How to make retro games look good on HDTV
Vintage CRT televisions are commonly known to be the best way to play your old video games. Retro games look better due to the lower resolution that these games are displayed on televisions that offer the correct aspect ratio and resolution. What would you do if you couldn't find an old CRT or didn't have the space for one?
Have you ever tried hooking up your Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis to your shiny new 4k tv and get a terrible looking stretched out input? Does your new TV even have the common composite (otherwise known as that yellow cable) or S-Video outputs?
In this guide, we'll cover a couple of different options that you can choose from to suit your needs. We'll be focusing more on playing the games on original hardware. Skipping things like PC emulation, mini consoles like the SNES Classic Edition. We'll also cover the MiSTer FPGA or other FPGA type devices like the Analogue Mega SG. Those are all great options if you want a new way to play your old games on a modern display, which is ultimately the end goal. The objective here is to be able to take a piece of hardware from 1991 and bring it to 2023, giving you that indie game look with razor sharp pixels on a modern HDTV!
Breath new life in your old console's graphics with an external upscaler.
- Cables, Cables, Cables!
- FPGA Consoles
- Out of the Box Solutions
- Hardware Based Options
- Software Based Options
If you're looking to play old games on the same hardware that you've got sitting around, you'll want to look into an external upscaler to take the image that it's meant to be displayed on (a low resolution CRT) and increase the amount of lines that they will be displayed on. Meet the Open Source Scan Converter (OSSC).
Some consoles such as the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis have built in RGB out of the port that you would typically have coming out of the back of the console. This results in a cleaner, sharper image as what you would expect from an emulator.
The OSSC can harness that RGB signal and "Line Double" it, giving you razor sharp pixels on that massive 65" OLED display. The results are stunning, check out QuackShot in line 4x mode.
Some consoles such as the NES or N64 require modding services to get true RGB to be displayed out of the console. We would suggest looking at modding services locally if you wish to explore this option for your particular console.
Cables, Cables, Cables!
If you're planning on using the Open Source Scan Converter (OSSC) you're going to need the proper cable to give you those crisp upscaled pixels. We recommend two different retailers for the job
I've personally bought from both sellers, the PACKAPUNCH Scart cable for my SNES and the Genesis Model 1 cables for my Sega Genesis. You'll want to make sure that you're selecting the right console for your region. For North America, make sure to select the NTSC cable. For Europe, you'll be looking at a PAL variation of the same cable. There are also console revisions (for the Sega Genesis) that you'll need to be aware of. The port at the back of the unit will vary depending on the console you own.
Sega Genesis (Model 1)
Sega Genesis-Mega Drive (Model 2)
Retro Gaming Cables also has a number of standalone options if you're just looking for an easy alternative to the OSSC that will take the signal and give you a plug and play solution for your HDTV. The end result will give you a good, but not great output at 2x (480p) mode.
If finding the correct cable or purchasing an additional device than can cost a few hundred dollars isn't for you, you might want to explore other options such as the MiSTer FPGA.
The MiSTer FPGA is a do it yourself proposition letting you simulate the real hardware of the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis and load the ROM (cartridge game format) on replicated hardware. This gives you the benefit you would get from using the original hardware without having the need to plug in multiple devices.
All of the proper aspect ratio and upscaling features are here against multiple consoles. No need to find the right cable, no needing of expensive modding services like the NES. Imagine being able to play multiple generations of consoles on a single, tiny piece of hardware! The downside to the MiSTer FPGA comes down to two things:
The MiSTer FPGA can be incredibly expensive to build, depending on your needs. There are a ton of different addon units that you might want to purchase such as:
-Expanded Ram (for using more demanding cores) such as the Neo Geo.
-USB dongle to be able to plug in a mouse or wired controller.
When it's all said and done, expect to pay in excess of $350 for a MiSTer FPGA.
The MiSTer can be a terrible game of supply and demand. With growing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, lots of people are choosing to stay home and look for ways to spend their free time. This leads to the availability of the DE-10 Nano board to be constantly out of stock at wither DigiKey or Mouser.
Out of the Box Solutions
There are a handful of out of the box solutions that you can buy, take out of the box, plug in your HDMI cable and you're up and running with your old cartridges. These can vary between two different options:
Hardware Based Options
Companies like Analogue are developing clone consoles that have FPGA's built into them, simulating the official hardware that you're used to playing on. They offer the ease of use as you would expect with a clone console with extreme accuracy and additional features such as upscaling, save states, backups any many others.
The downside of hardware based options are the price as well as limited production of these consoles. These consoles can often fetch top dollar on the resale market often leaving you with buying it if a new release is made available or looking at other options.
Software Based Options
There are many clone consoles that come from other third party companies that allow you to take a game cartridge, dump the rom onto the console and emulate it using software emulation built into the console.
Software emulation consoles aren't as accurate as an FPGA type solution. Often leaving you with the sound feeling off or the colors not matching the original hardware. They do benefit from being easier to come by and have a lower price tag. Some software manufacturers even let you play consoles from multiple consoles from NES, Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo in a single unit.
Here's a quick list of different options:
Analogue Pocket - Handheld Pocket Games! GameBoy, GameBoy Advance, GameBoy Color, Atari Lynx, Neo-Geo Pocket Color
Analogue Duo - PC Engine, TurboGrafx-16, SuperGrafx, PC Engine CD-Rom, TurboGrafx CD
Analogue Mega SG -Sega Genesis-Mega Drive-Master System
Analogue Super NT -Super Nintendo, Super Famicom
Analogue NT Mini -Nintendo (NES), Famicom Disc System
RetroN 5: HD Sega Genesis, SNES, Game Boy Advance, NES, Game Boy Color, Game Boy
RetroN Sq: HD Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance