Poll

Should N64 video output mods be allowed in the proof policy?

No, video output mods (and other mods) should be explicitly disallowed by the proof policy.
12 (30.8%)
Yes, but only RGB is acceptable.
0 (0%)
Yes, RGB and UltraHDMI are acceptable.
27 (69.2%)

Total Members Voted: 39

Author Topic: Community Poll: Should N64 video output mods be allowed in the proof policy?  (Read 952 times)

Spagooda

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There is a discussion at the moment about the use of modified N64 consoles on the ranks. The modifications in question are ones that output video signal in a different way than what is available through the standard A/V output, with the specific two in question being the RGB mod and UltraHDMI mod (http://retrorgb.com/n64.html).


This is NOT addressed in the current proof policy, which is arguably an oversight. The old proof policy did have a blurb about the subject:
Quote
"Modifying the console so that is becomes overclocked, or modifying it in any other manner is not allowed"
This would disallow the use of RGB or UltraHDMI-modded systems if it were still in place, but is somewhat vague.


The front page of the rankings states:
Quote
"All of our scores are achieved on unmodified Nintendo 64s without cheating devices or codes."


Should the proof policy be altered to explicitly allow or ban this type of console modification?

Please use this thread to discuss the pros/cons or articulate your vote. This is just to get a feel for the opinions of people and not to directly enact any change.


sɐm

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BIASED:

Just as a reminder, the RGB and UltraHDMI mods do NOT at all affect how the console runs in any way at all, and they couldn't if they wanted to.

Alka Maass

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BIASED:

Just as a reminder, the RGB and UltraHDMI mods do NOT at all affect how the console runs in any way at all, and they couldn't if they wanted to.

If it does not affect how the console runs, there is absolutely no reason to ban it. I'd like to see if anyone can think of a single good reason why RGB/UltraHDMI should be banned.

Jimbo

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Will there ever be a day when CRTs will be completely obsolete, and all we'll have are modern TVs that don't even come with composite jacks anymore?

I think it's fine tbh.

Alec M.

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While I think we should allow it, I also think that it goes against the saying on the front page stating UN-MODIFIED N64s. I'm torn.

My 2 cents would be, allow it, but maintain and have awareness that this should not lead down a slippery slope of what we allow in the future.
"Train smarter, not harder" -Mike O'Hearn
GoldenEye Proof Moderator as of February 2015


discordian flick

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My opinion lies on the side of Purity.

The first thing that was brought up in the case of an actual advantage, is that any sort of clearer displayed image (especially on a larger screen) can possibly result in an advantage. Think about the WR strat for Rescue SA, you're shooting a guy from a mile down a hallway through a tiny glass slit and have to hit him in an exact spot, any improvement in the N64s display output could potentially be an advantage there. Not to mention, who knows what else might be discovered in the future that could follow this type of advantage.

Another thing, is that when you allow any type of mod, saying "We're okay with you opening up your N64 except dont do X." I feel like a person installing a mod could also try seeing what they could get away with, in the way of tampering with other things inside the N64. If they ever got caught, they could just say "I only installed a RGB mod! I didn't do anything else! Maybe I accidentally bumped something inside the console that changed how it runs..." or something along those lines, when in fact they did intentionally tamper with something. I suppose you could argue the same about removing the dust tray, but at least you aren't messing around with the actual electronics boards and soldering shit...

I also just feel the whole "unmodified N64s" line is a statement of integrity that helps keep our community at a high level of respect. Just allowing any type of console mod would take away that integrity and end up turning off potential new players.

Alec M.

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I'm more inclined to agree with Flicker on this.
"Train smarter, not harder" -Mike O'Hearn
GoldenEye Proof Moderator as of February 2015


Botched Movie Quotes

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What needs to be established is if the mod produces a clearer image on the tv vs no mod. If it does produce a clearer image or sharper colours it is a clear advantage on multiple perfect dark levels where very precise visual set ups are used.
*Creator of 'waiting half a sec more cutscene' on b2 agent*
*Creator of 'bounce boost' on streets agent*
*Creator of 'strafe change laser skip' on inves*

Alka Maass

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What needs to be established is if the mod produces a clearer image on the tv vs no mod. If it does produce a clearer image or sharper colours it is a clear advantage on multiple perfect dark levels where very precise visual set ups are used.
This is a pretty valid reason, it kind of makes me feel a bit torn on this now.

