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Composite mods - are they really needed?

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I have to admit that I don't really like modding consoles. To me it almost seems like sacrilege. But I remember only too well just how poor the picture could be.

 

A few days ago I had to test some chips on a stock 6-switch. We bought our 18 year old a new 32" TV a couple of months before Christmas and so I decided to give it a go on there. I wasn't expecting too much. The youngest has an older cheapo 19" model and the picture's been fairly good on that but not fantastic - tuning it properly for the 2600 can be an issue. Not so with this 32". The picture was amazing. None of the shakiness or fuzziness I was so used to seeing with the 2600 and other 80s systems.

 

Tried an ST on it as well. Again, very steady and bright picture. No noticeable issues. It was a fairly cheap TV as well. Nothing fancy. I'm thinking that newer TVs are able to clean up RF signals.

 

Yeah, I know a composite mod is cheaper than buying a new TV but this was an eye opener. I would try it on our main 46" but that means bringing it off the wall to get to the RF input at the back. Very close to being tempted to get another of these TVs and using it as a PC monitor/retro gaming screen.

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Really needed? Well, that question could well result in near-religious arguments. That said, I have a really nice Woody with a bad RF modulator. I plan to put a composite mod in a few weeks and salvage the system rather than turn it into a parts donor.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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I mod (or get another modded) every videogame and computer system I own for something other than RF if it doesn't already have something better onboard. The last thing I want to do these days is mess around with the (potential, but common) fuzziness and conversion of RF. I see nothing wrong with helping to better future proof/make more usable classic systems.

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I bought a Sears Tele-Sixer that is modded with s-video, and lemme tell you -- the difference between it and my RF Junior is staggering. I can't see myself ever going back.

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This might sound like a dumb question but, does it impact flicker in any way?

A lot of 2600 games use flicker-- I'm not sure if it there is a difference in how it blends on RF vs. AV vs. other formats.

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In my opinion, the problem with a standard unmodded Atari-VCS2600 is that it uses an antenna-cable. Nearly all TV`s have Composite/SVIDEO connectors on the front or SCART connectors at the back. When you want to use the antenna-cable, you must either disconnect the cable-TV-stations or buy a antenna-splitter which worsen the picture even more then. And the Atari picture-quality anyway is bad over antenna.

 

With a Composite or SVIDEO mod, you have better picture and you can connect the Atari easily on the front of the TV. Therefore i would say, it makes sense here. But the case should be modified as few as possible to make such a mod. And this is possible.

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Programmers can really push the Atari today, we've seen incredible games that pack a 32-bit processor or a C64 worth of ROM and the RAM two VIC-20's into the cart which are all excellent reasons to modify the hardware.

 

But why do a composite mod instead of putting a ferrite bead on the cable to clean it up? A block of ferrite makes both my Atari's RF crystal clear.

 

A good reason not to break the video output is that there's still room to push the VCS like we did it bitd but some of those techniques are lost to a composite mod; KC Munchin and StarBlitz are designed for unmodified hardware.

 

post-30777-0-70076000-1456300435_thumb.jpgpost-30777-0-53675200-1456300450.jpgpost-30777-0-80571800-1456300461.jpgpost-30777-0-19619100-1456300477.jpg

 

This might sound like a dumb question but, does it impact flicker in any way?

A lot of 2600 games use flicker-- I'm not sure if it there is a difference in how it blends on RF vs. AV vs. other formats.

Great question - it can when the game runs close to the border of flicker perception (30 hz); there's a video of StarBlitz running on a composite mod a programmer had posted on the thread where the flicker is barely perceptible, but on unmodified hardware it can't be seen at all.

 

Edited by Mr SQL
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I don't need them. It seems ever since Analog TV ended, the signals to the TV would be a lot cleaner than they used to be and I now have the pick of the channels. Prior to the changeover, I always set the 2600 to Channel 2/A, now I run it on Channel 3 with the Intellivision or anything else using an old-school RF modulator.

 

I think various other variables make a difference as well. It seems the older the TV, and older tuning technology employed (or cheaper), the worse the interference.

 

For example, in the past few years - I have owned 3 different TVs.....

 

A 768p Samsung Flat-Panel HD TV from circa 2006 or so (my wife's actually)

A 1984 Mitsubishi CS1984R Stereo Console TV with digital tuner

A Daytron DT-505 Portable B&W TV with Rotary Tuners

A 2000s Sony Trinitron WEGA

 

The best picture came from the Samsung and the Sony, the Mitsubishi could be good if I used quality cable, made sure to do what was needed to prevent interference from the UHF and VHF antenna connections (reisitors, Chokes....etc), typically the Mitsu did best if I set the Atari to Antenna B on Channel 2, with the connectors cleaned, and on Channel 2 - best gaming time was toward the night time when most electronic activity settles down.

