Friday, December 11, 2009

French NES – with RGB output


A French NES outputs an RGB signal...

Or rather, it doesn’t. Contrary to what I’ve heard some say, and to what the machine itself declares, the French model of PAL NES does not output a true RGB signal; the quality of output seems absolutely no different to a UK system with AV cables. What is interesting, is the way the French NES actually provides said signal.


But first a little explanation on TV signals. I’m no expert, and you’re better off reading something by visual fecundity expert NFG, but it goes something like this: in the old pre-HD days, for the best image on your TV screen you wanted RGB since it separated each colour and there was no image degradation. Complicating matters was the fact that America and Japan used NTSC for TV signal, England and various colonies used PAL, and some countries like France used SECAM – and they weren’t really compatible with each other (French videos were monochrome on a PAL video player). PAL also sucks.

In the UK to get an RGB signal on a PAL TV you needed to use a SCART cable to connect your games system. Systems in the UK by default always came with an RF lead – even my Dreamcast came with a shitty RF lead! This was likely due to the fact that everything on that depressing island is done to cut costs, cut corners, increase profit and generally screw the consumer over (yay for Rip Off Britain!). From they PS2 we started getting red/yellow/white AV leads, but you still needed to buy a SCART cable for the best image.

Now, for reasons I can’t be bothered to investigate, most (all?) game systems in France come with an RGB SCART lead. At least all that I’ve seen (not sure about the N64), and at one point I had a roaring trade in buying cheap second-hand French Mega Drives, modifying them to be region free and 60Hz, and then selling them for three times the price to UK punters. Normally getting a SCART lead for old systems in the UK can be expensive, or at the very least an eBay-induced chore, since they’re weren’t bundled with systems. So the French saved me a lot of hassle.

Anyway, turns out the French NES also comes with a SCART cable, and the slot you plug into states quite clearly: RGB OUTPUT. Thing is, the NES can’t natively output an RGB signal. Neither can the Famicom. I recall reading a fascinating page a long time ago explaining the situation, with comparison screenshots. Basically the standard video chip can’t do it – to get true RGB output from a Famicom you need a Famicom Titler.

EDIT: It was this page with the fascinating explanation. It's well worth reading.

Standard video VS RGB from a Titler system (click to enlarge):


For ease, I just use a Dreamcast with the older Version 4 of whatever NES emulator was doing the rounds, which produces a crystal clear RGB picture on my TV (later versions of the emulator introduced mandatory and non-removable anti-aliasing, which made the image look worse than what I’d get through RF – those charlatans!).


But back to this French NES. I’d actually acquired it from a British car boot sale for £3, and as I’d expected it didn’t work and needed the pins bending back. I decided to compare it against my Dreamcast, using Mission Impossible. The problem with NES AV signals is that vertical lines, especially those coloured red, appear jagged and swirly. Another good example is to look at Zelda. Link’s A/B item boxes appear like swirly, twisting pillars through AV, whereas emulated they’re lines of solid colour.

The quality of Mission Impossible running through a Dreamcast on a Panasonic CRT TV is much better than through a French NES supposedly outputting RGB. It looks no better than through my UK NES, having jagged vertical edges and some serious colour-bleeding. It is, in short, a terrible picture like all NES/Famicom units produce.
EDIT: This page gives a more technical explanation.

To highlight various facts, I took some photos.

BELOW: DREAMCAST (note the straight vertical edges)





BELOW: NES (click to enlarge, hopefully the jagged edges are clear enough)




On the NES, note the vertical lines of the computer monitor’s edges – I realise the TV's scanlines obscure the image, but on the left side you can clearly see the lines are jagged.




The French NES SCART cable is probably the longest cable I’ve seen for a games console. Several pins are missing from the SCART head, though I’m not sure what the significance of this is. Certain pins pertain specifically to carrying the RGB visual signal, and so redundant ones are often omitted.