I have talked to a user of HDMI mod and he says where he lives the CRTs are pretty expensive and he would have to drive over an hour and back for one, I believe this will slowly become the case over time; CRTs will just not be readily available and will become more of a hassle for people to get (this varies by region though).

KevinDDR

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WARNING: WALL OF TEXT INCOMING

Just stopping by to clear up some possible misconceptions on what the RGB mods and UltraHDMI do. I'll start off at the very basic level and go up from there:

As I'm sure we all know, the N64 is capable from the factory of outputting composite and S-Video (although PAL N64s don't support S-Video without a modified cable, and even then many just flat out still refuse to work because Reasons™). The way that the N64 outputs these is by taking the digital video data (which is stored in the RGB color space) from the "Reality co-processor" (basically a GPU) and feeding it into a digital-analog converter (DAC) which is then connected to the multi-out pins of the N64 motherboard. The multi-out connector is used on the SNES, N64, and GC and supports a variety of outputs: Composite, S-Video, and RGB. On the SNES, the RGB pins are connected and you can use a SNES SCART cable to get analog RGB directly from the system. The PAL GC works the same way (the NTSC version doesn't support RGB and instead supports 480P over component, which bizarrely was removed from the PAL console). The N64 unfortunately never had support for RGB in any released version; bizarrely even the European consoles output composite over SCART (which, like the multi-out, supports all three main video interfaces).

To fix this problem a number of mods have popped up. The simplest one takes advantage of the DAC used in the early models of the NTSC N64. As it turns out, the launch model NTSC N64 actually DOES have RGB output directly from its DAC, but for whatever bizarre reason Nintendo decided to just leave those pins disconnected from the multi-out. The mod simply reconnects those existing pins on the DAC to an RGB amp (to go from chip level video to SCART level video) and then to the RGB pins that already exist on the multi-out. This lets you use an official SNES or PAL GC SCART cable to get RGB from the system as you would normally with a SNES.

The next level of RGB modding is the N64RGB board. As I mentioned earlier, only the launch-era NTSC N64s have a DAC that outputs RGB. To get around this, Tim Worthington had the great idea of creating his own DAC that takes the RGB data from the Reality Co-Processor and converts it to analog RGB which is then fed to the RGB pins of the multi-out connector. This board piggybacks off the data input pins of the DAC and essentially bypasses it, converting the digital RGB to analog RGB itself and then connecting that output to the multi-out.

The "y'all playing Goldeneye in 2017 while KevinDDR is 2.xing in 3017" level of RGB modding is the UltraHDMI board. This board does the same thing as the N64RGB (bypasses the DAC), but instead of converting the RGB data from digital to analog, it just repackages it nicely in a way that HDMI expects. In addition to this, it has a bunch of post processing effects that you can play with, such as a de-blur filter (which I'll get into later), gamma boost, fake scanlines, and output frame rate adjustment (THIS IS NOT A MODIFICATION OF THE N64'S FRAME RATE PLEASE DON'T GET TRIGGERED). All of these filtering options require the UltraHDMI to buffer the GPU's output, consequently causing lag in the HDMI output. You can turn all of these processing features off, in which case you end up with the same latency as the N64RGB and the basic RGB amp.

The difference between RGB and S-video is a topic that is probably too complicated to go into on a technical level, but essentially S-Video is RGB converted into luma (brightness/sync) and chroma (color value). In theory this should be a lossless conversion but in practice when you do this kind of conversion you cause a little noise/interference (due to all three colors being on one pin). Composite combines THOSE two pins into one, causing even more mess, and RF combines all of that shit with audio. You're going to get marginally less "noise" in the signal on RGB, but something to consider is that most late-era CRTs had crazy comb filters which aim to un-fuck the S-video signal and bring it back as close as possible to RGB. As a result, the practical difference on good CRTs (including my main GE monitor, a Sony PVM-2530) is non-existent, especially given the N64's blurry signal. On other consoles without this shitty blurring the difference is a little more obvious.

