Basics of RGB/CRT/HDTV Gaming
Did you know that many of your retro consoles can output a higher resolution than just composite resolution? This means sharper graphics, better images, etc. Many of the consoles do this by default but because of the RF Cable or Composite pack in cables we all just assumed that was the best that was out there. When in fact these were limiting the console output by highly compressing the signal. Here is an example below of the changes you can see.
Disclaimer: I have permission from retrorgb.com and MyLifeInGaming to use some of their photos for this wiki. They are both really amazing. Enjoy!
Super Nintendo Mario Kart
So you want to get RGB, or the best quality available, from your retro console and don’t know where to start? Here you go! If you are a “I want to research it all myself person” like I am then skip down to the end and the Resources section” at the end of this document.
Goal: First you need to understand there are many ways to do retro gaming and many ways to set up the original consoles. This isn’t going to deal with emulation or virtual console setups, this is assuming you have the original console hardware and want to get it set up in some of the more popular ways available. There are several variations on these setups but most of retro gamers that I’ve run into either go the HDTV upscaler route or the CRT route. These are just some thoughts and guidelines to help you understand more about what’s involved and what’s involved and what to do.
Basic No Hassle Composite Setup: If you just want to plug your console into your HDTV (or crt) and that’s it and don’t care beyond that, then plug the composite cables (red, white, yellow) into your TV if you have that input. If you don’t have it, but have a component(Green, Red, Blue, Red White) input, then plug the yellow composite cable from your console into the green plug on your component input and the red and white into the normal sound input for the component on your TV. Make sure that the input is set to game mode on your TV and you’ll be off and running. It will “work” but the picture may not be as clear as you’d like (or remember as a kid) and there may be some lag between button inputs. However, for someone who just wanted to have a quick Mario Kart 64 session, it probably won’t be a problem. If you want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes, continue reading.
Method 1: HDTV
So, if you have an HDTV and want to get your consoles to look their best through it one way to do that is with an upscaler. However, a lot of upscalers can have issues handling different signals, adding excessive lag and many other issues. Generally, the best upscaler recognized in the the retro community is the XRGB-mini Framemeister. This was developed in Japan with retro gaming in mind and it offers some of the lowest added input lag of any upscaler out there. It also has a LOT of settings for adding in those classic scan lines(which aren’t actually the black lines, but you can research that later). It also can handle the 240p original outputs of many older consoles and it scales them correctly. It also includes a custom RGB input cable and can output in HDMI so you can plug it straight into your HDTV. The downside however, is that Framemeisters cost about $300-350.
The other thing to know is that newer HDTV’s process and can upconvert signals as well. I’m not going to get into all the technical details here, but basically what you need to know is that HDTV’s cause input lag in addition to attempting to scale the image if it’s delivered to them in less than 720p(I realize there is interlacing as well and some TV’s can do 480i and so on but that’s more technical then I intend to cover here).
These reasons and a few others are why going through a framemeister first is ideal so your TV doesn’t try to scale it improperly and you need something to get it to a video input standard your HDTV understands like HDMI.
You will also need to make sure the HDMI inputs on your TV are set to “Game Mode.” Most TV manufacturers make this setting to turn off all additional processing/filters/extra crap that will slow down the inputs from your old console or devices to your tv screen. Research your TV and other TV’s to see what sort of lag it already has and for reference know the Framemeister will add about ~20ms of lag.
If between your TV and the Framemeister you have more than ~55ms (4ish frames) of lag you might start to notice some slight input lag between when you press(input) a button and there is a reaction on screen. It may be incredibly small, but that’s about when I’ve see some people start to notice. There is very little it can affect at that rate but I still firmly believe in things like Smash Melee, Mega Man, and other games it can be the difference between death and doing what you intended. If you are old like me and have slower reaction times then you may not notice actual screen lag until around ~80 ms(6ish frames). I know using cheat codes is where this is also noticeable if they are input driven codes.
