11 Years On, Nintendo’s Original GBA Gets The Screen It Deserves

Talk to any fan of the original GBA and the only criticism you’ll likely hear will be about the screen. Nintendo made what seems now like an absolutely mind boggling decision to leave the LCD unlit, meaning unless you played the damn thing under perfect lighting conditions you could barely see anything at all. Even in perfect conditions it was dark and severely lacking colour. Nintendo remedied this when they released the GBA in its SP form factor, first with a front light (AGS-001) and then with a fully backlit version (AGS-101). But for many (me included) the original non-clamshell version is preferred, both for its ergonomics and aesthetics. If only there was a solution for that damn screen…

There was once a widely available remedy for the unlit screen, and it was called the Afterburner – it was a kit that simply lit the screen from the front, and it made a vast improvement. It wasn’t perfect though, the colours looked quite washed out and you’d get strange trapezoid shadows where the light reflected off the inside of the screen protector back onto the screen. But all that’s by the by because you can’t pick up an Afterburner kit for love nor money these days anyway.

But one clever dude in China has come up with an even better solution than the Afterburner, and it involves taking the far superior AGS-101 screen from an SP and fitting it into your GBA – all with the aid of one of his homemade ribbon cable adaptors.

The kit requires you to disassemble your GBA, take a sander to a bit of the case and do a spot of soldering too, but if you’ve ever played on an AGS-101 you’ll know the result is fantastic. Before you go hitting the buy button be aware that the type of cable you order depends on 2 things – 1) the revision of the board inside your GBA and 2) the revision of LCD you’ve plucked from your SP.

If you head on over to the Taobao page you’ll get the jist of the things you need to check before ordering, I’ve uploaded the instructional PDF to my Google Drive account too. You can check that out here. Don’t have a spare AGS-101 LCD knocking about? No problem, because it looks like he sells those too. And if you really want one of these but can’t be bothered with all the faff, he sells pre-modded units for about £40 ($60).

You might wonder why anyone would bother given the K1 and the Revo and the plethora of emulators available, but there’s still something to be said for having the real thing. And this is what the real thing should have been to begin with. If you’re interested you can contact Zeyer at zereyzhang@yahoo.com and finally remedy that bizarre mistake that Nintendo made all those years ago. There are a couple of vids on Youtube demonstrating modded units, one from Zeyer and one from someone who has modded his own. Enjoy.

Thanks to Ruffnutts over on the dingoonity boards for the marvellous find!

34 Replies to “11 Years On, Nintendo’s Original GBA Gets The Screen It Deserves”

  1. do you sell just the ribbon(pre-made)?
    does the AGS 101 screen you sell come with the ribbon?

    1. obscurehandhelds says: Reply

      I’m not selling anything! Read the article 🙂

      1. Ok I had miss-read, thank you ^^

  2. I think I’ll pick one of these up for sure. I’ve been wanting to play GBA again for a long while. I bought a Micro and that felt too small then I got a controller for my smart phone to play but that felt awkward. This is perfect!

  3. Could have swore I posted this already.. But I don’t see my comment, so I’ll ask again just in case.
    Stupid question, but how do I make an account so that I can place an order? I tried emailing him, but he hasn’t replied yet.. I realize he may just be busy, but I’m impatient.. Too excited about this.

    1. I’d just wait for him to reply. According to his page, he can only make 2-3 of these per day… so if there’s any demand for them then there’s a chance he’s very busy and you’re in a queue. I’m sure he’ll reply to you eventually 🙂

  4. Might be a stupid question, but could someone give me a run down of how to sign up so I can buy one? I tried emailing him, he may just be busy but I’ve yet to hear from him.

    1. Link is broken, but this is it.

      It looks amazing, I want one even more now. Thanks for the vid!

  5. My modded GBA is still @ customs gggrr can’t wait to test this thing.. keep you posted 🙂

  6. […] Talk to any fan of the original GBA and the only criticism you’ll likely hear will be about the screen. Nintendo made what seems now like an absolutely mind boggling decision to leave the LCD…  […]

  7. Ok – really dumb question… is this a better screen than say a DS Lite? I realize the DS can’t play GBO/GBC games and some things that need the EXT port. But just as far as screen quality is concerned.

    1. Hard to say. I guess the higher resolution (if it really is 960×480, I’m still dubious) will offer more scaling flexibility but we’ll have to wait and see.

      1. How does 960×480 fit in a 4:3 aspect ratio? I don’t know all about pixels but if anyone knows please explain.

      2. I was actually referring to the mod in this article – not the Revo. Would a backlit SP screen be better than a DS Lite screen.

      3. Mongusa33 – you should probably ask the K1 Team at k1gbasp.com – again, I am just reporting what they have on their website. I realize that 960 x 480 is a 2:1 ratio, but that is what they have listed. It could be a typo, or it could be that they’ve hidden part of the screen under the bezel, IDK. 960 x 640 or 720 x 480 would be a perfect 3:2 ratio. But, I can’t change the screen on their product. I can’t even confirm the accuracy of what they are reporting.