Now, the topic of de-blur and whether or not RGB provides an advantage is even more involved. It is fairly well known that the N64 blurs its video output to produce that lovely vaseline smeared image that we all know and don’t love. It actually does this in two ways; one, it applies antialiasing to the edges of polygons internally in the GPU when rendering. This is the antialiasing that can be turned off with Gameshark codes, and it DOES impact performance. Secondly, before sending the video frames from the 320x240 (in almost every game) internal buffer to the DAC, it takes every horizontal pixel and creates a duplicate pixel with the average of the two pixels surrounding it to create a horizontal blur effect. This is the 640x240p image that we all know and don’t love. This effect cannot be disabled in any way with any code as it is part of the core functionality of the GPU and not something set by a game’s code (which the first type of blur is). If the analog video output from the console (whether it be over composite, s-video, or RGB) is captured/sampled accurately (i.e. using the correct timings specific to the console instead of standard NTSC timings), we can actually reverse this effect by discarding every other horizontal pixel (or duplicating the non-averaged ones). There is a custom firmware for the N64RGB that incorporates this into its video output, but the same effect could be obtained through use of a professional capture card and Avisynth/FFMPEG, probably even laglessly if you were dedicated enough. This is not creating any new information/pixels; just removing what is essentially unnecessary noise in the output through an external scaler. The UltraHDMI’s “de-blur” feature also works the same way; in fact, it has to since as I mentioned above it is physically impossible to bypass this blur. There is a misguided impression that these de-blur settings in the RGB mod make things “clearer” or create new visual information which might assist in gameplay. In fact, they do not do this and actually don’t do anything that couldn’t be done externally.

Why then, you might ask, is it necessary to have RGB/HDMI support? The answer is pretty simple: S-Video and composite capture fucking sucks. The Dazzle and GV-USB are both absolute pieces of shit. They don’t have any kind of custom non-NTSC non-VESA mode support so the video that we get out of them is butchered and wrong to begin with. The N64 does not output a standard NTSC, PAL, or SECAM signal. Instead when running in 240p mode (like it does with GE) it outputs a very slightly non-60fps very slightly non-NTSC-resolution signal. As a result the capture card, which simply assumes the video is NTSC standard, samples the pixels of the console’s output incorrectly. These cards also are incapable of detecting 240p vs 480i video, so we have to manually use something like Amarec or OBS to deinterlace the video, causing another CPU overhead / piece of software which could result in dropped frames from capture output. Basically, these cards were designed for recording NTSC/PAL TV broadcasts and nothing else, and should not be used for anything else if possible. On the other hand, when we enter the RGB/HDMI world there are tons of professional frame-grabbers which support literally any custom resolution / pixel clock / refresh rate you could desire, as well as scalers that pixel-perfectly sample the output of the console and scale/digitize it accurately and laglessly. If there were S-Video capture cards that accurately let you adjust the sampling rates to correctly re-digitize the analog signal coming out of the N64, I’d be inclined to be like “ah fuck it, good enough” and not argue. The reality is, however, that such a thing does not exist. Even the $300 X-Capture, $400 SC512, and $200 USB3HDCAP (all of which I’ve had at various points) do not handle custom resolutions and frame rates correctly. On the other hand, the Datapath VisionRGB (which is available on Ebay right now for $70, and frequently shows up under $150) handles everything literally perfectly.

As for affecting the console’s behavior, all I can really do without getting unnecessarily technical is to say that since these boards do not connect to any input pins on any chip on the console, there is electrically no way that they can impact the system. The basic RGB amp doesn’t even connect to the digital video data lines at all; just the pre-existing RGB output pins from the DAC. There is a misconception that RGB mods can alter the clock speed of the console. This is only true in the case of the HDMI NES mod, which does do this (in a completely different way). They didn’t want to implement a laggy frame buffer on the video output for the purpose of frame rate conversion for maximum LCD compatibility, so they just said “ah fuck it” and changed the system’s clock rate to make the video output much much closer to VESA standard timings.

Let’s go a step further and imagine the future where good CRTs are basically impossible to find (this is becoming a reality in some areas already, which is why I’ve hoarded like $5000+ of good monitors). Do we still want to demand that everyone uses shitty S-Video/composite to HDMI scalers that lag horrendously to play on their LCDs, or do we want to make the game playable and allow people to use the lagless RGB+scaler or HDMI output combo that is proven to play identically to the original system?

The video quality difference specifically in the case of the N64 is minimal at best. I’d be blown away if anyone anywhere could use it to their advantage, and probably also call them out on lying because I just don’t think it’s possible.

I’d be glad to show the difference between composite, S-Video, RGB using the basic amp, and my RGB -> scaler -> de-blur capture if anyone is interested. Using a pro DSLR I can take high quality photos of the exact visual difference on a variety of monitors from cheap shitty CRTs to various PVMs and other high end displays.




