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Retro games and the problems with PAL

Many of us have old video games and consoles tucked away from the glory days of the ’80s and ’90s and — as with vinyl records — the reproduction, restoration and playing of those games is only growing in popularity. But getting the best out of old games and consoles on modern TVs and equipment can be a challenge, and to make matters worse the specific design of Australian and European machines can put them out of step with retro solutions formulated for the US and Japanese markets.

An argument could be made that, in order to preserve the original artistic intention, old games should be played on an era-appropriate CRT TV with original cables or similar, but I suspect most people would prefer to do away with the fiddly tuning and smudgy picture of RF switches. There’s a balance you’ll need to strike between the issues of ancient TVs (tiny screens, aged wiring, deadly weight) and the compromises of modern ones (over-sharpening, inaccuracies, input delay). A relatively recent CRT TV is often a good compromise, but unless you have a room to spare you’ll probably be looking to hook your console to your loungeroom’s flat panel.

It's possible to get a good image from a Nintendo 64 to a HD TV, but not if the 64 happens to be from Australia.

It’s possible to get a good image from a Nintendo 64 to a HD TV, but not if the 64 happens to be from Australia.Credit:Tim Biggs

Every old console has its own unique quirks and a different set of issues if you’re looking for ideal image quality, with some natively outputting a clear RGB signal that modern equipment will love, and others stuck with a less-than-ideal picture unless you invest in pricey hardware modifications.

Yet even in the best case scenarios — such as the Sega Mega Drive which natively outputs relatively good resolution RGB video — Australian hardware has the added complication of having been designed for the old PAL TV standard, which is no longer used. Essentially the image is a different shape and runs at a different speed than modern TVs generally expect, which can make for some ugly artefacts.

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