        I will say, however, that not all pixels are square. So it is possible to have a resolution that is one ratio and a screen dimension that is another.

  8. Hey Obscure, by any chance do you know how long the battery last with this mod? Being that the it’s the first model GBA using AA batteries I’m curious.

    1. I’m afraid I don’t know, Ruffnutts should be able to tell you in a few weeks when his arrives. Worst case scenario though you could buy some high capacity (2300mah) rechargeables which should offer something close to it’s original run time from standard batteries.

  9. i just realised it’s 11 years not 13. what a retard!

  10. Well the best thing to do is way up the cost and what’s best for you, if you have GBA already
    Then try yourself of if you can’t do it send it to Zerey for the service or if you ain’t got one then Just opt for the Pre-Install like me 🙂

  11. I could not resist and I bought a pre-modded Black GBA from Zerey for $87.00 including shipping came to £56.17 and I cancelled my K101 revo.. I shall be doing my own video so stay tuned for that.. will be testing with supercard SD and EZ Flash IV when it gets to me through the post… will post the video on dingoonity under handheld collections thread,
    Or check out my channel ruffnutts1 on youtube 🙂

    ruffnutts

    1. Great! I’ll probably get one as well. Not decided on whether to get the kit or a pre-modded GBA yet though.

  12. This is a huge deal to fans, but I just want the revo with larger screen that is native or doubled the GBA’s resolutions so games don’t need to be scaled. The GBA series screens are just too small for me.

    But hey, I owned a first GBA model when it came out. Got really pissed at the official Nintendo front light screen attachment(didn’t do anything and is barely playable in the dark) and later upgraded to the AGS-001(still disappointed). Then came AGS-101 and by then I was like “well f*ck!”. That was the day I gave up on the GBA and Nintendo’s greedy decisions. But the videos of the screen swap look amazing.

    If only it was simple to do a mod that allowed you to swap the IPhone’s lcd with a GBA since it’s double the resolution and a little larger. Low rez games scaled looks like crap.

    Just ranting but I don’t understand the point of the K1/Revo pushing for hardware accuracy when they can’t get the screens to be accurate. Why bother if your intentions were to emulate 1:1 harware but scale 100% of games it’s for? What kind of GBA pride is that?

    1. Screens are not custom made, for the most part. The 960 x 480 screen was probably as close as they could get to a perfect 3 times scale for the native GBA 240 x 160 resolution. (It is 3.583333 times wider and 3 times as tall.) Having not used a REVO, I don’t know if it is scaled to a perfect 3 in both directions with some unused pixels on the side or not – or if that’s an option (along with the option to scale it to “full screen” using all the pixels). The GBA’s odd 3:2 aspect ratio make getting a perfect fit screen today nearly impossible. So unless you want your GBA clone to cost a few hundred dollars, I doubt you will see a perfect 1 to 1 or 2 to 1, 3 to 1 screen any time soon.

      It’s not a matter of pride, I’m pretty sure the K1 Team is very proud of and dedicated to the GBA. It’s just a matter of a lack of 3:2 screens.

      1. Exactly. Sourcing (or ordering production for, which is more likely) 3:2 240×160 screens would cost an arm and a leg.

    2. I do, however, agree with wanting a larger GBA – a GBA XL/XX if you will. That’s why I love playing GBA games on my Yinlips YDPG18A with it’s 5″ screen (800 x 480 – closer to 3:2 but still not exact. it is capable of 3 to 1 scaling with small black bars on the side).

      1. The Revo looks 4:3 so how can it be 960 x 480? Thats wider than standard widescreen. Am I missing something?

      2. Question, would it be stupid or smart to buy a custom strong magnifying glass and mount it on a version of your choice GBA? Small screen problem fixed. I think.

      3. Just going by the specs on the website – k1gbasp.com

        “Revo K101 console includes a more responsive d-pad and buttons. Due to the larger casing, there is space to accommodate a real RTC funtion into the K101, so all your Pokemon games will fully function. At the same time, the Revo K101 includes a normal 3.5mm video output, and headphones are also also supported through a seperate 3.5mm port. You can enjoy its excellent audio output when playing games or listening to MP3s without any special cables or adaptors needed. Coming to the Screen, K101 uses AUO high difinition screen- 3 inches with resolution: 960×480.”

        http://www.k1gbasp.com/pre-order-k101-free-pouch-bag-headphone-4gb-card-offered-p-47.html?osCsid=gj8krocs57ifg84qul4ps4t6i6

      4. There are magnifying adapters for the GBA. http://goo.gl/bj5ly http://goo.gl/vztXt for example.

        However, in my experience, (and it was a long time ago now) they don’t work all that well. The “magnification” is minimal at best, and there is inevitably some amount of distortion. It also severely limits the viewing angle to approximately 3 degrees.

  13. I’m waiting for someone to gut a GBA and slap an Android smartphone / mini tablet in there.

      1. a broken-beyond repair one, of course.

  14. Now if someone could could make a sdhc flash cart the GBA would really be stylin’

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