Shadow

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Looking over the site's images and technical discussion, it seems that even though it outputs 1080p, it doesn't really "upscale" or smooth, or anti-alias. Your pixels are just made up of more pixels now. So I'm not sure that it would have a clear advantage, even if it seemed "sharper". Maybe KevinDDR can address that specifically.

KevinDDR

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This is correct. Basically it just duplicates the existing pixels to scale to a higher resolution. There is no magical creation of detail that wasn't there before. Even if you had a scaler that did attempt to smooth or anti-alias the picture, that would already be allowed since it's not modifying the output from the system, just taking that output and then processing it before your TV/capture.

kylemd

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Hey guys, first post here. Finally decided to make an account here after many months of following Goose and posting in his Discord.

There is a discussion at the moment about the use of modified N64 consoles on the ranks. The modifications in question are ones that output video signal in a different way than what is available through the standard A/V output, with the specific two in question being the RGB mod and UltraHDMI mod (http://retrorgb.com/n64.html).

I'm making an assumption here but Karl and I were discussing this matter around the time this thread was made last week in Gooses' Discord channel. Karl informed me to make a post here to get opinions from the rest of the council and the community, but I wanted to do a write up like KevinDDR has to try and outline the pros/cons straight off the bat. Looks like you guys beat me to it. :LOL:

KevinDDR has said pretty much everything I wanted to say on the technical side of things, so I'll leave that. There's a few ideas in this thread I'd like to comment on though.

Karl's opinion was that it is not allowed by the rules, and that allowing hardware mods is a slippery slope. While I think this statement has some credence, I don't think that there is as much weight to these mods as is perceived; it is more about future proofing the console rather than extract any game play benefit out of it, and I'm sure anybody that is interested in the mods would agree.

As a new member of the Elite and one interested in running the game, my main barrier for entry is the fact that I cannot play my 64 on any of the displays I currently own. Furthermore, the CRTs in my area cost the same amount as a UltraHDMI. Lastly, even if that were the case I don't exactly have the room for something as big as a CRT TV.

So I would say that flicks statement is actually inverse:

Just allowing any type of console mod would take away that integrity and end up turning off potential new players.

Anybody in my shoes who wants to get back into retro consoles is no doubt going to have some desire to play them on the equipment they already have and is likely aware of RGB and HDMI conversions. Disallowing this may prevent their entry.

Other than that my other concern is the longevity of this community. I would like to think that in another 10-15 years people would still be setting records and playing this game, and the factors I listed above are only going to get worse over time. To that end, I'm with Jimbo.

Will there ever be a day when CRTs will be completely obsolete, and all we'll have are modern TVs that don't even come with composite jacks anymore?

I think it's fine tbh.

I admire the integrity of The-Elite greatly and honestly think that the policies here put it a step above other communities. I hope it stays that way. For renowned sticklers for video quality, I think this would be the next step to set an example, to illustrate how these matters should be handled and to future proof the community.

SGT RAGEQUIT

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I don't think most of us paid for our CRTs, they're easy to find.
I use a 12 incher so space isn't really an issue either.
I don't mind allowing the mods but your point doesn't really apply to the vast majority of us.

kylemd

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I don't mind allowing the mods but your point doesn't really apply to the vast majority of us.

Agreed; all the points I wanted to make to that end have been pretty well fleshed out by KevinDDRs posts. I mainly wanted to address the issues with newcomers and how allowing these mods would be perceived.

I don't think most of us paid for our CRTs, they're easy to find.
I use a 12 incher so space isn't really an issue either.

This will be highly dependent on what country and area you are in. I'm not sure where you are, but in the Sydney area any CRTs people had have been chucked out on local council cleanup in the last decade or so, or taken to local bi-annual e-waste collections.

Because of this CRTs are rare; there are virtually no listings available on eBay or Gumtree, and the closest ones to me are easily over a 2 hour return trip away, asking the same price as a UltraHDMI and are way bigger than 12".

I do admit that (at this time) this point is quite specific to me, but it will be harder and harder to find CRTs to play on as time goes by and more people will end up in the same boat.

discordian flick

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I mainly wanted to address the issues with newcomers and how allowing these mods would be perceived.

I wasn't really specific enough with what I said. What you said is definitely true. I was mostly considering potential players who have no equipment, and are scouting for the very best game they could speedrun rather than just picking up something they already have for minor convenience, mainly because I see these types of people as the ones who are capable of going the farthest.

