Use of display technology to produce the best possible image from the N64

andyk2003
Established Member
andyk2003
Established Member
Joined: May 16th, 2013, 5:04 pm

January 27th, 2014, 11:43 pm #1

Hi, this is a technical question/discussion for those who have a fairly deep understanding of this kind of thing.. This is necessarily a long post so sorry for that!

My aim is to find out is the best type of display for the N64.


Most people will happy just plugging their console into their HDTV or any CRT that they have to hand which is totally fine and understandable. People have different perspectives and tastes on this and I respect the fact that this is all largely subjective - but as I say, my aim is to get the absolute best possible picture out of an N64 console.

I have already done quite a bit of research & experimenting with this & would really value any further wisdom on this.
Here are some things that I've already sussed out:


1: A high quality old fashioned 4:3 CRT TV or CRT monitor that accepts a 50/60Hz signal is essential. Many people are happy to use a flatscreen but we're looking for the absolute best image and LCDs and plasmas are not the way to go in this case. No matter how good a plasma or LCD display is, it still has to internally linedouble (and scale) the N64's 240p output which introduces lag and produces a blocky image. The N64 was designed with a CRT in mind. The NTSC console outputs a progressive 240p (15Khz) image which inherently has scanlines. Without these scanlines, the image would look blocky and unattractive (again, the effect seen on flatscreen TV's). Also, I wouldn't use a 16:9 CRT as I prefer the N64's 4:3 image to fill the screen.


2: It's important that the CRT display hasn't had too many hours of usage. A CRT has a half-life of roughly 10,000 hours (variable). An overly used one will have a soft, blurry output.


3: An RGB mod (preferably with a THS7314 Amp chip) is essential for the best image. Also a high quality RGB scart cable is a must (preferably official) to prevent interference. There are a couple of options being developed that produce an HDMI output via a DAC from an N64, but even these inevitably produce a blocky, linedoubled picture. An incredibly knowledgeable guy galled Viletim has developed (and will hopefully soon be selling) a DAC kit that bypasses the N64's analogue output circuitry and apparently produces an amazing true 240p image via RGB scart - this seems as though it might be the best option so far.


4: High quality scalers like the XRGB series are an excellent (and expensive!) option for getting many retro consoles to look good on a flatscreen TV. To me, this works less well for the N64. You can either have the image linedoubled (blocky) or with emulated scanlines - which look great on 2D consoles like the SNES etc. - but make the N64 output look false and not authentic IMO.


5: The size of the TV being used makes a difference . Some people are happy using 29 inch and above CRT's but in my opinion, these larger screen expose and amplify the negative aspects of the N64's output - namely it's blurry, overly anti-aliased picture. A 21 inch will always be one class better than a 29 inch. I don't find small screens involving enough so for me a 25 inch CRT is a good compromise. (An N64 will look amazing on a 14 inch screen!)


6: The display should not process the output in any way - for the best, truest picture it should be pure RGB in, pure RGB out. Processing of various kinds was introduced into TV's from all manufacturers at varying points during the 90's. All types of processing are generally considered to be detrimental to the output of retro consoles. An example is 100Hz technology which gives a blurry image when there's movement on screen). Other types of processing introduce unwanted artifacts into the picture. Philips started using 100Hz as early as 1988, whereas Sony was still producing larger TVs with no processing as late as the late 90's.


7: The TV would need to be an SDTV (pre-HDTV & EDTV). Even CRT HDTVs/EDTVs linedouble and scale the image (again, blocky and laggy image).


8: There are basically 2 types of CRT TV - Aperture grille (all Sony CRT's were this type) and shadow masks (everyone else). The difference is that although Sonys produce a really excellent bold picture due to their aperture grille, they have really strong, prominent scanlines as the phosphors are perfectly lined up in rows rather than the 'triad' alignment of a shadow mask. As mentioned earlier, these strong scanlines look great on earlier 2D consoles but (in my opinion) not so good on the NTSC N64 as they break up the 3D graphics in a detrimental manner. (On the PAL N64, the scanlines are much less apparent due to the higher resolution, so are not as much of an issue. I'm not into PAL gaming but if you are, this is a non issue). In my opintion, the softer more blended scanlines of a shadow mask TV really complement the NTSC N64s picture. As I said before, scanlines are essential for the N64 to look at it's best, but I think softer, blended ones look better than bold, prominent ones.


9: In terms of CRT monitors, this last point rules out the popular Sony PVM/BVM series which are aperture grilles and have strong scanlines (I had one and didn't like it). Shadow mask monitors include Hantarex (EQ 25/28s amongst others) NEC, Mitzubishi etc. I haven't had much experience with these except for the fact that they seem to be hard to find in good condition with low usage/hours. These are supposed to be very good if found in good condition though. The monitors that are most suitable are generally presentation or broadcast monitors that can produce a true 15Khz (240p) image and not multisync or computer monitors. A good quality CRT TV can match a good CRT monitor, though, and I personally find that a TV gives me a more authentic feel (I always used TV's back in the day)


10: The general quality of the TV - i.e. I would obviously take a Loewe or a Metz over a Bush or a Goodmans .
These CRT TV's are slowly dying out now so I think it's worth making a small collection of high quality little-used CRTs now for when they are mostly gone.


11: There are certain aspects to a CRT display that affect the quality of their picture, such as geometry issues, focus & convergence issues etc. but In mentioning CRTs in this post, I'm assuming that they're well-sourced, little used CRTs that have minimal problems.


12: Whether the N64 is PAL or NTSC region. The jump from an NTSC (240 lines) to a PAL (288 lines) is almost the same jump, relatively, as from PAL standard definition (576 lines) to 720p (720 lines). This means that the PAL N64's image looks quite a bit cleaner (though I prefer the NTSC colours) but we all know the disadvantages of PAL gaming - slower, bordered games - with some exceptions, notably Rare's games. Actually, even though well optimized PAL games run at the same gameplay speed as their NTSC counterparts, they still have lower framerates, topping out at 25/50fps rather than 30/60. In my opinion the higher the framerate the better in terms of gameplay, so PAL is a non-option for me.


I should mention that I'm discounting emulators in all of this - I much prefer the N64 hardware for various reasons.

So does anyone have any further insight into this - or know of a display that pairs particularly well with the N64 to produce a really spectacular picture quality? Any further insight would be well appreciated :)


Cheers!


Quote
Like
Share

kartmaster
Veteran
Joined: October 27th, 2013, 2:56 pm

January 28th, 2014, 2:58 am #2

Nice write up. I think you're pretty much right on base with getting the best looking picture out of original hardware.

In my case I've chosen to make some compromises, considering I never had the benefits of an RGB mod or anything like that back in the day. Infact, I have my NES hooked up with RF just because that's how I used to play it.

I definitely agree with hoarding a few of those old high quality CRTs though. I wish I had room to do so. There're as cheap as they'll ever be now, and in some cases free if you'll just haul 'em off. They're just so darn big! I have one nice Sony and a couple cheapo Magnavox's. There WILL be a day though when they're just plain gone and you can't find 'em anywhere.
Quote
Like
Share

Cabanon
Elite
Joined: May 8th, 2011, 11:57 pm

January 28th, 2014, 3:18 am #3

I stopped after the first chapter. there were lies concerning the lag. mine has ZERO lag whatsoever. whatever the game/console it is. and even if it did, I could adjust it with amplifier which has a built-in lag adjuster specifically for games.
Quote
Like
Share

mjwatts26
Senior Member
mjwatts26
Senior Member
Joined: July 11th, 2013, 9:33 pm

January 28th, 2014, 3:18 am #4

I intentionally bought the biggest CRT I could find (36" or 37" sony trinitron) and I regret it now. I don't think the picture looks very good for N64 even with s-video. But for all I know it was used a lot so it could very well be the result of heavy use. If you sit really far away it's okay, but I wish I had gone with a 30 inch or so.
Quote
Like
Share

Cabanon
Elite
Joined: May 8th, 2011, 11:57 pm

January 28th, 2014, 3:19 am #5

oops sorry, double post.
Quote
Like
Share

Grizzmeister
Elite
Joined: March 8th, 2011, 9:14 pm

January 28th, 2014, 3:34 am #6

I'm lucky to have a nice 20 inch CRT TV for my N64 and I'm optimizing the image by using an S-Video connection. However, I'm not completely opposed to emulation as that opens up many of the N64's masterpieces to people who might not have otherwise given the software a chance.

