Almost there…

I made the terrible mistake of going to the post office to mail a package on the Saturday before Christmas yesterday. It wasn’t pleasant. I survived, though, and once I made my way home I decided to regain my sanity by exerting some control over my environment: I organized my FEMA zone of a home office.

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So tidy now! Since work requires me to have the three current consoles hooked up for video capture and I have my personal side projects that demand an elaborate array of old systems and upscaling devices, this was not a trivial task. I feel much happier now, as my type-A compulsions have been addressed and now I don’t feel sad about life when I sit at my desk.

Really, though, I did it in preparation of this:

I finally sorted out how I can capture actual Zapper and R.O.B. footage in HD! This has been kind of an obsession for me ever since I was seduced into the awful, expensive world of RGB-modded consoles, and I’m really excited to have sorted out it… or mostly sorted out, anyway.

One of the main side goals I have for Game Boy World and Good Nintentions has been to make available a library of high-quality video footage for anyone to use under the creative commons license. Classic game footage on YouTube tends to be either (1) from real hardware and cartridges in standard definition, or (2) in high definition from emulators. For old mapper 0 games from the first year of the NES, emulation is not really a big deal since any decent modern emulator is going to be pretty much indistinguishable from the real thing… but it does mean HD footage of light gun titles like Duck Hunt and Wild Gunman and those two dreadful R.O.B. games aren’t using the actual accessories. In other words, emulated footage doesn’t represent the actual play experience of those games. I know it’s dumb, but that really bothers the archivist in me. Hence this.

The problem with getting HD capture of Zapper games, of course, comes in the fact that you can’t play them as normal. The light-sensing technology Nintendo used was keyed to CRT technology and demanded frame-specific timing to “read” the screen. Modern HDTVs don’t use CRT tech and inevitably introduce a frame or two of lag even with an ideal setup. Likewise, the upscaling process adds about a frame of lag as well. This means that in order to capture this footage, you have to run it through a CRT before upscaling it. The setup I have here is:

  • Duck Hunt cart on NES hardware
  • Passing through an 8″ Sony PVM
  • Running through an upscaler
  • Feeding into an Elgato capture device
  • And terminating on an HDTV just because.

That’s really quite a lot of steps, and unfortunately, my system isn’t quite ideal yet. I don’t believe Sony made 8″ PVMs with the ability to support RGB or component video passthrough, so at the moment I’m recording via S-video. Thankfully the Analogue NT has a crisp, clean S-video signal and its shortcomings aren’t exactly glaring—it’s a little softer than the other NES footage I’ve recorded lately, and I can see a lot of shimmering in the areas of flat color (which is most of the screen in Duck Hunt), but I don’t know that a casual observer would notice or care. It’s not perfect, but I would definitely say this is passable.

Still, my real goal is to be able to capture full RGB video of games like this in HD, so the next step in this nonsense quest of mine will be to acquire a larger PVM (19″-21″ would be ideal—smaller than that and you don’t get RGB passthrough, larger and the TV becomes unwieldy). It would also be nice not to have to play light gun games on that dinky little 8″ monitor in the photo, let me tell you what. I suspect a bigger PVM will be what I’ll invest in if I can drum up enough cash with the old Game Boy World media I’m selling off (along with a bunch of games I’ve bought over the past year and finally admitted to myself that I’ll never get around to playing). The next Good Nintentions topic after the Pinball video goes live on Tuesday will be Wild Gunman, and I’d like to be able to feature the same standard of video capture for that episode as I did for the first three videos. So hey! Take home a Game Boy World 1989 photo model and not only will you own a slice of video game history, you’ll be contributing to the cause of creating a public resource of maximum-quality video game footage for the world to use and enjoy. How noble.

And if this seems needlessly obsessive… yeah, of course it is. But then I remember that my coworkers invest in $350-500 controllers and steering wheels to play flight sims and racing games and realize that being unhealthily obsessed with creating an optimal video game experience just comes with the territory. At least I have the luxury of deluding myself that my sickness serves a higher purpose.

4 thoughts on “Almost there…

  1. Having had the experience of playing on a tiny monitor, I won’t fault you for wanting something bigger. That said, is there a reason you don’t just split the signal, sending video to both your display and monitor rather than one and then the other? I have to imagine even getting a powered splitter to avoid signal loss would be cheaper than a larger PVM.

    • That would be ideal, but I haven’t been able to find a splitter that meets my specific needs. As many steps as there are in this video chain, I really don’t want to add several layers of adapters to the process.

      • Fair enough. I can’t afford to move up to RGB at the moment, so I’ve been working with standard cables. I also capture in SD and let my video editing software handle the scaling, so I’m not familiar with the vagaries of getting video in and out of an XRGB.

      • Good man. I resisted going RGB for several years because I knew it would be a terrible money-leeching rabbit hole. And I was right!

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