Upscaled

Posted September 6, 2013

After finding a decent TurboGrafx-16 on eBay a few weeks ago, I anxiously slid Legendary Axe and a few other HuCards in to see how they looked, and especially to hear the Legendary Axe soundtrack. I was a little nervous as to what a large plasma television may do to a 240p image. Initially the familiar glow of the game was enough to warm my heart, but it did look troublesome in places, especially smaller graphics and text. The fact that the TG-16 is RF out (in my case, through a NES RF modulator) certainly wasn’t helping things, but then I realized what a common problem this is for older gen game consoles on modern LCD and plasma displays. To be sure this wasn’t specific to the TG-16, I checked out Super Mario World on a SNES I’d inherited from a friend a few years ago. Same resampling issues, Mario looked like shit.

Fortunately there are some ways around this. I considered waiting until a future home I imagined owning had enough space for a fat CRT. Even better, an arcade CRT. But that seemed too far off. Then I started reading about upscalers, stand-alone devices meant in part to improve upon the generally mediocre upscalers in LCDs and plasmas. Specifically this detailed article on the XRGB-mini Framemeister by the Japanese company Micomsoft (with a name like Framemeister I’d mistakenly thought it German). At $400 it’s a pricey solution to an issue many people wouldn’t notice, or may mistakenly chalk up to being the result of a 20-year-old game console. But old tech certainly doesn’t need to imply inferior quality. I learned that just like most of its peers, the TG-16 is a RGB-capable machine. It’s keeping that raw source intact that’s the tricky part.

I ordered the Framemeister from Solaris and it arrived this week in record-breaking time from Japan. While the remote and instruction manual are entirely in Japanese, the on-screen menu can be changed to English (after powering it off and on). After half an hour of fiddling and translation assistance from my partner, we fine-tuned it to a sweet spot. There was Mario looking charmingly 16-bit with a dash of scanlines. No crumpled upscaled sadness in sight. Overall I found Picture mode, with a light scanline, at 1080p to work the best. Later I was able to ditch the SNES composite cable for S-Video which obviously made an even bigger difference. And when the TG-16 gets back from being RGB-modded, I’ll be looking forward to seeing Gogan cleaned up as well.

Could it be this easy? If you want to spend the dough, maybe it is. There are cheaper alternatives, but the Framemeister’s reviews, screenshots and videos (largely by pasty British men) won me over. If you have more than a passing interest in 8-and-16-bt gaming and you’ve left your CRT on the curb, this is worth checking out.

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