me this is the money shot. At 1080p without any tweaking, the visuals of this game go up another level with the mClassic attached. Note the windmill, the top edge of the dark building, Byleth’s shoulders, and especially the staircase in the bottom-right of shot. The mClassic’s algorithm seems like a near-perfect fit for Three Houses‘ brazenly raw image quality, making it look like it’s running in a higher resolution even when it isn’t. It does wonders for the game’s infamous text, too – though I don’t have any shots that show it off without spoilers in them.

In battle the pixelated unit renders are improved out of sight as well. Some enemies – and most allies – almost look like they change art style in overhead view, like surreal paintings without outlines. But again, spoilers.

Before I finish I will mention that I tried the mClassic on the WiiU, specifically hoping to get some upscaled anti-aliasing goodness on some 480p Wii games like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. I wasn’t optimistic. Sure enough it didn’t play nice once the system booted into Wii mode, either leaving the image completely unaltered or presenting a scary black screen. YouTuber Nintendrew managed to get some really nice-looking results out of this specific game, but he seems to have used an external HDMI converter on an actual Wii to do so. There you go.

UPDATE: I went back and realised the Wii U also has a forced resolution output setting, so I dropped it to 480p and tried again. This time the mClassic picked up on the edges while handling the upscale, and though the image in motion is a bit shimmery, check out the difference:

Despite having fulfilled pretty much all of its early backer orders on Indiegogo at the time of writing, the mClassic still has yet to reach a full-scale retail presence. If this small degree of visual improvement seems like something you might be into for your Switch – or indeed other consoles – Marseille’s Indiegogo page is still the place to go to order one for yourself. Personally I’m quite excited that we now live in a world where there’s just a bit more flexibility for console owners seeking better visual quality in their games. Plus I now have a reason to put down the Switch Lite for a second. A piece of crowdfunded graphical tech that actually does what it says – Who knew?

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