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RIP-Felix

Getting a Better Picture from Retro Consoles

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Super Nintendo

When I can get my hands on the ultraHDMI mod board, that will be my HDTV and in game reset solution for N64. Unfortunately they are high in demand and short in supply, selling for a premium at the moment. The next batch is supposed to be shipping with new firmware offering higher resolution output than before. So I'll  wait for that , should be in the next few months.

In the mean time, I'm going to install the RGB amp needed to restore RGB to the multi-out. I have an early revision NS1 console that just needs wired up, nothing drastic. There are advanced RGB boards made by Tim Worthington and Borti that offer features like in game reset and Deblur, like the ultraHDMI does. That's tempting, but I don't like the large parasitic board and rats nest of wires. The simple RGB mod is easy and clean. So that's going to be my CRT solution.

I recently got an Everdrive64 and I'm loving it. A user uploaded an APS patch set for all the USA no-intro roms that disables the 1st pass of Anti-aliasing. When I load a game it auto patches the rom and disables the AA! The second pass still smears the image before sending it out, but even on composite the image looks sharper. I just picked up the HDRetrovision SNES Cables (no compromise RGB to Component). These are seriously great cables and from the results below, I'm definitely getting a Genesis cable next. Until the RGB amp board arrives, I figured I'd check them out on my SNES. The TV is a SONY Trinitron KV-27FS120. It has component in so I didn't need to RGB mod it. I have a busted KV-27TS29 I've been researching an RGB mod for however. The set won't turn on, I'm thinking a power supply issue. It may be worth trying to repair as a project, but that's down the road. If I do, I may as well RGB mod it while I'm in there. That's the only way to get a better picture than below...

Composite is on the left and Component on the right:compositevscomponent2.thumb.jpg.6b0ce95b52e15c451fa789eefccfe1e8.jpgcompositevscomponent3.thumb.jpg.34e258c7a7edbedb59fce755635eed69.jpgcompositevscomponent4.thumb.jpg.4195f98f6d73a7adae8b2bb4aee850cc.jpgcompositevscomponent1.thumb.jpg.719e8d5be270bae4b8772d7989223f49.jpg

I didn't us any special capture device, just my phone camera. The settings were manual so I could get comparable photos. They don't look the same as they look to my eye in person, but the comparison between photos is approximate to the difference seen in person. I can tell you the results are far more delicious in person. The increased color depth is really noticeable, and more impressive than I thought it would be. It looks better in person than in the photos.

As a side note, I got the DIY kit for SNES classic controllers from 8Bitdo. Using Nintendo's official repro SNES controller wirelessly, thanks to 8BitDo, on my OG SNES is DOPE! The lag isn't noticeable like it is on PC, raspberry pi, or the Classic edition. I was a little worried about the Bluetooth, which is slower than 2.4GHz type wireless controllers, but it aparantly isn't enough for me to notice. I'm sensitive to lag and emulators/pi/classic edition with Bluetooth controllers all produce noticeable input lag. It may just be the CRT however, no lag for video processing is probably the best reason to game on a CRT. I've been meaning to try the Pi on my CRT to see if the lag is better, but I haven't got around to it yet.

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I'm really jealous of you eurobrats and your SCART input. We could enjoy our games and movies in terrible RF, smeared composite, or not quite RGB Component. But hey, at least we could see the menu clearly! We have to mod an NTSC TV to add a SCART input, which hijacks the On Screen Display (OSD) Menu, the only part that was RGB. Wouldn't be such a big deal if I could just use a PAL TV, but noooo...You guys have to have weird resolutions and refresh rates too.

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Interesting dude! if it weren't for the Nazi's you would've had HDTV in the 40s (1000 lines of resolution as the broadcast standard)? Plans were scrapped due to reconstruction costs. Friggin Hitler!

Actually history if full of examples where politics stifles technological and scientific advancement.

Perhaps you were trying to make another point stigz?

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Nintendo 64 RGB Mod

My RGB Video Amp board came in today. This thing is bare simple - 3 resistors a capacitor and the THS7316 analog video amp chip. It was only $12 shipped. This chip doesn't have a low pass filter in the analog frequency range. It's not a bad thing to have one as it cleans out noise, but when they stack (through multiple devices in the chain) you loose detail. It should transmit a lossless signal to the multi out. The guys at HD Retrovision are obsessed with getting their cables right, so this should represent the best RGB signal possible through component to a CRT. You may notice it doesn't address sync. That's because I installed it in my NUS-CPU-03 revision N64. It is already wired up for Csync to the multi out. Later revisions removed R1, R14, R15, R16, and C22 to save cost. I recently bought another n64, a NUS-CPU-04 revision which had them removed. So I couldn't install this Mod board to that system. I would need to use Voultar's board for it, but his is around $30. This was the cheapest solution I could find. The HD retrovision cables were $70, so I'm in $82 total now. Well, plus $174 for the Everdrive v3, but that doesn't really count. I wanted that regardless. Not too bad.

