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HDTV's and old school gaming

If you're like me you like to play a lot of different types of games. And as much as I enjoy modern gaming, it's hard to deny that old school games still have an appeal to me. You can say I'm living in the past, but I've always felt that each generation has something special to offer. So while I don't live in the 8 and 16 bit eras of my youth, I sure do like to visit there from time to time.

Here's the thing though, gaming is very technology driven. When gamers start talking about the next generation of hardware, a large part of that excitement is new technologies. And this is not isolated to just the consoles themselves but the technology that encompasses  it. What am I talking about? I'm talking about the displays or TV's that we connect our systems to. 

It's no secret that HDTV's are common place today, in fact, it's the exception to the rule to walk into a house and see someone still rocking the curved screen analog CRT's of yesteryear. And while these new TV's are superior in almost every way, they are ultimately built to accommodate modern technology. This means that you'll be hard pressed to find a TV made in the last few years with multiple analog hookups leaving old school gamers to seek alternatives to hook up their consoles. 

Now there are some options available to gamers and I want to discuss them. Your standard connection is going to be composite cables. You may remember using years ago and not given them a second thought when hooking up your N64. But try doing that today and you might be shocked how poorly the signal translates to you 50 inch LCD. The problem is these cables looked fine on a 27 inch CRT because it was not only half the size (masking the lower resolution) but didn't have to be deinterlaced (converted to digital) and potentially stretched to match the aspect ratio. Hence all that conversion over a poor connector results in a poor image quality. Then you realize you only have one of these inputs on your set, and that creates two problems: 1 How do I get the signal to look better 2 How do I get more inputs?

First, the easy solution. If you can deal with the analog connection and don't want to spend a lot of money, you can easily get an A/V switchbox. It works on the same principal as a surge protector, use one connection to adapt to multiple.

For the rest of use who demand the highest quality images there are multiple ways around this. And to those I would recommend emulation. Instead of keeping around old hardware and dusty cartridges from 20+ years ago, you can simply use modern hardware to emulate the old. A quick search on the internet can get you emulators and roms from pretty much every system all the way up to 7th generation. Granted the newer the hardware the more difficult it is to emulate properly, but for anything up until 5th generation, it takes almost no processing power to run these games flawlessly. PC is easily the best place to get these games, and since they are connected through an HD signal there's no loss whatsoever.

Assuming you want to run these games on a console to your TV you'll need to either pay for the individual downloads, or hack them to allow them to play roms. The Wii is notoriously easy to hack and with the built SD card slot (allowing up to 32GB of storage) it's dirt cheap price  (around $50 used) and how common these systems are, it's become the most used method. Personally I recommend going this route. It's a very portable and reliable system that also has a ton of software that it can run nativley anyway. To me this make it a utility system of sorts and even in 480p over component games look fantastic. You can even get an HDMI adapter if you want to take it even further.

Now if you have a problem with the morality issue of emulating software I can respect that. These are dead consoles with out of print games, but it is technically piracy to download a rom of a game you don't own copy of. But if you still want the advantages of a modern system there are systems like the Retron. Basically, they emulate the hardware of the old school systems but still use the actual cartridges. While I've never used these myself I know people who have and I've heard good things. Obviously, they aren't going to perform flawlessly like the original hardware but neither will any type of emulation. For a lot of people this is a compelling compromise but I personally don't much care for this type of emulation, to me it's the worst of both worlds. It has the negatives of cheaper third party hardware and potential incompatibilities and you still have to keep all the old software around.    

Now for the purists, there is another option: scart. Anyone who tells you that old school games are supposed to look terrible are ignorant or lying to you. Fact is those systems were simply limited by the technologies of their day. Simply put, we didn't have TV with connectors capable of displaying the native RGB signal back in the 90's. At least we didn't here in the states, they did over in Europe. You'd be forgiven for not being familiar with a scart connector as they were never introduced here in the states. Frankly, I've never even seen one with my own eyes and the only reason I know about it is because I'm an A/V junkie.

How it works: scart for all intents and purposes is the equivalent to our VGA cable. It's an analog connector that can produce RGB signals of a quality similar to component cable. No it's not some magic that creates HD out of SD resolutions, it simply isn't compressed like the traditional composite connector. These old school systems have the support built into them, you are simply giving it a means of displaying the signal that the system is nativley producing. Think of it like the VGA adapter for Dreamcast.

Problem is, because scart was never introduced here you need an adapter to be able to display it on your HDTV. Thankfully, you can get said adapters online that will adapt it over to an HDMI. They are around $50 for the converter box, and about $25 with some options for all in one connectors. This will not be an HD signal but 480i should be night and day better than a composite signal.

Yes, I realize that some may bulk at spending that much to get a clean signal from an old school system, and I can't say I blame them, it's the reason I haven't done it myself. If you have multiple old school systems like myself, it only exacerbates the problem. 

There also comes with the issue that not all systems can be connected this way. The US Gamecube's cannot connect this way, the N64 lacks RGB support and has to be modded to fix this problem. 

Now you may be thinking, then there really isn't a great fix for hooking up old school games to modern TV's, and frankly I'd have to agree with you. No doubt about it, it's not the easiest problem to fix. But at least there are solutions out there to be had, not always the most affordable on convenient, but solutions nonetheless.

I know a lot of people already know about this stuff but some of you may not. I hope you at least learned a thing or two and I would be more than happy to answer any questions if you want to leave a comment.
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About sonic429one of us since 9:00 AM on 02.26.2013

Hey, I'm sonic429, just call me sonic. I've been gaming since the 8 bit days, my first system was the Atari 7800. I try to play as many different types of games as possible, but my favorite genres are platformers, adventure, and fighters. I grew up with Nintendo and Sega so they will always be special to me, but I also have love for Sony and Microsoft.

Being fair and balanced is always my goal when forming my opinions, and I'm a very opinionated gamer. So if you don't agree with me I have no problems hearing the other side of the argument provided you can back it up. That's the way we all grow in knowledge and gain maturity. But most of all I'm here to have fun and interact with the community.

Happy gaming.