The grey bubble effect

HDMI? 1080p? 55 inch LCD? James Matson scoffs at these things, and much prefers to game in the warm glow of a static covered CRT.

So you’re off to that awesome 70s party. Your costume is almost perfect – you’ve got your garish three piece suit or zippered jumpsuit, huge collar and tinted Silhouette ‘Futura’ sunglasses.  Then you throw on your brand new just purchased pair of Globe sneakers.

Wait, what? Of course not!  You’d put on a pair of period relevant platform shoes that go with the rest of your 70s look and then hightail it out of the house for a night of trippin’ the light fantastic, there’d be no Globe, Nike or other modern shoes to be found. Why? Because you’re going for a look, a theme, a feel – and the modern shoes would totally throw it.  Instead of looking like a throwback to the 70s you’d look like a throwback to the 70s who’d somehow managed to travel to the future, and return with, er, shoes.

It’s a bit the same with retro video gaming.  Will your Sega Master system, Atari 2600 or Commodore 64 hook up to a modern TV? Probably. If you avoid the LCD or Plasma TVs any larger than about 24 inches the game image will probably look decent too.  But to us at least, it won’t look right.  If you’ve been used to plugging in older consoles to modern TVs, do yourself a favor and try out an old cathode ray tube monster from the 80s or 90s.

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You’re going to lose out on the size of the gaming screen, but that’s not a bad thing because most consoles simply weren’t designed for the massive 40 – 50 inch viewing areas of today’s standard lounge room screen.  Think about the Atari 2600 with its NTSC viewing resolution of 192 x 160 pixels, those are numbers that quake and cower before the digital power of high definition television, but more than just being technically out of sync, modern TVs and old consoles just don’t look as good together.

Go fetch yourself an older TV, with a grey bubble screen, slightly yellowing plastic shell and manual tuning knobs and crank up a session of Kaboom! on the Atari 2600.  It looks great, sounds great, and everything is as it should be.

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Retro TVs are getting more expensive these days, but you can still find a sweet spot where the TV is old enough to be vintage, but not old enough to attract the bigger asking price of some retro goods.  Garage sales in small country towns where the cows have names and no-one has teeth are your best bet for a cheap vintage CRT TV.  You may even have a higher success rate in tuning in older machines like the Commodore 64 into TVs from around the same era, simply because newer TVs fail to pick up the RF signal from aging games machines.

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The relationship between a retro TV and a retro console is a difficult thing to appreciate unless you can actually see it in action, unless you do the experiment for yourself.  But we promise it’s worth the effort to match your gaming machines with period specific monitors or TVs.

It’s okay, go do it now, and report back to us.  We’ll wait….