Retro Capture Setup – Part 4

Well, it’s been a little while since my last blog post, and I’ve been tinkering with the site a little in a vague effort to get it to look a bit nicer. It’s not really worked, and now the site’s as plain as it can get. But, the show must go on!

Last time, we talked about the idea of splitting one signal off into multiple directions, and I pointed out that my video needs to go into my upscalers as well as a separate video monitor. In this case, I use a good old-fashioned cathode ray tube – or CRT, as we call ’em in the trade.

Radius IntelliColor Display/20f

A large, beige cathode ray tube monitor. The screen displays the legend "It is now safe to turn off your computer", in orange letters across a black background.

Ah, the CRT. Once the pinnacle of display technology… and still the pinnacle of display technology. Don’t @ me.

…okay, maybe that’s a debatable stance. The CRT has, understandably, been ousted from its rightful place at the top of the display tech tree – and that’s perhaps because the tree was at risk of buckling and smashing to a million bits under its weight. CRTs are notoriously heavy, power-hungry, and fickle; they emit radiation like nothing else, rely on components that nobody’s manufactured for at least a decade now; and some emit the most horrendous high-frequency whine. Even the above display, meant to go on a desktop, is like lifting a giant square cannonball. My big Sony Trinitron TV, a whopping 27-inch monster, is a struggle with two people!

But here’s the thing. Despite all that, CRTs are an absolute joy to use. The colour reproduction is unparalleled, owing heavily to the voidlike quality of their black palette. The response times are negligible at worst, and they can easily knock out high refresh rates at reasonable resolutions. And – perhaps most importantly for my purposes – they provide the most authentic experience. The sort of games I play on these systems are designed with the assumption that you’re gonna be playing on a CRT; using one, even in this day and age, is totally worth it in my opinion.

The Radius IntelliColor display is a rebadged Sony Trinitron, considered the gold standard when it comes to CRTs. I got it for free, off a friend who was clearing out some office in Mirfield. It’s got a delightfully crisp picture, and looks stunning no matter what I put through it. DOS games running at 320×200 – no bother. Windows XP at a healthy 1024×768 – perfect. It can (incredibly) go all the way up to 1600×1200, and will even make an attempt to display 1920×1080, albeit squished down to 4:3 aspect ratio.

There’s remarkably little information online about this particular display, but I can assume that it’s built for professional use. The ultra-precise picture, the large physical screen size, and the high resolutions all support this theory.

In short, it’s probably the best monitor I’ll ever use.

Philips Hotel TV

 

Two displays side-by-side. On the right is a modern widescreen PC monitor. On the left is a little portable CRT television. Both are displaying the attract mode from Spyro, depicting the titular purple dragon gliding through a fantasy landscape.

On the other end of the spectrum, my console games (or, admittedly, just my PlayStation 2 at the moment) get sent off to a much smaller, much more consumer-level display. This is a very straightforward 14-inch television, and as the name implies, was built for hospitality. You’d see one of these if you stayed in a Travelodge or something in the 90s, for instance.

Amazingly, it doesn’t seem like it’s been used that much. At least, before I got hold of it for my nefarious deeds…

Once again, this was a freebie, this time from my uncle. No idea where he got it; presumably the same place he got a box full of those crappy hotel hairdryers that you only use if there’s no alternative.

Not really much to say about this one. It’s a nice little CRT that I can lift with one hand! It display my games much better than you’d ever expect from such a device, but it’s not really anything mindblowing. Naturally, it’s very locked-down, and the remote it came with can only configure so much – you’re pretty much limited to changing the volume and the channel. As such, if you’ve got a line on one of these, best to get yourself a programmable remote too – or you can source the special yellow service remote, if you have a lot of money and patience to spare.

Future Considerations

I like CRTs a lot. Part of the reason I’m so keen to use them now is because of the hard truth: they’re not going to last forever.

Electronic devices break. They all do eventually. But, most of them, you can repair fairly easily; heck, you can build an entire new NES out of off-the-shelf components if you really want to.

But not CRTs. The parts they need should they go kaput, well, nobody makes them any more. Not only that, but because of their power-hungry nature, they’re also extremely dangerous to work on: one false step, and zap! Even when they’re been unplugged a while, they can hold such a huge amount of energy that you really need to know what you’re doing if you’re gonna try fixing a CRT.

I actually have a nice 13-inch IBM display that I like to use when building and maintaining my computers. It’s portable and practical. It’s also started making a weird clicking sound and smells slightly like burning, on top of the fact that it’ll no longer display a picture. Maybe it’s fixable – could be a bad capacitor of the type that is replacable. It’s just a bigger risk than I’m willing to accept right now.

So, with that being said, what’s the future for my display technology? Well, for the console games, it’s perfectly fine to play them directly through my PC using OBS. It can show a preview of what my capture card’s picking up, and playing through that is much, much better and more responsive than it used to be. So, when it comes to it, the Hotel TV probably won’t need a direct replacement.

The PC situation is a little different, since I need to be actively sat at the PC in order to use it properly. The solution there is slightly more tricky. A CRT is the absolute ideal for retro computing, since (particularly in the case of DOS games) the display resolution changes all the darn time. CRTs don’t really care – they’ll flick off for a brief moment, then come back to life, displaying your software at full size and just as crisply as everything else.

Try that with a modern flat-panel, and you’re in a world of fuzz and input lag. It’s quite disgusting.

As such, the route may well be to get upscalers involved. But that’s a bridge I’ll have to burn when I come to it – it’s a lot to think about and a lot more to write about!

In the next part, I’ll talk a little about Project Retro Rack, and how that fits into the overall setup. See you there.

About LunarLoony

IT support technician by day, artist also by day, video game enthusiast by day as well. Not keen on doing things by night... when else am I supposed to sleep? I have been making internet things since about 2005, and advocate for personal websites and blogs and things. I also run Broken Circus, where I make short films about video game history!
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