 

The Daytron I can get a good picture on as well, but it involves some carful tweaking of the reception cuff around the VHF knob on either channel. Some of that is because that knob is slightlhy broken though as well. I don't use the Daytron much.

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I'd prefer to keep the unit as stock as possible. And while I have all sorts of mods for my Apple II series, they're all plug-in and easily reverted back.

 

If I want to see a certain game rendered razor sharp I'll just play it in emulation - where it stays entirely in the digital domain.

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As for RF modding, I think RF can be decent and perfectly acceptable if you have a clean transmission line. Use an RCA/Coax converter at the source (for internally wired consoles like the 4-switch Woodgrain, you will need a right angle connector and grind 1/8" or 3mm off the RCA tip) and string RG59 or preferably RG6 cabling, and put a ferrite block on the line as others have suggested. This results in clean, unadulterated RF feed. Other consoles, use an RCA-to-TV Coax adapter and direct connect it to the TV. Be wary of vintage switchboxes as they may have rust or oxidation and degrade any signal that passes through them.

 

That out of the way, I consider composite to be the gold standard of all NTSC retro consoles, mainly because none of my tube TVs take Svideo or higher. My bedroom setup is strictly a 23" low latency HDMI PC monitor by ASUS, and a 19" CRT tube TV. I even use an RCA switchbox to route audio to the stereo system and an RF modulator to connect the TV mainly because I keep misplacing the remote and cannot use composite without the "GAME" button. Even Game Cube looks decent with my RF modulator, and it is consumer junk RCA brand, not an expensive pro model. My future retro gaming CRT is a nice big early 90s Zenith with woodgrain paneling which only accepts RF. It has the most beautiful screen out of our three CRTs but I am storing it in the garage because it won't fit in my game room / bedroom.

 

That said, my Best AV 7800 is a nice piece of kit and I am glad I got it before Best stopped selling refurbished consoles. My 4-switch Atari has a slight chroma bleed but the other console's RF look flawless on my CRT, and to be honest, the slight bleed on the Atari RF modulator makes the pixels look less jagged. So I have zero intentions of going to composite mod on my VCS, the one console I own that does not output composite in some capacity.

 

 

Great question - it can when the game runs close to the border of flicker perception (30 hz); there's a video of StarBlitz running on a composite mod a programmer had posted on the thread where the flicker is barely perceptible, but on unmodified hardware it can't be seen at all.

 

I think we've been through this in another thread. 30Hz is not on the border for perception for most people, in fact far from it. I can barely perceive 60Hz but it is not bothersome. Back in the day I used CRT monitors, I would always set the refresh rate to 70-75Hz so I didn't perceive the flicker. 50Hz PAL refresh rare is bothersome to me, and 30Hz full screen flicker makes me want to smash my CRT. I can actually tolerate a Xenon tube stobe light tuned to the golden seziure rate (15-18Hz) better than I can 30Hz flicker.

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Yes we've been through it several times. It doesn't matter if you can or cannot detect flicker at 60hz. You WILL see the effects as your spacecraft flies across the screen on a 60Hz monitor, it will have dim edges, appear stretched, not as sharp, and tend to jump in discrete quanta. This discrete quanta is like running a game at 5 FPS, the ship appears here, then here, then here, now here, and ends here. You can see each jump easily.

 

In order to get perfect scrolling while maintaining all detail on a 1024x768 screen, and have your space-a-ship cross the screen error & distortion free in one second, you would need to update the image 1024 times. Each dot needs to turn on and off in perfect sequence.

 

At 320x200, you only need 320FPS to get perfectly smooth scrolling. At 320x200, and crossing the screen in 1 second, your ship will have to jump 5 pixels every 1/60th of a second!

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post-30777-0-62078400-1456829938_thumb.jpg

As for RF modding, I think RF can be decent and perfectly acceptable if you have a clean transmission line. Use an RCA/Coax converter at the source (for internally wired consoles like the 4-switch Woodgrain, you will need a right angle connector and grind 1/8" or 3mm off the RCA tip) and string RG59 or preferably RG6 cabling, and put a ferrite block on the line as others have suggested. This results in clean, unadulterated RF feed. Other consoles, use an RCA-to-TV Coax adapter and direct connect it to the TV. Be wary of vintage switchboxes as they may have rust or oxidation and degrade any signal that passes through them.

