Pixel-Perfect retro gaming on LCD 480p EDTVs

I recently saw a feature on Racketboy about “The Best 4:3 LCD Monitors for Retro Gaming” which is an interesting list but misses the mark for one reason: it ignores scaling problems.

LCDs are best at their native resolution and all the listed monitors in that article are odd PC resolutions. If we think about retro gaming display outputs then we’re squarely sub-480p. Anything higher will mean the image gets scaled and the results will be suboptimal.

What we need is a display with a native resolution of 480p. Do such things exist? Why, yes, they do!

LCD 480p EDTVs

For a handful of years I’ve been using a 20” LCD 480p EDTV which offers great support for 240p and 480p with zero scaling. These types of TVs mean you get pixel-perfect (1:1 PAR) results for Wii/GC, Dreamcast, Xbox, Xbox 360, PS3/2/1 and for lower resolutions you get the output in the centre of the display, for example Mega Drive (Genesis) has a resolution of 320×224px that maps with scan lines to 640×448px with small black bars top and bottom. RetroArch users will be very familiar with this kind of pixel mapping technique. Seeing the 480p output of a Wii on this kind of display is a real shock and truly amazing.

I also use my modern emulation PC to output at 640×480p using a DisplayPort to VGA adapter. This gives me perfect video output from Windows, and from RetroArch for everything up to and including 480p, which covers what I consider the golden period of arcade and console gaming. On occasion I’ve run some PC software (Dolphin emulator, Richard Burns Rally) at much the higher UXGA resolution and used a scaler to supersample it back down to 640×480 which gives fantastic, smooth results for specific games where I feel that might be worth doing.

The pixel density of a 20” IPS panel like this is such that the sub-pixel gaps look a little like an aperture grille. Adding a 640×480px scan-line overlay image in RetroArch brings me very close to the look of my PVM but with a display that is much easier to manage. That said, CRT emulation isn’t really the goal here—we just want a display that is able to display these low resolutions without any scaling.

The 480p EDTV also proves unremarkable to my wife, I guess because unlike my PVM it doesn’t like a microwave, which means it can happily live in the lounge.

Which one to get?

Philips made the best 20” 480p EDTVs: they have an LG/Philips IPS panel (yes, in 2006!) and PC input connector. The trick is to find a set with DVI/VGA input so you can use the PC mode which does not have any image processing applied to it. I’m in Europe so I use the Philips 20PF4121, which is simply glorious. Response time is less than one frame, and there is little to no motion blur on my TV, as measured by the EIZO monitor test. It has a hardware scaler by Genesis Logic that can handle 240p and is pretty good at deinterlacing (though I use a GBS-Control for better deinterlacing on PS2).

Connections: you want to use DVI and whatever adaptors you need to get your signal there. Analogue signals over VGA and Component (YPbPr) can be used with a simple pin adaptor. Digital signals like HDMI and DisplayPort, or even those modern HDMI dongles for old consoles, can be used with a suitable signal converter (pick a good one to avoid lag) to get to VGA and then go from there. TVs with HDMI input are different in that it is not used for PC mode.

Notes: some other manufacturers used the same LG/Philips IPS panel. Be aware that Sharp used their own panel technology, and Samsung used a different panel again, neither of which are IPS and so not as good. Sharp also use their own scaler hardware which is not as good as the scaler in my Philips. Scalers my MStar as used in certain EDTVs do not support 240p.

I’m yet to find a 16:9 aspect LCD 480p EDTV with PC input. Though I continue to look for one!

The Hit List

Here’s a Google Docs spreadsheet that should help you find a suitable LCD 480p EDTV. The top and most well-tested EDTVs from that list are displayed in the smaller table below.

BRAND MODEL REGION CHASSIS IPS SCALER 240P INPUT YEAR
Philips 20PF4121 EU LC4.1E Y Genesis Y DVI 2006
Philips 20PF5121 EU LC4.1E Y Genesis Y DVI 2006
Philips 20HF5474 EU LC4.1HE Y Genesis Y DVI 2006
Philips 20PF4110 EU LC4.1E Y Genesis Y DVI 2005
Philips 20HF5473 EU LC4.1E Y Genesis Y DVI 2005
Toshiba 20LS30 JP Y Genesis Y VGA, D2 2005
Toshiba 20DL75 US Y Genesis Y VGA 2005
LG RZ-20LA90 EU ML-041B Y Genesis Y VGA 2005
Philips 20FT3310 US LC4.1HU Y Genesis Y VGA 2004
Philips 20FT3220 US LC4.1HU Y Genesis Y VGA 2004
Philips 20PF8946 US LC4.1U/A Y Genesis Y VGA 2004

When looking for one of these you need to check the following:

  • DVI or VGA connector?
    • quick check: specification brochure
    • long check: take a look physically
  • IPS panel?
    • quick check: spec brochure, viewing angle ~178 degrees
    • long check: service manual parts list, check panel part number manually
  • Genesis Logic scaler?
    • quick check: parts list or PCB photo
    • long check: check PCB manually, feed it a 240p signal

Places to get this info are: photos of spare parts, specification brochure, service manual parts list. It’s useful to cross-reference LCD panel numbers on panelook.com and browse for 480p EDTVs using the icecat or productz websites.

Feel free to contact me @gingerbeardman on twitter with details of your buying choice and experiences and I’ll be sure to update the spreadsheet.

Photos

I also use the #20PF4121 tag on Instagram to share photos and video footage.

Connections

The goal is to get the video output from your console into VGA or DVI. Specifically when using the EDTV’s PC input we need DVI-A (Analogue), rather than DVD-D (Digital) even if the TV supports both via DVI-I (integrated analogue and digital).

Straight VGA cable

  • Dreamcast
  • Xbox 360
  • Xbox
  • Vintage Mac/PC

Component cable to VGA/DVI adapter (analogue pass-through)

  • Wii
  • GameCube
  • PS3/2 (and PS1 via backwards compatibility)

HDMI/DisplayPort/Thunderbolt to VGA/DVI (digital to analogue conversion)

  • Xbox One
  • Wii U
  • PS4
  • Mac
  • PC
  • Other consoles using a HDMI adapter

Deinterlacing

To improve deinterlacing for 480i content (eg. PS2) you might consider using a scaler that has motion adaptive deinterlacing and good 480p output, such as GBS-Control.

A scaler such as the Extron DVS 304 is useful when using a VGA KVM as it will align the position of all different inputs so that you will not have to do Auto Adjust on the EDTV to centre the display when switching from console to console.

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Comments: @gingerbeardman