Here are some resources to check input lag on your TV and get the framemeister.
http://www.rtings.com/ – Large TV Database, they test input lag on Game Mode specifically.
http://www.displaylag.com/display-database/ – This was another good database
If you go this route you will also need SCART cables. SCART is a video standard used in the UK and in Japan, it is a 21 pin connector. It is capable of displaying full RGB and carrying sound. Unfortunately, TV’s don’t have this method in the US. If you are in the UK, look into getting some SCART cables and doing RGB mods on your consoles if needed and then you just need a SCART connector into your TV! All the systems that output RGB by default you’ll be able to just get the cable and hook it right up.
Be careful how you proceed with SCART because there is the European SCART standard and the Japanese standard is called JP-21. The Japanese standard is wired different then the European models so don’t cross streams or cables in this instance! The Framemeister comes with the SCART to RGB cable that is JP-21, so you have to make sure all your SCART cables to your consoles are JP-21 and not the European standard because they are wired slightly differently. However, you can get a European SCART adapter that will plug into the Framemesiter and use the European SCART cables. I recommend that method because I’ve had an easier time finding European SCART standards over JP-21 but they are both out there.
I’d strongly recommend watching through this series to see more on cables you need for the Framemeister and how to hook it up. You need the SCART to RGB adapter. The Framemeister comes with a JP-21 so if you want a different one that is European standard you’ll need to purchase it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43dzrCAfU3A – I’d recommend watching 101, 102, and 103.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWeIca10B1w&list=PLTNBVisVMbSR1ZDDQRgjg6S9D2YQ4rwnZ&index=13 – TV/Framemeister Settings
http://retrorgb.com/scarttodisplay.html – Adapter Cable
Thanks to /u/accaris – I did see this in my travels but I mostly wanted to cover the framemeister. There are other Upscalers that are decent out there and not as expensive but I’d say research them thoroughly. The DVDO iScan VP30 is on he mentioned and here is a guide as well. http://retrogaming.hazard-city.de/
Method 2: CRT or Professional Video Monitor/RGB Monitors
Part 1: CRT This is my preferred method. I prefer this because it’s relatively cheap; you just need the specialized cables and maybe some system selectors/switches. I have the space in my setup for a CRT so I went this route and haven’t looked back. CRT’s are huge and heavy, so first and foremost make sure you have the required space and that your entertainment center can support the weight. The last thing you need is it buckling when you slap your amazing CRT on there.
TV’s: My brand of choice is Sony Trinitron. Sony did a great job in building these TV’s with quality components and they jam packed all sorts of features that many CRT’s at the time didn’t have standard. STAY AWAY FROM HD CRT’s. I can’t stress that enough. The larger HD CRT’s or the old Projection floor units, are not ideal for retro gaming. The Projection units had rough displays, bad angle viewing, burn in issues, typically didn’t last and were sub par to a lot of what’s out there. The reason I say to avoid HD CRT’s, is that light gun games won’t work on them. They also can have widescreens, which does not display 4:3 ratio well and sometimes have scaling issues and it may try to upscale or downscale like a newer TV does adding lag and issues. Many of them also exceed 30 inches and the sweet spot for retro gaming CRT’s is about 24 -27 inches. I’ve found varying reasons for this ranging from screen size/ratios to original designer intent, to just freaking weight.
There are some good forum posts out there on it; so if you want to know the reasons, Google it and find some forums with people much smarter than I. My main reason in my set up is the weight issue and light gun incompatibility. PVM’s or Professional Video Monitors are also a good way to go because they are about 18-20 inches usually. I just think it’s too small for me, but we’ll get into those more shortly. I have a 24 inch I game on because it works the best for my configuration. So in the end go for what works on your set up and what you want.
As mentioned, 24-27 inch CRT’s weigh about 70-100 pounds. Those HD CRT’s that are 32+ inches start around 150 pounds and go up from there. My entertainment center can do about 85-90 pounds so I decided to stick with the 24 inch.
Inputs: Make sure the CRT you are looking for has S-Video, Composite (yellow, red, white) and Component (YPbPr Green/Red/Blue/Red/White) inputs. I say this because if you want a setup that takes advantage of S-Video or Component, it’s necessary and it’s always good to have those along with Composite as a fall back. Below is a link to Sony Trinitron models and it will list their inputs based on model number. The best place to pick up a CRT is your local thrift store or check Craigslist or maybe even local Pickup-Only eBay auctions.