 

That out of the way, I consider composite to be the gold standard of all NTSC retro consoles, mainly because none of my tube TVs take Svideo or higher. My bedroom setup is strictly a 23" low latency HDMI PC monitor by ASUS, and a 19" CRT tube TV. I even use an RCA switchbox to route audio to the stereo system and an RF modulator to connect the TV mainly because I keep misplacing the remote and cannot use composite without the "GAME" button. Even Game Cube looks decent with my RF modulator, and it is consumer junk RCA brand, not an expensive pro model. My future retro gaming CRT is a nice big early 90s Zenith with woodgrain paneling which only accepts RF. It has the most beautiful screen out of our three CRTs but I am storing it in the garage because it won't fit in my game room / bedroom.

 

That said, my Best AV 7800 is a nice piece of kit and I am glad I got it before Best stopped selling refurbished consoles. My 4-switch Atari has a slight chroma bleed but the other console's RF look flawless on my CRT, and to be honest, the slight bleed on the Atari RF modulator makes the pixels look less jagged. So I have zero intentions of going to composite mod on my VCS, the one console I own that does not output composite in some capacity.

 

I think we've been through this in another thread. 30Hz is not on the border for perception for most people, in fact far from it. I can barely perceive 60Hz but it is not bothersome. Back in the day I used CRT monitors, I would always set the refresh rate to 70-75Hz so I didn't perceive the flicker. 50Hz PAL refresh rare is bothersome to me, and 30Hz full screen flicker makes me want to smash my CRT. I can actually tolerate a Xenon tube stobe light tuned to the golden seziure rate (15-18Hz) better than I can 30Hz flicker.

What the programmers learned on the other thread is that many factors affect flicker from animation to wavelength.

 

Without a lengthy discussion of all of the techniques at work in StarBlitz 30 hz display, simply watch the video posted on the composite mod.

 

Does the game look "too good" because the video is small as the other programmer claimed?

 

Then watch the unmodified hardware and see it improve further. If you have such a setup you should be able to experience these differences for yourself; try not to let your view be colored by programmers who analyzed the code looking for the magic. They didn't know the techniques because they weren't writing games in the 80's, the discussion was illuminating.

 

 

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I have to admit that I don't really like modding consoles. To me it almost seems like sacrilege. But I remember only too well just how poor the picture could be.

 

A few days ago I had to test some chips on a stock 6-switch. We bought our 18 year old a new 32" TV a couple of months before Christmas and so I decided to give it a go on there. I wasn't expecting too much. The youngest has an older cheapo 19" model and the picture's been fairly good on that but not fantastic - tuning it properly for the 2600 can be an issue. Not so with this 32". The picture was amazing. None of the shakiness or fuzziness I was so used to seeing with the 2600 and other 80s systems.

 

Tried an ST on it as well. Again, very steady and bright picture. No noticeable issues. It was a fairly cheap TV as well. Nothing fancy. I'm thinking that newer TVs are able to clean up RF signals.

 

Yeah, I know a composite mod is cheaper than buying a new TV but this was an eye opener. I would try it on our main 46" but that means bringing it off the wall to get to the RF input at the back. Very close to being tempted to get another of these TVs and using it as a PC monitor/retro gaming screen.

 

In my opinion, a perfectly clear picture of an Atari on an LCD looks worse than a picture full of interference on a CRT. It looks like an emulator to me minus the CRT effects. So, if I were to use an LCD then my question would be,"Atari 2600s - are they really needed?" because I might as well be playing Atari games through emulation on either my OUYA or Nvidia Shield Android TV through HDMI. Which isn't out of the question for me to do on my LCD. I just think in terms of LCDs = new hardware with emulation and CRTs = original hardware with or without A/V mods. In other words, my approach with original hardware is to get as close to a perfectly clear picture that an LCD could provide minus the emulation look with A/V mods for use on a CRT. And then if I were to use my LCD it would be through emulation to get CRT effects, less lag, etc.

 

But to directly answer your question, from what I recall of hooking my Atari, NES, etc. to my LCD through RF the picture was clearer and more emulation like but the RF interference was clearer too but not in the sense of cleared up but easier to see. With a CRT the color bleed and what not seems to hide it more.

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Would flashback 2 with a cartridge port give better picture than a modded 2600?

 

Why bother? You're not going to get the same compatibility as you would with a real 2600 and the costs work out to more or less the same. Composite or better on a 2600 or 7800 looks quite good.