N64_RGB_mod_2.thumb.jpg.441003ef2e1a6444d9700d734cf204c1.jpg

285960033_N64RGBMod.thumb.jpg.f7f4d8809123b221f273dbe15f9ce462.jpg

Note: The antialiasing was removed using a flashcart (Everdrive64) and an APS rompatch that disables it. You could use a gameshark code also, but the flashcart makes it easier. To be sure it wasn't enabled in the baseline shot, I used my original copy of Super Mario 64. Yes I put it through a few more cycles of plugging in. Oh god the wear on the pins!

You can clearly see that the AA looses fine detail if you look at the butterflies. Component clearly retains more detail, but it's interesting how much clearer it is even over composite with AA disabled. I'm not sold on the look and there are some weird checker board patterns seen in solid color patches here and there. I'm not sure if they are due to a lack of the low pass filter or just dithering. Some games may not benefit from having AA disabled, but I think it's an interesting new look and will be fun to explore these games picking out new details I couldn't see before. The Component RGB definitely looks better. I'd be very interested to see what the advanced RGB mod board with the Deblur feature looks like, since it can remove the 2nd pass of AA. My mod board can't do that.

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The Television, Part 1: Selection

I'm trying to get the best experience out of my gaming consoles, so the TV is probably the biggest factor. For retro gamers there are 2 schools of thought, CRT and Modern TVs. In my setup I use both. I keep a late model Sony Trinitron around for all my retro consoles. Sure it's nostalgic to see the games the way they were meant to be viewed, but that's not the main advantage. CRTs have no lag. CRT's don't do any sort of image processing, they just take the analog input and display it at the speed of an electron gun exciting phosphors (practically instantaneously). Modern TVs have to take a variety of input signals and upscale them to the screens native resolution. They also do other advance image processing to make thing look better. The main difference is they trade input response for image quality. All that image processing takes time, introducing input lag. As a retro gamer, I can't stand lag. When I replay old games on a CRT, it's way more enjoyable. After all, the games were designed to be challenging when Mario jumped exactly when you told him to!

What about game mode you ask? That's where things get tricky. Game mode turns off all those fancy image processing features and just upscale the image to the TV's native resolution, greatly reducing input lag. However, it can't remove all of it. Theoretically, a modern display can't match a CRT in lag performance. Practically, modern TVs have come a long way at reducing input lag, to the point where it should not be perceivable. If you combine a low latency TV with the OSSC or RetroTINK then image fidelity doesn't have to be a problem either. They can accept retro consoles (with mods & adapters) outputting 240p and 480i/p. They line double or triple it and spit out 480p/720p Via HDMI, a signal the TV can properly handle with minimal processing in game mode. They can do this almost lag free.

The first step however is choosing the right TV. There are so many great Modern TV's out there. So what's important to look at for as a Retro Gamer? Here's my take.

