No-LOCA frontlights: A comparison

Posted by Dustin Hamilton on

We get it...

…when it comes to illuminating the display on the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance one option is frontlighting. It’s effective and it’s inexpensive relative to the backlit solutions, although it’s not without its drawbacks including somewhat muted colors and some loss in image clarity. That said it’s definitely a workable and effective solution.

It’s intimidating...

…to think of working with this liquid goo, LOCA, when doing the frontlighting… you’re taking this panel with LEDs in it and literally glueing it to the LCD display in a seemingly permanant fashion, but more on that aspect a bit later.

No-LOCA / No-OCA?

There are some newer solutions out there that seem like a dream come true that claim they are as-good-as, if not better than, current solutions… and to be honest we want to find out for ourselves if these solutions would be a viable alternative to the LOCA fronlights we have as well as even the OCA-laminated frontlights too… to that end we got in touch with a vendor and picked up a few as samples to try… and this write-up is about [L]OCA and the results.

Hand Held Legend, HHL, LOCA, OCA, frontlight, front-light, front light

What’s it for?

Quite simply the way a frontlight works, in sum, is that it uses LEDs across the bottom of an plastic/acrylic LGP “Light Grabbing Panel” that is textured to grab light from the LEDs, and illuminate the display under the panel. The problem is that inbetween the LCD and the panel is a gap of air, which has the drawback of the image refracting (bending) when it leaves the LCD, goes through the air gap, to the panel, and then back out to your eyes… this leaves the image on the display looking much more washed-out than it needs to be.

Introducing LOCA and OCA… so LOCA stands for “Liquid Optically Clear Adhesive” and is exactly what it sounds like… with the OCA-laminated solutions having the same substance, minus the liquid part. Essentially what is happening is that this eliminates the air gap and reduces the refraction side-effects significantly to result in a clearer, and better illuminated, result.

As stated earlier, we get it… it’s intimidating.

The truth...

…is that in grabbing some samples of the no-LOCA/no-OCA frontlights we wanted to see for ourselves what happened and we were not impressed… at all.

What we did was take a Game Boy Color and ensured it was working in all apsects of the display using a game, looking for any issues, etc… ensuring the console itself was fine… it was. Then we used the 100-ohm resistor that came with each kit (the no-LOCA/OCA one and our standard frontlight kit) and put the displays through their paces, controlling for any variables.

The image below on the left/top shows the result of the no-LOCA/OCA solution… note how dim the result it, colors nearly completely washed out, grainy, and even a yellow tint to the display too.

Having grabbed an image of the no-LOCA/OCA solution, I took the same LCD display that was used and, using LOCA, applied our fronlight kit. Once I was satisfied with the LOCA application, I put the display with frontlight into a UV-light curing station (read: gel fingernail polish hardener) to cure the LOCA and have it adhered fully.

The image on the right/bottom shows the result of that same LCD display, but using one of our fronglights, mounted with LOCA. The difference is remarkable, to say the least. We’ve got a nice white color, less wash-out, clearer image, and more.

Hand Held Legend, HHL, LOCA, OCA, frontlight, front-light, front lightHand Held Legend, HHL, LOCA, OCA, frontlight, front-light, front light

The summary

While it’d be awesome to have a no-LOCA/OCA solution - certainly less messy - they just arent here yet and honestly with the light refraction I don’t see how a non-LOCA/OCA solution will even stand up to one using LOCA/OCA.

How-to video

We’ll be releasing a video tomorrow that will walk through the LOCA process of doing a frontlight… it’s chock full of details of things to be careful of, watch for, and more. We certainly hope that if you’re considering a frontlight that you’ll take a look and hope you too will feel a lot more comfortable with the notion of doing it yourself.

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