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Really it's a simple matter of personal preference, myself I use my Atari on older TV sets that have physical tuning rings, because at least this way you can adjust the clarity yourself without having to rely on the performance of pre-tuned modern technology to get it right because often times THAT can be a trick. So like others here I keep my unit stock and I do periodic maintenance on my older TV's to ensure they stay at peak efficiency. Not many electronics places out there cater to the older stuff, but I firmly believe in the old addage that just because something's old......doesn't mean you HAVE to throw it away and believe me I have found and rescued many a 2600 that had been put out to the curbside for trash (which to a hardcore Atarian is sacrilege) :) And the MAIN reason I use my 2600's on an OLDER TV that is CRT based, is because the blacks are actually darker and not more like the charcoal grey you get with the backlit black of an LED or LCD based TV

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Why bother? You're not going to get the same compatibility as you would with a real 2600 and the costs work out to more or less the same. Composite or better on a 2600 or 7800 looks quite good.

 

Hi Bill!

 

I thought you can add a cartridge port to the flashback 2. Isn't the flashback 2 already composite?

 

Thanks!

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When it comes to the 2600, the only one I'd feel guilty about modding is the Heavy Sixer. For the rest, I think it's a matter of how poorly the RF is coming through. If it looks alright or can be improved with a simple RF interference filter, it might not be worth it; however, if the picture is blurry and smeared a mod would probably let you enjoy the games more.

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Hi Bill!

 

I thought you can add a cartridge port to the flashback 2. Isn't the flashback 2 already composite?

 

Thanks!

 

Yes. I was referring to the overall cost-to-benefit ratio. I was just saying that it works out to more or less the same to mod a Flashback 2 with a cartridge port as it does to get an original console composite (or better) modded (or pre-modded), and compatibility is higher.

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Aside from keeping originality intact, if I was playing on real hardware I would want it to be as the design engineer intended, RF in the case of the VCS. Any funky visuals are going to be built & programmed around that connection type. It's base stock and everyone has it.

 

Just about all my emulation stuff has some sort of CRT or NTSC effects enabled. But I hate scanlines and turn them down so they're barely visible, but still there.The plain-jane LCD look is really harsh and unpleasant. So are the rounded opengl iterpolation filters or Scale2x, hq2x, Super Eagle and the rest of those godforsaken "filters" that look like the "emboss" and "impression" feature from Photoshop. I don't know why time is wasted implementing those. They give emulation a bad rap. Blargg effects are pretty nice, however, overall.

 

Once in a while if I want to study or debug something I'll turn everything off and "enjoy" the perfectly square pixels.

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Would flashback 2 with a cartridge port give better picture than a modded 2600?

Batari BASIC and many games which use undocumented instructions are completely broken. Many games which rely upon exact timing may get artifacts or mess up. Someone demonstrated the 2or3 program on a modded FB2 and it actually showed 4 columns. The 2or3 app was because some Ataris seem to exhibit two columns and some three. My 4-switch woody actually displays both, first 2, then 3 as it heats up.

 

Bottom line, you are better off sticking with real hardware, and your modded flashback will likely find tons of incompatibility or bugs, especially for homebrew.

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Another thing that kind of grinds my gears about composite mods on an RF only console, is that they generally remove the RF component entirely. If you look at nearly every 3rd and 4th generation console (7800 is very late 2nd gen for the purpose of this discussion), they output both RF and composite. NES1, SNES, SMS, Genesis, and Turbografx all output RF and composite, with all but the NES also offering RBG options.

 

Yet every existing composite or Svideo mod for RF-only consoles (like Atari 260/5200/7800 or NES2) almost always remove the RF component entirely, so while they add something, they take something else away. I am all for adding functionality to consoles, but I also believe purely in preserving the original functionality and integrity of the console. Stripping the RF box from the console does nothing to preserve this medium, and even pumping the resulting composite or Svideo into an external RF modulator will not provide exactly the same subtleties as the original signal.

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Another thing that kind of grinds my gears about composite mods on an RF only console, is that they generally remove the RF component entirely.

No loss there.

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Would flashback 2 with a cartridge port give better picture than a modded 2600?

 

 

 

There's a hardware bug with the Flashback that prevents it from working with advanced cartridges containing extra RAM (Crystal Castles, Dig Dug, Millipede, Star Gate, etc) or a coprocessor (Pitfall II, Space Rocks, Stay Frosty 2, etc or bB games that utilize the DPC+ Kernel for extra sprites).

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There's a hardware bug with the Flashback that prevents it from working with advanced cartridges containing extra RAM (Crystal Castles, Dig Dug, Millipede, Star Gate, etc) or a coprocessor (Pitfall II, Space Rocks, Stay Frosty 2, etc or bB games that utilize the DPC+ Kernel for extra sprites).

 

Thanks for the info!

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