  1. Input latency. I've read differing opinions about where the limit for noticeable lag is. As far as human reaction time is concerned, 101ms is the current world record. But that's from perception (from eye to the brain) to reaction (from brain to muscle contraction). So lag perception should be less than that. It's probably not correct to assume that perception takes the same time as nerve conduction + muscle contraction. So I can't just say that perception is half of reaction time (50ms). So lets go off something more concrete - framerate. 24Hz (FPS) is about the slowest frame rate possible before you start to see individual frames. That deals solely with perception, so it's the better number to go off. 1/24 = 0.0416s or about 42ms. Wireless controllers adds lag too. From what I've read that's less than 8ms. Subtracting that should give me the maximum input latency a TV can have before it's noticeable by a gamer sensitive to lag (42 - 8 = 34ms). From what I've read about TV input lag, less than 30ms is considered unnoticeable. My calculation closely agrees. So I'm assuming 30ms is safely unnoticeable. Above that, I've read that increases in steps of 15ms are noticeable. So a TV or setting with an input latency of 45ms would be just noticeable if you're sensitive.
  2. Refresh Rate and Response time. These affect the smoothness and clarity of the image during fast pace action, like sports or games. High refresh rate and fast response time will remove ghosting and image trails. It also gives rise to the "soap opera" effect. Before my plasma died I had become used to it. I didn't novice it after awhile, but my Dad did when he came over. I lost it when I bought that cheap TCL Roku TV. I now see it as a sign of a quality picture, but understand why some may not like it at first. IMO, it make sports and fast pace action a better experience.
  3. Burn in. Since I use my TV as a computer monitor there is an increased risk of burn in. Static screen elements like huds in games, or browser tabs in Firefox, can permanently damage screen if left on for long periods, which I often do. I generally leave my screen saver off, because it tends to interrupt my emulation gameplay if I take a break. Then I can't regain focus without closing, losing where I was in the game. So I would be wise to choose a TV not at risk for Burn in.
  4. Black performance. My TV will not be placed in a room with lots of light that can wash out the screen. So brightness is less important to me than good blacks. The cheap TCL roku TV I replaced my plasma with has poor blacks. The backlight changes brightness constantly to provide appropriate contrast, but in a dark room watching content with black bars above and below, the flickering is almost seizure inducing. It's quite distracting, but if I turn off the auto-brightness feature then dark details get lost and gradients band more than they already do. My plasma had great blacks and I never noticed gradient banding or lost details in dark areas. I greatly desire good blacks again.
  5. Analog inputs. I'd like some legacy inputs to make connecting retro consoles easier. Component and Composite are much appreciated. This is not an absolute need, the OSSC or RetroTINK can accept retro consoles (with adapters) and output clean HDMI the TV can handle. Also, with less to process for upscaling, input lag decreases. So it may be better to use these solution instead. 

I recently redecorated a guest room at my Dads place and want to put my TCL roku TV in there. So now I'm ready to upgrade my TV for Retro Gaming!

I narrowed down the list to three candidates:

LG OLEDB8PUA.

Pros

  • OLED screen provides an infinite contrast ratio. Blacks are pure. This is the best picture quality possible for my needs.
  • It also has a very consistent low input lag profile, 21ms for most resolutions and scenarios (SDR vs HDR). Outside of game mode, it has a surprisingly low latency compared to other TVs (42ms for 10[email protected]). That might be noticeable to someone sensitive to lag, but it's better than any other TV available and they can always turn game mode on. This TV's lag profile is ideal for a wide range of gaming scenarios.
  • Native 120Hz Refresh Rate

Cons

  • OLED is at risk for Burn in. It uses many features to reduce the risk, but is really intended for use as a TV where it will display variable content for a few hours at a time, not a computer monitor. This isn't a problem in modern LED TVs.
  • While the input lag is acceptably low and consistent across a wider range of resolutions and scenarios, it isn't the lowest possible. Since I want to use this display for retro consoles, achieving the lowest possible input lag for 1080p SDR is my primary goal.
  • No Component input.
  • No Roku features Built in (this isn't really a big deal)
  • Price is about $1000 more than the LED alternatives.

VIZIO P55-F1

Pros

  • LED screen provides no risk of burn in.
  • Blacks are great on this LED, thanks to local dimming. This is the best black performance possible besides OLED.
  • Has a dedicated low latency HDMI port (HDMI5) which provides the lowest input lag of any TV, 1080p120 at just 10ms. HDMI5 doesn't support HDR and only accepts YUV4:2:0 due to it's bandwidth limitations. It does lower latency for 1080p60 and 4k60 to just 15ms, however. That makes it faster than OLED for my primary goal. The other ports support HDMI2.0 at ~27ms, about 3-4ms more than the OLED. While the lag profile is less consistent than the OLED across a wide range of gaming scenarios, all scenarios experience less than 30ms of lag in game mode and should thus be unnoticeable.
  • Has Component input.
  • Cost is about $1000 less than the OLED
  • Native 120Hz Refresh Rate

Cons

  • Not as good at blacks as an OLED.
  • Outside of game mode, it has a fairly high latency that will be noticeable to someone sensitive to lag, so it's best to stay in game mode.
  • No Roku features Built in (this isn't really a big deal)
  • I'll need an HDMI switch to get all of my consoles to output to HDMI port 5, in order to take advantage of the lowest possible latency. Otherwise, I'd be better off with the OLED. HDMI port 5 supports 1080p/[email protected] with 15ms of lag and 1080p120Hz with 10ms of lag, but due to bandwidth limitations the lumanance compression is YUV4:2:0. Ports 1-4 can support YUV 4:4:4 and HDR thanks to full bandwidth HDMI2.0, but the lag jumps to 27ms for 1080p/4k60Hz and 1080p120Hz jumps to 30ms. The best input lag performance (1080p120Hz YUV 4:2:0 at 10.5ms) can really only be taken advantage of by a computer. The YUV 4:2:0 compression does cause some artifacts in text, but is unnoticeable in games. Arguably, 1080p120Hz with 10ms of lag is better than 4K60hZ, as long as I'm seated more than 5 feet from the TV - which I am. At that distance the difference between a 55 inch 4K and 1080p screen can't be discerned by the human eye and sacrificing YUV4:4:4/HDR to gain ~20ms of lag seems like a good trade off to me. All of this assumes the switch plays nice. I already have an HDMI switch, but it's limited to 4k30Hz (~3Gbps). I don't know if it will suffice. Worst case, I just upgrade to a HDMI2.0 certified (18Gbps) switch. I've got some high speed (18Gbps) HDMI cables on the way too.

