RGB Monitors

RGB Monitors

All of the older game systems were designed to be viewed on a 4:3 (square) CRT TV.  Some games look great on newer TV’s, but they still look different from playing them on the scanlines of a CRT and it’s often annoying playing them “stretched” in 16:9 (widescreen) format. I tried researching different high-end consumer TV’s and after considering other solutions, I finally asked what should have been my first question:  What about just getting an RGB monitor? 

I did some research and found the most common RGB monitors were used as either TV studio monitors or medical equipment.  These devices were extremely high-end and used to cost anywhere between $2000 and $25000.  They still go for a lot on eBay (usually between $100 and $1000) and cost a lot to ship. 

I hunted around for a bit and ended up finding a 20” Sony PVM-20M2U for $130 that included all the cables and adapters I needed.  I got it home and was blown away.  Below is a picture comparing Sonic 3 on my really nice Sony CRT via composite and the same shot through an RGB monitor (hooked up via RGB cable, of course).  Please click on all pictures if you’d like the full-sized versions:

Pictures can not do it justice: the difference was absolutely staggering.  Seeing an RGB monitor side-by-side with my high-quality Sony CRT absolutely blew my mind.  After experiencing that, I feel that unless you don’t have the room for it, every retro-gamer should own an RGB monitor.  They support every type of accessory a standard CRT supports, such as light guns and 3D glasses (both the Famicom and Sega Master System offered some cool 3D games). 

Here’s a few more comparison pictures.  I took pictures using the RF, Composite and S-Video inputs of the Sony CRT TV.  I also used the RGB to YUV converter (YUV is the basic analog version of YPbPr component) I bought on eBay to take a picture of the SNES outputting RGB into the component inputs of my Sony CRT TV.  The final picture is the same shot taken on my Sony PVM monitor in RGB.  What a huge difference!:

I wish I had a way other than pictures to show you how much better using an RGB monitor is than any other solution (maybe some day I can borrow high-end video recording equipment and do a side-by-side video).  The only reasons not to get one are if you really have no space at all for a monitor (I put mine on a rolling cart so I can put it away when I’m not using it), or if you’d really like to go down the road of upscaling your old systems on an HDTV.

Exactly what RGB monitor to buy is pretty easy to figure out.  First (unless you specifically need a small one), expect to buy a monitor around 19″.  There were only a handful of options larger than that and they aren’t as common.  As for brand, almost any Sony PVM or BVM series monitor will look wonderful and is a good choice.  Also, the Sony BVM-20F1U is arguably the best CRT ever made

People on Reddit have started compiling a list of all RGB monitors and their basic info.  It’s a really handy reference:  https://www.reddit.com/r/crtgaming/wiki/speclist

The NEC XM29 is an amazing monitor (supports RGB and VGA up to 1280×1024), but it’s extremely hard to find.  I’ve heard there is a 37″ version (XM37) available, but I’ve never tried one. As a side note, both the NEC monitors require a “clean” sync signal, so you’ll either need to get csync from all your consoles, or use some type of sync stripper.  Phonedork recently did a great video showcasing his XM29.  His video includes a few demonstrations showing exactly why CRT’s will be a better choice in most cases – Especially when compared against cheap upscalers.  I suggest anyone looking for more information check it out, especially the part demonstrating lag at around 14 minutes:

Also, there are a few models of Ikegami monitors that were supposedly just as good as the Sony PVM’s, but also accept 480p component (something most PVM’s don’t do).  If I ever get a chance to try the XM37, or a 480p-compatible Ikegami (or PVM), I’ll update this page and let you know how they work.

Just a quick FYI – Many 480p compatible RGB monitors will display “480i” on the on-screen display when it’s actually showing a 240p signal.  I’m not sure why, but at least on my monitors, the signal has definitely been displayed as 240p.

Finally, if you have a lot of money to spend and your favorite systems are 6th generation game consoles, such as the Dreamcast, GameCube, modded GBA and PS2, there’s one monitor that’s by far the best choice:  The Sony BVM-D32E1WU.  It’s a 32″ widescren tube monitor that can accept signals from 240p all the way up to 1080i…that originally retailed for around twenty thousand dollars!!!  It’s a bit overkill if you use 5th gen and earlier, since you won’t need the 16:9 screen or HD support, but it’s by far the best solution for 6th gen systems!

No matter what the brand, there’s a few things to pay attention to when buying one of these monitors though:

– Many of these were left on 24/7 in some sort of professional environment.  As a result, you can find monitors that are extremely worn out and produce a horrible, blurry picture.  As long as you try it out before you buy it, you should be able to avoid getting a worn-out monitor.

– The newer the better.  They made PVM’s into the 2000’s, so always try to look for the newest one.  Also, some older PVM’s require different input adapters (I talk more about that later), so a newer monitor with BNC inputs would be a better choice.

If anyone has any info on larger RGB monitors that are high quality, please let me know

For now, I’ll say this:  Try to get an NEC XM29, or a Sony PVM/BVM-series around 20”.  As long as they don’t have too many hours of use, either will be an excellent choice.

As a side note, if you live in Europe, you could try to find an old high-end CRT that has SCART inputs (more on SCART in a bit), which will accept an RGB signal.  Today, you can find many old Loewe and B&O TV’s that used to sell for thousands for just a few hundred.  It’s a great and very easy solution that produces a wonderful picture, however it’s still not in the same league as an RGB monitor.

Another display people have been talking about recently is the Samsung F4500 series 720p plasma TV’s (PN43F4500, PN51F4500).  It’s a different look then a CRT, but people seem to like it as an alternative:  http://shmups.system11.org/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=52511

Here’s a list of all mondern monitors compatible with 15KHz signals:  http://15khz.wikidot.com/

Please head to the Display RGB page for more info on how to get an RGB signal on your display.  If you’re here as part of the RGB Guide, please either move onto the next section: converters, or move along to getting your SCART RGB cable into your display.