There are lots of good TV’s out there, it doesn’t have to be a Sony. That was my preference, and they are abundant in my area. A friend of mine has a great Samsung CRT, Phillip, JVC and Sharp had good ones as well. Personally I’d stray away from the lower brand or no name brand ones but they can work too. Shoot for early to Mid-2000’s if possible on age. Usually this means they haven’t been used as much and can have a lot of life still left. Older ones may be closer to dying.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FD_Trinitron/WEGA – Based on my scouring of the interwebs, the KV-27FV310 is seen as the pinnacle of standard consumer CRT’s for retro gaming. I have yet to spot one in the wild though. I have a KV-24FS120 and love it. It has two composite, one S-Video and One Component input.
Hooking up to the CRT. My setup uses SCART Cables I picked up from either
Here: https://www.retrogamingcables.co.uk/games-consoles (they ship to the US as well)
And an Analog Scart to Component Video box found here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/NEW-SCART-RGB-to-YUV-Component-Video-Converter-Scaler-/221156873851
You can get audio breakout cables and manage them through their own audio selector/switch, or you can get an audio breakout box from the dealer above. Then just run your SCART cables through the audio breakout box then into the Component box. I am actually planning to mod my component box for audio which is really easy.
If I don’t do that I might have audio broken out from the switch itself and just wire it into some speakers or my TV.
If you don’t want to go the SCART to Component route, S-Video is still an awesome and viable option for consoles like the SNES, N64, and GameCube. I’d recommend trying to get official Nintendo S-Video cables with the A/V multiout connector or the ones from Monster released for the GameCube. They have good shielding and you don’t have to worry about interference. However, both can be hard to find and the monster cable runs about $60 now and the Nintendo one is about $30. There are other branded or no name ones that will work, but the Sega consoles all output RGB by default (even the Nomad), but none of them do S-Video without a mod. So for those, you need to do a SCART to Component, a Framemeister set up or just be ok with composite if you don’t want to do a mod on the system. Here is my setup and how I have everything connected:
I have two switches and a convertor box now; an analog Component box, a SCART switch, and an S-Video switch that can handle Composite or S-Video. My S-Video switch will handle Svideo and Composite and it runs directly into the S-Video and Audio on the TV. Not all switches can do this! (specifically the Pelican Game Selectors from GameStop have to be all Composite wired in and output through composite or all S-Video, no mixing and matching). My SCART switch(Bandridge, Hama, or the custom one on RetroRGB are your best options other ones can really suck so just do a lot of research and a quality one is going to cost $75+ easy but it’s worth it) outputs to the Component Box which then I have Component cables from it to the TV. The audio is broken out now on the Scart Switch and I have a red/white running from the SCART switch to the audio input for Component on my TV. None of these consoles have a video mod, this is all working off what they natively support.
Here’s my current setup for each system:
NES- Composite into S-Video Switch (my switch will carry a composite signal over svideo output, but not all switches will do this so just FYI, it depends on how it’s wired) If this is your only Composite console you could of course just have it on it’s own input into the TV as well.
SNES 1Chip-01 Model – SCART to SCART Component box, audio broken out on cable and that goes to an audio switch goes straight to the TV Component inputs.
N64 – SVideo into Svideo Switch
GameCube- SVideo into Svideo Switch
Saturn – Scart cable To Scart Switch
Genesis/32x- Scart cable to Scart Switch, audio from the front headphone stereo goes into audio switch right now which goes into TV. I have the High Definition Graphics Non-TMSS model 1.
Dreamcast – outputs to VGA box from these guys http://www.beharbros.com/ I use the Kuro it’s their most basic and goes via VGA into my HDTV(which has moderately low input lag and I have it set on PC or the Game setting and all additional processing turned off).
Atari 2600 – RF directly into CRT. I’m considering a mod on this later but don’t have the tools or time right now sadly.
PS2 – SVideo into Svideo switch.
PS3 – HDMI into HDTV
Xbox 360 – HDMI into HDTV
Sega Master System- SCART to SCART switch then Component box
Atari Jaguar – SCART to SCART switch then Component box.