TCL 55R617

Pros

  • LED screen provides no risk of burn in.
  • Blacks are good on this LED, thanks to local dimming.
  • It also has a consistent low input lag profile, 17-19ms for most resolutions and scenarios in game mode (SDR & HDR). It's lag profile is better than the OLED does, but not as good as the Vizio. Outside of game mode, it has a fairly high latency. While the lag profile is less consistent than the OLED across a wide range of gaming scenarios, all scenarios experience less than 30ms of lag in game mode and should thus be unnoticeable.
  • Best price of the three and TCL's best TV
  • Roku OS Built in

Cons

  • Not as good at blacks as the VIZIO P-series or OLED.
  • Outside of game mode, it has a fairly high latency. That will have noticeable lag, so it's best to stay in game mode.
  • No Component Input
  • Does not have a native 120Hz refresh rate. Consequently, the Vizio and OLED have better motion handling.

The TV I'm replacing is a cheap TCL Roku TV I bought on sale after my Plasma died. The cheap Roku TV is surprisingly good for $250. It sold me on TCL and when my Mom wanted an upgrade later, I got her one. The ease of use and familiarity of the Roku OS is a huge selling point. The controller is simple and the Netflix and Hulu apps are well designed, unlike other implementations I've seen. For streamers, it's nice to have a Netflix or hulu button on the remote. Having a roku built in to the TV itself doesn't just save an HDMI input, it puts all the TV inputs on the roku home screen as tiles, right next to your favorite streaming apps, making changing inputs very easy and intuitive. It's a user friendly OS my Mom can learn to use with ease.

I nearly went with the TCL 55R617 because of the Roku OS and it's reasonable price. It should be a damn good TV, but I decided against it in favor of the VIZIO. The 120Hz native refresh rate gives it better motion handling, it has better black performance, a dedicated low latency HDMI5 port, and component input. That put it over the top for me. I got it for $700, which is not too bad either. For $1,400 I could get the LG B8, but it's advantages over the Vizio p-series don't justify the price IMO.

PS:

There in more on this topic once I get the TV and have a chance to test it out. So look out for the second part.

To be continued...

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N64 Update:

I just got in on the December batch for an UltraHDMI kit. From preorder to shipment is 3 - 5 months, so I'm not anticipating having it in hand sooner than March or April. I'm not paying those e-bay scalpers $400+ for a pre-moded console. $166 for the kit shipped, but I'll have to solder it in myself. I'm confident enough with my soldering tools and ability.

Things I want to investigate:

  • Compare the RGB mod to the ultraHDMI on my new Vizio P55-F1 TV, since it has a component input. I imagine it depends on how well the Vizio upscales 15kHz signals (240p/480i) to 31kHz (480P), if at all. I'm torn on getting an OSSC. The OSSC doesn't give me Composite or s-video like the RetroTINK, but they suck compared to component anyway. The SNES, RGB moded N64, and Dreamcast stand to benefit from the OSSC, so that's good incentive. If the Vizio can't handle 240p/480i then I'll get the OSSC for sure.
  • I'm curious about the lag performance between inputs (HDMI ports 1-4, low latency HDMI port 5, and strait up Component).
  • I also want to see how removal of the 1st and 2nd pass of antialiasing looks. I've already disabled the 1st pass through an IPS patch on the Everdrive. The second pass is automatically applied by the N64's hardware and only deblur removes it (either the advanced RGB mod or ultraHDMI). Instead of magnifying the smear, I want AA and/or scanlines applied after a lossless upscale. The UltraHDMI does this well. In direct mode it adds zero lag, as it just upscales 240p/480i to 480p, but the deblur, further upscaling to 720p/920p/1080p, scanlines and other options aren't possible without adding a frame of lag (~16ms). So that's why I wanted a TV with the lowest possible lag to begin with. 15ms (Vizio HDMI5 input lag) + 16ms (ultraHDMI) = 31ms, still under the safe limit where lag may become noticeable  (using a wired controller).

 

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