RetroRockets

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As I'm sure we all know, the N64 is capable from the factory of outputting composite and S-Video (although PAL N64s don't support S-Video without a modified cable, and even then many just flat out still refuse to work because Reasons™).

Great info above, but many PAL N64s (including mine) actually do have support for S-Video on the motherboard.  The traces and component locations are there, but Nintendo left out the components (a few capacitors and resistors) in favor of putting them in the European Multi AV cable.  I Googled around and found the correct values for the components (for example at https://nfggames.com/forum2/index.php?topic=3203.40) and replaced them, and now my PAL console outputs composite and S-Video normally without a special cable.

Even if RGB mods are disallowed in the future (I agree with those who think they're fine), since nothing outside of the design specs of the PAL N64 was changed in this instance, I can't see why this shouldn't be allowable.

Wyst3r

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Quick note about CRTs: Personally I stopped using CRTs several years ago. Capture card with HDMI throughput + Modern computer screen has worked wonders and I have no intention of ever going back to CRT.

ohmss

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Hey Henrik, that sounds pretty great because I hate keeping a fat cube of outdated tech in my apartment. Which capture card do you use exactly? Are there other good products with HDMI throughput?

Is the setup like this? Do I understand this correctly?

Code: [Select]
                                   -------(hdmi)------> Screen 1 (no perceptible lag)
                                 /
N64 ------(composite)------> Cap Card
                                 \
                                   --------(usb)-------> PC, Recording Software, Screen 2


On topic, I think it should be banned even though that's a bummer and very unprogressive, but we just cannot allow hardware mods inside the casing.

Another thing, is that when you allow any type of mod, saying "We're okay with you opening up your N64 except dont do X."
[...]
the whole "unmodified N64s" line is a statement of integrity that helps keep our community at a high level of respect. Just allowing any type of console mod would take away that integrity
Yup!
« Last Edit: November 11, 2017, 02:42:38 PM by ohmss »

Fleeto

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Quote
but we just cannot allow hardware mods inside the casing.
Finally, someone (who also happens to have 7 PhDs in this field) gets it. :nesquik:





TheFlash

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While I think we should allow it, I also think that it goes against the saying on the front page stating UN-MODIFIED N64s. I'm torn.

You can always modify that language if a different choice is made.

I also just feel the whole "unmodified N64s" line is a statement of integrity that helps keep our community at a high level of respect.

Probably a good idea to tweak the marketing language if these things are allowed, then.  Isn't it already kind of pushing the limits since various minor controller modifications are allowed?
« Last Edit: November 13, 2017, 01:42:22 AM by TheFlash »

TheFlash

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I've installed an UltraHDMI mod but I don't know much about the RGB one.  I don't think anyone has expressed my opinion exactly so I decided I would share.

In the case of UltraHDMI the question for me isn't as much about whether the mod is installed or not, but which signal you are playing from.

The mod picks up the signals between when they were generated and the digital-to-analog converter and splits them off into a separate stream that is processed into an HDMI output.  Several people have described this already.

The original signal paths to the standard output connector are not amplified, interrupted, or disconnected.  Actually, I guess it's possible they'd be negatively affected.

I guess I'd probably say it's fine if you had a modified console, but if you wanted to play for records, the signal you're viewing while you play better come out of the original output.  Then you could use the HDMI one for capturing a nice pretty video, or leave it disconnected.

But could a nice pretty UltraHDMI video pass proof calls?  What if it was a full uncompressed capture? Do you also need a proof from the standard output?

Wyst3r

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Quote
Hey Henrik, that sounds pretty great because I hate keeping a fat cube of outdated tech in my apartment. Which capture card do you use exactly? Are there other good products with HDMI throughput?

I use Elgato Game Capture HD. I haven't looked at other alternatives. I guess there are composite->HDMI converters as well, but I have no clue what the throughput is. They are far cheaper so perhaps worth testing.

Edit: KevinDDR mentioned something about this: "Do we still want to demand that everyone uses shitty S-Video/composite to HDMI scalers that lag horrendously to play on their LCDs".

If that's true, then I wonder what the Elgato does differently?

Quote
Is the setup like this? Do I understand this correctly?

Yes, exactly.
« Last Edit: November 13, 2017, 12:53:43 PM by Wyst3r »

Shadow

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Interesting, since the consensus for a long time seems to be that playing on an LCD give a significant disadvantage.