Retro filters add old CRT look to classic games

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A few days ago, Joel linked to NFGForum's articles on why oldschool games don't look the same on LCD displays -- it's because old CRT sets' light guns created inadvertent anti-aliasing effects, scanlines created an illusion of greater detail, images could be arbitrarily scaled, and so on.

So how do you get it back, given that modern pixels are sharp, square, and contiguous? Fancy filters, of course! Ian Bogost reviews a version of Atari 2600 emulator Stella modified to render the display like an old TV:

In Enduro, the color bleed effect is evident again. Here you see not only how much more realistic the car sprite would have appeared on a television, but also how the multiple colored lines on the horizon would have blended with one another, creating a more credible sunset.

Despite being mighty impressive, the results in a live game are far more remarkable. Edward and his colleagues have done a fantastic job.

They are currently working with the maintainer of the free, open-source Stella emulator to patch their changes into the main build, where the effects will be available as a configurable option.

There are many techniques used to give a new (old) look to old sprites.

The debate over how to view these old games -- with the presentation technology emulated vs. "As the creator intended" -- serves as backdrop to vigorous discussions, over the technical minutiae of pixel rescaling.

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10 Responses to Retro filters add old CRT look to classic games

  1. royaltrux says:

    That’s what Vaseline is for.

  2. RedShirt77 says:

    I just have an older tv in the bottum of my closet should the need arise. I am sure they can be picked up from the trash and recycling bins for cheap these days.

  3. nixiebunny says:

    The image accompanying this post shows the CRT version as having dark stripes between columns of pixels as well as between rows of pixels. That’s just plain wrong! CRTs scan the picture with continuous horizontal stripes. The pixels run together horizontally.

    I’m surprised that they made such a basic blunder.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Haven’t most emulators featured various scaling filters for a long time now? I don’t use MAME or anything like that, but I use DosBox to run my old PC games and with the proper settings games still look really nice.

  5. Ceronomus says:

    The fight in the linked forum is hysterical.

  6. knyghtryda says:

    If you’re this serious about emulation, I think its time to dig up that old CRT and just be done with it. If I’m playing an emulator on my computer or laptop I DON’T want any of those artifacts. If I wanted the authentic feel I would just take the TV out and plug it into a real CRT TV and play off that. Which reminds me… everyone should keep at least one old CRT around, and preferably two, one in monitor form and one in TV form. Who knows when one day you’ll need a bit of nostalgia that only playing Excite Bike with a NES controller on a “regular” TV can fix. I’m starting to have one of those moments……

  7. kc0bbq says:

    @3 – That’s not necessarily true. Depends on the design of the shadow mask and the makeup of the phosphors themselves. Some had more or less prominent horizontal pixellation, some (Mitsubishi, IIRC) had vertical lines.

  8. nixiebunny says:

    @7: If you want to get pedantic about it, then there were two basic types of color CRTs: ones with vertical stripes of color, and ones with triads of color dots. Sony and some others had the stripes. My hi-res Hitachi 776 had triads (lots of them).

    Many arcade games like Galaxian had dot triads and ran the CRT in portrait mode, which produced vertical instead of horizontal scan stripes in the image.

    Many arcade games were not interlaced. That made the scan lines more obvious, since there were only 240 of them instead of 480.

    In either type of display, the scanning is done on a continuous basis with the three electron beams being modulated by the analog R, G, and B video signals as the beams swept smoothly across the screen, rather than broken into individual pixels as is done with LCDs.

    The whole point of my rant is that the vertical and horizontal pixelation are different from each other for CRTs, and the image given to us doesn’t take that glaring fact into account.

  9. dmoisan says:

    Jason Scott made a point on his blog about vector games. I love vector games and play them both on MAME and the official Atari emulation software.

    Problem is: Vector games are very dark and unreadable on modern PC displays (even my 23″ LCD I am typing this on.) Color vector games, back in the day, were done on regular color TV CRTs with deflection circuitry that didn’t allow for very high resolution.

    Dots were blobby and glowy, and strokes had a corrugated appearance due to the shadow mask and the coarse dot pitch. But you could see enemy shots!

    Nowadays, I can’t play Gravitar–my favorite game–as I can’t even see the shots until I get blasted!

  10. crt lover says:

    This filter looks cool, if you have bought a brand new lcd and want to play some NES/SNES/Atari. i always say, consoles designed for crt must be played on crt. even relatively modern consoles, like PS2!, were designed for crt.
    my friend has a N64 and plays it on a sony bravia and i’m not saying the bravia is bad, but the N64 looks absolutely s*** on it.

    if you want to play old games use old TV’s
    (even though the filter looks cool!)

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