I then decided to open the NES up – I have no idea what I’m looking for, but this might be of interest to hardcore technogeeks out there. Or maybe not!


This big metal block is soldered onto the NES motherboard and houses the slot for the SCART cable.


And damn, the thing is built like For Knox. Considering you weren’t supposed to open your NES anyway, I don’t know why they went to the trouble of making it so difficult to get in here.


So, let’s grab some tools and take a peek under mademoiselle's skirt.


Here’s the circuit board inside. Click for a more detailed shot.



On the other side it says Mitsumi Elec Co Ltd on the circuit board. And the board is titled R-22. The outer metal shell also had Mitsumi engraved onto it. Did Nintendo hire Mitsumi to create some kind of signal conversion box for the NES?


There’s a Sony chip deeper inside:
Sony
V7021
ASCII (in katakana)
122A26K


And this curious sticker on the side.


The motherboard from a distance.


Such an item would normally be worth keeping as a curio. Unfortunately there was never any sound with the unit (I’m wondering if I’d damaged something when bending the pins). And without sound it’s useless - dans la poubelle avec vous, harlot gris!



Thanks to NFG for the screen and all the knowledge over the years.

8 comments:

  1. NES and superNES weres sold with the SCART cable; they switched to RCA at the time of the 64. I remember playing the 64 with some horrible SECAM to PAL converter because my tv was too old... But they didn't change the nintendo video connector until the Wii, and that's why i'm still playing my gamecube with my superNES SCART cable :)

    There was also something on SEGA side, with the master system and the megadrive 1 having an electronic box on the middle of the SCART cable. The megadrive 2 had a different SCART cable with some electronic directly inside the SCART connector; the picture was actually worse, unless you cutted some tracks of the circuit... Don't know if those problems also appeared in UK.

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  2. Pity you threw the board away, I think you can tap the audio straight off the 2nd pin of the five pins going from the video box to the NES. You can certainly do that with the NES2 and also the PAL NES "toaster" unit.

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  3. There is a simple reason for Nintendo and other game system to use SCART : before the middle 90's, there was nothing else than SCART on French TV sets.

    And probably no one though about making the SCART to RCA adapter that seems to appears with the PlayStation...

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  4. I'm the ownoer of a French NES console, but unfortunately I lost the scart cable. Does anybody know how to solve that ?

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  5. I managed to make a makeshift connector with ethernet wires glued to cardboard, the guys on ebay france charge a ridiculous amount of money for the official cables. You can find the pinout for the port here http://img836.imageshack.us/img836/9908/rgbf.gif
    Good luck and keep on gaming.

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  6. Pffft. I also have a French NES and no scart cable. Instead of making a makeshift cable, can someone just point out where I can buy the cable? Or if anyone is willing to buy a French NES without a scart cable?

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  7. At the time when the NES was released in Europe, the TV color system was SECAM in France, almost the same as in Eastern-Europe (most of those TV sets has no PAL decoder electronics, with PAL signal the picture was BW/grayscale). All western-european countries used PAL color system at that time. "Iron curtain", you know. Since no SECAM NES units exist, Nintendo have to make i'ts consoles available for french customers this way. RGB signal has no color coding like PAL or SECAM or NTSC, it's pure color information suitable for any analogue TV set or monitor.

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  8. A few things:

    - PAL did not suck. It evolved from SECAM, and solved many issues NTSC (and SECAM) had. Color accuracy, for instance, was way better.
    - The NES uses Composite internally, no matter what (it's the way its PPU works). The big metal box inside the FR NES is a Composite-to-RGB generic converter. It's a very low quality one.
    - The missing pins in the SCART lead don't change anything. SCART was meant to be bi-directionnal; however, there was no point in getting signal from the TV back to the console (it's no VCR and won't record what's on the screen). No having fully-wired SCART cables was a common practice for such devices, and a fully-wired cable would just have leads connected to absolutely nothing.

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