Some Quick Video Output Stats:
NES- Natively outputs only Composite. Can be modded with NESRGB for RGB output. Info here:
SNES- SNS Original console Vs 1 Chip Motherboards Vs SNES Mini/Jr.. All on same video output but different motherboard revisions.
SNES Jr’s have arguably the best RGB output, but if you want the original form factor (like myself) look for SNES’ that are “1-chip” versions. Every system I’ve opened with a serial number of “UN3….” on the bottom has been a 1-chip motherboard. However, there are different versions of the 1-chip there is -01, -02 and -03. -03 is what is in the SNES Jr. for the most part and also very hard to find on the original form factor SNES. It doesn’t support CSync but 1chip-01 and 1chip-02 do which can affect the SCART cable you get. The only way to know which 1chip revision you have is to open up the console. If you are going the SCART route on the
SNES stick with either the earlier models or the 1chip-01/02 and a CSync SCART cable.
Note: Some 1-chip models have issues with vertical bars showing up in dark areas potentially or artifacting on certain games. Personally I have a 1chip-01 and 02 and haven’t seen the vertical bars. I did see a little artifacting in one game but that was it. It’s covered in the video below in the link, just FYI.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1k2HVB9S8CA – RGB Super Nintendo
Genesis/Sega- Master System, Genesis, 32x, Sega CD, Genesis Model 2, Nomad, Saturn and I believe Genesis Model 3 all support RGB natively(there is some debate on the model 3, I’ve heard some say it does and some say it doesn’t so maybe only certain ones). Dreamcast supports S-Video and VGA out. Sega made an official VGA box for the Dreamcast but it’s very difficult to find and usually goes for over $100. I’d recommend one from http://www.beharbros.com/ I’ve interacted with them some and they are great. Personally I’d stay away from other 3rd party ones as I’ve heard horror stories, but if you want to get one they are out there for cheaper.
N64 – Outputs S-Video natively. There is an RGB mod for earlier model N64’s that are serial number NS1 and also now there is an UltraHDMI RGB method for them as well. Recently, there have been discoveries in Anti-Aliasing and Deblurring in them which you can learn about here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDiHgKil8AQ
GameCube – GameCube outputs S-Video natively, but earlier versions of the GCU model number DOS-001 have a secondary digital input that could be used in conjunction with the AV multi out(to carry sound) to deliver Component signal to your TV. However, the GCU Component cables go for about $200 if you can find them. Personally, I’ve found S-Video to be almost as good and a LOT cheaper. If you are using a CRT or PVM there is virtually no input lag for you hardcore Melee gamers or those of you that just hate lag above all else. The comparison videos I’ve seen between Component and SVideo just isn’t enough for me to justify a $200 purchase. Also, there are some workings in the retro community to get the Wii component cables to work on a modded GCU using the Digital out on the back of the original GCU’s and there is some testing going on now with it so you can always wait and go that route potentially.
Note: The Wii’s that were backwards compatible run GCU games in the exact same way as the GCU, offering essentially the same experience. So if you don’t want to buy a GCU and don’t care about the initial Wii screen to select your GCU game before you can play it, then that’s an option for you and you can get Component cables for your wii pretty cheap. It even has plugs for your GCU controllers (early model wii’s only).
Atari – The 2600 and 7800 can be modded for Composite or S-Video output. I haven’t done this yet and I’m not sure about the 5200. If you want to get more out of it then standard RF, both of those are good options to look in too.
I don’t have these but here is what I know:
Atari Jaguar – Outputs RGB signal natively using the expansion port in the back
Sega Master System – Outputs RGB signal natively using a Genesis 1 output cable.
3DO – It outputs S-Video natively no RGB without a mod.
TurboGrafx16- Needs mod or adapter to do RGB but is an easy fix. Outputs only RF Natively. If you have the Turbo Booster add on, it can do Composite. There are some easy do it yourself mods as well using the expansion port where you can wire up composite to work as well.
Part 2: Professional Video or Broadcast Video Monitors
PVM stands for Professional Video Monitor. All PVM’s are CRT’s but not all CRT’s are PVM’s.