Lots of people are still playing Super Smash Bros. semi competitively on-line thanks to PC emulation, and of course many youngsters are still discovering the wonders of Ocarina of Time because of the Wii's Virtual Console service.

My feeling is that in the very near future people who still play N64 games will be doing so via some form of emulation as CRT TV's are no longer manufactured and their image quality is admittedly archaic and obsolete.
"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." - Arthur Schopenhauer

Quote
Like
Share

andyk2003
Established Member
andyk2003
Established Member
Joined: May 16th, 2013, 5:04 pm

January 28th, 2014, 8:48 am #7

Cabanon wrote:I stopped after the first chapter. there were lies concerning the lag. mine has ZERO lag whatsoever. whatever the game/console it is. and even if it did, I could adjust it with amplifier which has a built-in lag adjuster specifically for games.
There is NO external device that can eliminate HDTV lag because the process that introduces it happens internally in the TV. The amplifier that you mentioned here and in another post doesn't decrease lag in the slightest bit. It's circuitry is designed to actually delay the audio part of the signal to compensate for any potential lag between audio and video timing. If you want to decrease lag you would be much better off with a decent scaler like an XRGB mini or XRGB 3.

All HDTV's introduce lag. This is because the image that they receive from an N64 isn't in their native display format, which is either 720p or 1080p - this means that the TV has to do 2 things to convert the image to an image that they can output. One is to linedouble the image and the other is to upscale it to the TV's native resolution. This is done by the internal processor in the TV and always takes a certain amount of time - therefore introduces lag. There are other processes going on in HDTVs that also contribute to this.

Some TV's are much better at it than others. Some Samsung HDTV's have a reputation for horrendous lag - around 100ms - even on 480p material. A very few have extremely low lag (around 20ms) & won't be noticeable unless you're very sensitive. It helps to research this when buying an HDTV. Some TVs have a 'game' mode which turns off some of the processing & cuts the lag down considerably. Some PC monitors also have extremely low lag but you can't connect an N64 directly to them. The SD CRT TVs I mentioned in my post are MUCH faster than any flatscreen TV - in the order of nanoseconds - which is undetectable.

This is subjective though. The vast majority of people aren't bothered - or don't even notice - and it won't really detract from the gaming experience unless you are sensitive to it.
Quote
Like
Share

kartmaster
Veteran
Joined: October 27th, 2013, 2:56 pm

January 28th, 2014, 1:52 pm #8

mjwatts26 wrote:I intentionally bought the biggest CRT I could find (36" or 37" sony trinitron) and I regret it now. I don't think the picture looks very good for N64 even with s-video. But for all I know it was used a lot so it could very well be the result of heavy use. If you sit really far away it's okay, but I wish I had gone with a 30 inch or so.
I have a 32" Trinitron. I found the picture very acceptable in the center of mine, but noticeably blurrier at the corners. I don't know if that's because of it's age or a drawback of the flat tube. We never could afford one of these fancy TV's back in their prime, so I couldn't tell you what it looked like out of the box!
Quote
Like
Share

andyk2003
Established Member
andyk2003
Established Member
Joined: May 16th, 2013, 5:04 pm

January 28th, 2014, 3:29 pm #9

kartmaster wrote:
mjwatts26 wrote:I intentionally bought the biggest CRT I could find (36" or 37" sony trinitron) and I regret it now. I don't think the picture looks very good for N64 even with s-video. But for all I know it was used a lot so it could very well be the result of heavy use. If you sit really far away it's okay, but I wish I had gone with a 30 inch or so.
I have a 32" Trinitron. I found the picture very acceptable in the center of mine, but noticeably blurrier at the corners. I don't know if that's because of it's age or a drawback of the flat tube. We never could afford one of these fancy TV's back in their prime, so I couldn't tell you what it looked like out of the box!
Nothing to worry about - most consumer grade CRTs will have that to some degree :)
Quote
Like
Share

Cabanon
Elite
Joined: May 8th, 2011, 11:57 pm

January 29th, 2014, 12:19 am #10

I can see a 20ms lag no problem (thanks to Guitar Hero & Rock Band), yes it has a game mode but I had to turn it off because it was creating major lag when playing GH/RB. that said, I dont see lag at all when playing nes/snes/n64 on my TV.
Quote
Like
Share