Game Room TV's: Can One Do It All?



As time marches on into the future, so does the technology we use every day. And as gamers, that means both the games we play AND the devices we play them on change with the times. I always tell people that video games and computers grew up alongside my generation, and in a way, they really did! I was born in 1982, and back then, most home console games crudely resembled the subject matter depicted on the cartridge label. By the time I started going to grade school, the NES and Sega Master System provided near-arcade quality. When I hit high school, we had disc-based 32 bit consoles and the N64 with 3D-style graphics, and the then-realistic graphics of the PS2/Xbox/GameCube to distract me from my college studies. When the high definition Xbox 360 made its debut at the tail end of 2005, I was done with school and entered the workforce, on my way to adulthood. Soon after I got married and adulthood got real, the current generation consoles progressed into a new level of simulated reality. I don't even want to know what's next.


Much like the games themselves (and my actual life), the displays we played them on made quite a few changes as well. When I started gaming, it was on a wooden color console TV that was just as much furniture as it was a display device. It had screws on the back that you would attach the leads to a broadcast antenna to. Through an RF Modulator, you could tune to Channel 3 and pick up a "local broadcast" of your Atari, Intellivision, or Colecovision.


This is my older sister playing our family Colecovision circa 1983 on that behemoth of a console TV. Dig that sweet, sweet orange shag carpeting!


By the time I got my NES, my family ditched the ol' wooden beast and upgraded to a 27" Sony Trinitron. That TV not only had a coaxial input; it also offered multiple Composite A/V inputs and stereo sound! As a kid, this was much easier to deal with, as the color coded wires coming out of my game consoles corresponded to the ports on the TV. My parents thought I was a genius because I could hook any modern device up to it, and my journey toward being the "Family IT Guy" began every time my dad brought home some new VCR or game console.


Here I am, at age 7, on my birthday in quite possibly the most 1980's picture of all time. Note that 27" Sony Trinitron in the corner; that was the TV I spent a lot of my formative years playing on!

When that one's tube failed over 10 years later, a newer 32" Trinitron took its place. This one had even more ports, including S-Video and a new red/green/blue format called Component Video. My games never looked better!


Then HD happened.


Back in 2006, after a few years on the market, my dad and I petitioned my mom to let us upgrade the ol' Trinitron to a new plasma High Definition TV. We had seen HDTV's at local stores, and they were obscenely expensive: the first one we saw, a Pioneer Elite at Tweeter Etc., measured 30" and was a staggering $10,000 in early 2000's money! We heard strange rumors about them like one about having to change the "plasma fluid" in the screen every year, and how there were no HD-ready devices even out there yet. But we bought one anyway: a 50" Hitachi that offered 1080i resolution. A few months later, I found myself hooking up my original Xbox 360 to the thing and being blown away. I had some of the old consoles hooked up to it as well, and to my disappointment, light gun games no longer worked on the new TV.


So, where am I going with this?


Ever since I moved into my own house 8 years ago, I've wanted to create the ideal TV setup. In the living room, we had a 42" Panasonic Viera Plasma HDTV. In my "Retro Room", which is the small game room in my house that the bulk of my collection resides, I decided to keep it old school. At first, this was easy: I would have a CRT in there, and keep all the newer stuff hooked up to the HDTV in my living room.


At first, this was my setup in the game room. I had a Samsung CRT that I bought in the late 90's that did the job. Problem was, it only had two Composite A/V inputs, and they couldn't be plugged in at the same time. Dreamcast, PS2, GameCube, and Xbox didn't look great on it.

But, as time marched on, I found myself in a conundrum. If my wife wanted to watch one of her shows in the living room, I couldn't play the modern consoles. At first, I convinced her to upgrade the bedroom TV so I could snag a tiny 20" LCD HDTV for the more modern consoles.


I wall mounted that little guy above the CRT, and quickly discovered that I couldn't read any text in the games I was playing! It was just too small.

While it worked great for my Raspberry Pi and MAME-emulated arcade games played standing up, I couldn't see the text on the majority of Xbox 360 games I was playing. Not ideal.


Last weekend, I noticed that our trusty living room plasma HDTV was getting a little flaky due to overheating during a recent heat wave. Every once in a while, a green line would start to populate in the center of the screen, indicating that there's a loose connection to the panel somewhere on one of the circuit boards, according to my Google Fu. Giving it a swift, patented "Tony's Technical Tap" (tm) in the right spot will make it disappear. Annoyed (and not wanting to get off the couch to smack the TV), we used this as an excuse to upgrade the living room TV to a newer, larger 4K unit. So, what to do with the old one that still mostly works? Put it in the game room, of course!



Seriously, where did you think this was going?

So, here it is, replacing that old CRT in the game room. And I don't know how I feel about it yet. Let's go over the pros and cons:


PROS:

-Giant (for the size of the room) 42" screen! No more squinting!

-HD consoles, as well as the disc-based consoles of the early 2000's, look GREAT!

-Lots of inputs, including HDMI, Component A/V, Composite A/V, and coaxial

-Looks better in the room

-Zero input lag due to the 600Hz plasma panel


CONS:

-Still need to fix it properly

-Classic consoles look strange (more on this below)

-Not light gun compatible


As you can see, there are some pretty substantial trade-offs. First, there's the classic console problem. I've only tested my NES on it, and while it works, the display is just different. It seems like the pixels are more saturated, and scrolling can be jerky. I haven't dialed in the settings yet, but the TV does support 480i resolution and has lots of tweakability, so I'm hoping to iron this out.


Also annoying: in 480i Mode, it populates these gray bars on the side. I need to see if I can make these black or another color that's less annoying.


As stated before, light gun games DO NOT WORK on modern flat-panel HDTV's for a number of reasons, and although I've seen a few crowdfunding campaigns out there that are attempting to remedy this, there's no good answer outside of using a CRT. Luckily, I have a small 13" CRT, as well as the 25" Samsung that was in there before, in the rare case I have the urge to shoot ducks or pretend like I'm some sort of Virtua(L) Cop. The best part by far is that consoles like the PS2 and Xbox look downright stunning.


I was lucky enough to pick up one of the Official Xbox HD Interface boxes when they were just "old garbage", so I dug that out of a bin of random wires that people my age tend to have now and used it for its intended purpose. I love me some OG Xbox.


I'm still not sure how I feel about the change, but hopefully some tweaking (and some soldering) will smooth it out. Time will tell if this TV can truly do it all, or at least most of it.


What are YOU running for a TV setup in your game room? One TV to rule them all, or do you have multiple TV's? Let us know in the comments section!

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