Many companies made these but Sony in particular called their models Sony-PVM or BVM(Broadcast Video Monitor). So it’s a little bit of a trick Professional Video Monitors are a thing on their own and sometimes called RGB monitors, but PVM’s are technically Sony’s brand. Brilliant marketing and positioning on their part.
Anyway, these were made of the best quality materials at the time because they were meant to be professional use and to remain on all the time. So where a standard consumer CRT may be rated for ~25,000 hours before it goes out, a PVM would go for closer to 100,000 hours. Typically, when these came out they cost between $3,000-10,000 where a standard CRT new would be $500-1500. Most places that have or had PVM’s are old studios, medical facilities, etc. They pop up on eBay once in a while and on Craigslist from time to time. Usually they sell for about $150-300 now. I’ve seen them as low as $50. The thing with these is the inputs on these vary. Many of them have BNC connectors but a lot of them do support multiple video standards such as composite, RGB and S-Video. The S-video is through the normal connector but sometimes Composite or Component will be supported through BNC connectors not the typical RCA connectors you are familiar with on standard CRT’s. These and some old Commodore monitors are the only things I’m aware of in the states that support full RGB. For more info on PVM’s and BNC connectors and sync types as well as connections google them and I added a link below to Sony’s M2MD series. A lot of retro gamers consider RGB Monitors the Gold Standard, there are many more scanlines meaning sharper images, they last longer, and display fantastically. Instead of 200-400 lines like a standard CRT they will have 500-800 lines. Many can also do 480p which wasn’t typical of other CRT’s at the time or today’s TV’s at all. My only couple complaints are I’ve never seen one larger than a 20 inch screen and they can be pricey.
Component is a different type of signal from RGB even though the cable has the same colors. It technically isn’t the same as RGB and it sits between S-Video and Full RGB on the comparison videos. RGB is the raw Red, Green, and Blue video signals. Component is Black/White, Red, Blue information and Green is calculated from those because if you know Red/Blue whatever is left is Green.
Some good info here http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/archive/index.php/t-83638.html
There is very little difference in my opinion and I prefer Component unless I’m on a PVM, because once you see Full RGB on a RGB Monitor in real life it’s shocking. This image is from a Wii. I’ve seen noted a few places that the difference between RGB/Component basically comes down to basically brightness/color settings and such on your TV or RGB Monitor. Some will handle the whites differently and could make the Component seem lighter or darker based on that.
Example, This is with the black/white off on an RGB monitor and it may even be using an older Component standard
Yet, here it is on the SNES from RetroRGB’s testing. From my own testing it was darker than their results, so Your Mileage May Vary but RGB monitor is still the best either way. I’m content with my standard CRT for now.
I do have a friend that has a dual PVM setup where he basically daisy chained two PVM’s together because they had inputs and outputs over BNC connections. You can also achieve this basically with a SCART splitter and then two BNC breakouts to two PVM’s so you can both game at the same time on your own PVM and do Co-op games together without looking at the same screen. It works great for racing games like Mario Kart and with the GCU Gameboy Advance, multi play is pretty sweet.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAi8AVj9GV8 -RGB Master Class 104 PVM’s and CRT’s
http://retrorgb.com/systems.html – RGB Systems, Popular/Current Mods
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtTM7nU9SMA – MyLifeInGaming- RGB Master Class Intro, I recommend watching their whole 100, 200, and 300 series.
http://www.racketboy.com/ – This forum has a good community on it as well familiar with modding and RGB etc.
https://www.retrogamingcables.co.uk/games-consoles (they ship to the US as well)
http://www.ebay.com/usr/retro_console_accessories?_trksid=p2060353.m1438.l2754 (they will do some slight customization cables to because they make their own)
http://www.ebay.com/usr/wookieewin – Makes their own as well and has good SCART to BNC connectors.
http://www.hdretrovision.com – Genesis/SNES to Component cable. (Un-released, Coming out in June 2016)
Analog Scart to Component Video box found here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/NEW-SCART-RGB-to-YUV-Component-Video-Converter-Scaler-/221156873851
Dreamcast Box Custom Built:
http://www.rtings.com/ – Input Lag Database- Their testing method is really good
http://www.displaylag.com/display-database/ – Input Lag Database
http://www.hdtvtest.co.uk/news/input-lag – Input Lag Database