Late last year, I moved back to the midwest from California. There are upsides like being near family, and downsides like pretty crummy weather. One benefit: We’ve been able to afford a much larger house, which I can fill with more stuff.
One thing I’ve wanted for a long time is a CRT television set to play old games on. I’m inclined to say it’s because I think the image is objectively better so as to avoid judgment and derision but I don’t. Don’t get me wrong, there is a specific picture quality that is hard to deny. I’d wholeheartedly agree this is how designers and artists worked on their games and intended them to be seen. There are benefits to a CRT.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997, Konami) - PS1— CRT Pixels (@CRTpixels) June 25, 2021
Sharp Pixels vs. PS1 Composite via Sony KV-13M51
This could be my new favorite. Notice the way composite color bleed turns a single pixel into red eyes, or the way the scanlines give definition to Dracula's lips and teeth. pic.twitter.com/YkhDpEEwSD
Technology marches onward, however. Displays reaching resolutions of 4k and beyond enable clever tricks like shader-based scanlines, aperture grilles, and polyphase scaling. OLED and HDR color reproduction means we can do those effects without losing brightness and even start to reproduce phospor ‘sub-pixel’ brightness. Lag continues to be whittled away as well. The retro gaming community is relentlessly working to recreate the unique quality of CRTS, without all the downsides like being big and bulky, drawing wild amounts of electricity, and audible obnoxious high-pitched whines.
New RT5X firmware!— Mike Chi (@retrotink2) July 30, 2022
Version 2.74 adds the ability to inject a custom infoframe to ‘trick’ compatible TVs into HDR mode. This opens up the possibility for much brighter images, especially when scanlines are turned on.https://t.co/YxYOIjeB1s
I’ll be honest, it’s mostly nostalgia. Playing on a CRT is not a faithful recreation of the bits I liked without the bits I didn’t. It’s not even playing games the way I remember them. It’s playing games the way they actually were. No more, no less. I like the idea of recreating as many of the original variables as I can. So flush with the square footage of a portion of unfinished basement, I went to craigslist. I picked up what appeared to be the nicest TV I could find, and tried it out.
I followed the playbook set out by Bob over at retrorgb.com. I put my new-to-me 200-pound behemoth on a cart with all the games I’d want to play so I could wheel it out to my couch for use and tuck it out of sight to hide my shame. With some velcro cable management and a power strip, the whole thing has but one dangling power cable and the rest is self-contained. A+, this is the way to do it. Unfortunately, I quickly decided that TV wasn’t the right for me.
It was a 32” Sony WEGA CRT that had HD capabilities including an HDMI port. The picture was impeccable, but not really what most people think of or remember from the pre-flat panel era. There are some boring esoteric issues with it like increased lag and poor shadow reproduction from 240p consoles that lacked transparency. But suffice to say it was too “new”. I wanted a TV that just zaps picture to the tube as soon as it gets to it, no digital bits involved. So I found a 27” Panasonic Tau that fit the bill. I’m very happy with it.
There’s tons more nerdy video game stuff, and I ramble all about it in a couple of videos I posted to youtube. You’re free to watch it if you promise not to be too judgy about the disheveled state of my basement. I might share some more in the future as I figure out how to manage so many consoles and controllers both on youtube and here on my blog. But I’m going to try very hard to break my nasty habit of spending my free time preparing to do hobbies.
Instead, I’m just going to play some games.