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Amiga - better graphics because of worse monitors?

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First post, by Jo22

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Hi everyone,

There's something that comes to mind this night, let's call it some sort of thought experiment.
Could it be that many Amiga owners had perceived the graphics as being great throughout the years because of consumer grade monitors?
I mean in the Amiga's heyday, when ordinary video monitors (composite, rgb) acted as substitutes for computer monitors..

Because, under same circumstances, MCGA graphics look suprisingly smooth, as well.
All it needs is a vintage CRT monitor with a rough dot pitch of ~0.4mm, which on PC side cheap VGA monitors used to have in late 80s/early 90s, as well:
You know, on PC side, those beige ~14" models (no-name) with a blurry image that could initially be found in many homes next to a no-name PC clone of same age,
but were soon being replaced by larger and better quality monitors torwards the mid/late 90s?

(The IBM PS/2 Color Display Model 8512 from circa 1987 had 0.41mm dot pitch.
It was being used with PS/2 computers that introduced MCGA graphics, like the IBM PS/2 Model 30.
A sister model, the Model 8514 had 0.21mm dot pitch.)

I'm just wondering, because my knowledge about Amiga (and XTs) is rather limited, I'm afraid.

But if it there's some truth within, it would explain (to me) why users kept using that limited A500 for so long (till the end of the platform).
Because juding merely by looking at a frame buffer dump, the graphics are rather limited, more EGA like (like good EGA, I mean).

But after filtering everything through a low-end TV set with a low-res screen mask, everything looks surprisingly authentic:
The limited colour depth of 32 colours wouldn't make such a big difference to "VGA" (MCGA) anymore, thanks to the image softening effect done by the CRT.

And that's the jumping point, really. Things makes sense (to me) if Amiga users had experienced all the wonderful things through using something
like an Commodore 1084 (0.42mm) or 1702 monitor (0.64mm), rather than a specialized computer monitor with a good dot pitch (say 0.24mm; VGA or multisync model).

I think that idea isn't too farfetched, considering that the Amigas with built-in VGA ports, such as Amiga 3000 and 4000, were late to the party and not owned by the majority.
On such high-end Amigas and corresponding monitors (CAD class monitors), the image quality would be close to frame buffer dumps (pixelated, less colour gradients).

What do you think?

Best wishes, Jo22

Edited..

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Reply 1 of 77, by BitWrangler

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Yeah, but if you put a Covox on the Amiga parallel port, it would have been better than an Audigy 2 which was it's direct competitor, and then with the frame store from an S-100 Altair would have had buffered solution for cleaning the floppy heads.

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Reply 2 of 77, by Jo22

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.. I meant to say that on an composite monitor of the day, the gap between Amiga graphics and PS/2 graphics wasn't that drastic, maybe. Smooth scrolling was a different topic, maybe.

Even EGA with fine dithering patterns could rival PS/2 graphics on such a blurry CRT.
The Secret of Monkey Island 2 did use such a trick with its 640x200 16c EGA mode, I think.

(*PS/2 graphics = MCGA, 320x200 256c, "VGA" mode 13h, non-tweaked/default palette)

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Reply 3 of 77, by Grzyb

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Well, it's true that 320 x 200 looks OK on 15 kHz monitors, but terribly pixelated when double-scanned on 31 kHz ones...

Nie tylko, jak widzicie, w tym trudność, że nie zdołacie wejść na moją górę, lecz i w tym, że ja do was cały zejść nie mogę, gdyż schodząc, gubię po drodze to, co miałem donieść.

Reply 4 of 77, by Shagittarius

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There was something more natural and organic about the amiga video out on a 1084 Monitor. I mean it wasn't like it was plugged into it with composite it was a pinout for colors and intensity and everything, but an analog RGB signal. I think there's more to it than a "bad monitor".

Reply 5 of 77, by megatron-uk

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The thing about the ultra common 1084 is that they are really no better than standard portable TV specifications.

Plug RGB in to a small portable TV sitting next to a 1084 and you would be hard pushed to tell the difference.

Compared to even a basic 14" VGA monitor of the same period those 15khz displays are really blurry and mask a lot of display shortcomings.

I would say the Microvitec monitors of the same period were a little better (but not by much). A nice Sony PVM/BVM is also good, but again still hides a lot of the image flaws.

The big problem with them all, and why none of mine are out and in use (I have examples of all of the above) is just the sheer space they take up. That and flicker. As someone getting closer to 50 my eyes can't take the crt refresh any more.

Still, it's hard not to admit that when comparing the Amiga and early PC accepting that the Amiga was streets ahead in terms of what it could do at equivalent low resolutions.

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Reply 6 of 77, by midicollector

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The 1084 is actually literally a tv, but having said that, I own a lot of CRTs and the 1084 has one of the best image quality of any of them. Each crt is different, mine is in fairly pristine condition, but even so the picture quality blows nearly every other crt I have out of the water, at least when plugged into an amiga.

Also personally I still find the graphics of many Amiga games to be pretty top notch, even in emulators and screen shots, it had impressive graphics for the time.

Reply 7 of 77, by Unknown_K

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I ran my Amiga 1200 (AGA) on a Nec 3Ds monitor (.28mm DP on a 13" screen) and it looked nice. I have A2000's running on a 1080 and the screen was ok. The A3000 using a VGA monitor (much newer Panasonic) looked a little off but crisper. And finally, I had a Retina Z2 in the A3000 using the same monitor and it was just OK (too much messing around to set it up).

Amiga was NTSC output so if you could get that output to a decent screen, it looked good. Old PC using CGA on a low dot pitch monitor also looked good (outside of the limited color pallet). Go play a Sierra game on a Tandy 1000 with 16 colors and it looked great even at that low resolution.

Some of the issues with CRTs was persistence, where the pixel would stay lit longer on the older monitors then on newer VGA ones causing flicker at 60hz. I used to play old DOS games on 17" and 19" CRTs and if you could set the refresh above 75hz they looked great.

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Reply 8 of 77, by wierd_w

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There were also "False color" modes that could be accomplished on actual NTSC timings that dont translate to modern emulation.

Apple II and co. used this very extensively, and could produce "Artifact color" reliably. If you knew what you were doing, you could get some really complex color images on the screen, without actually having a framebuffer of that depth.
http://nerdlypleasures.blogspot.com/2021/10/a … color-ntsc.html

Amiga's NTSC was very tunable, in order to genlock with an input signal. Artifact modes should have been doable.

Reply 9 of 77, by BitWrangler

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megatron-uk wrote on 2024-04-11, 06:54:
The thing about the ultra common 1084 is that they are really no better than standard portable TV specifications. […]
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The thing about the ultra common 1084 is that they are really no better than standard portable TV specifications.

Plug RGB in to a small portable TV sitting next to a 1084 and you would be hard pushed to tell the difference.

Compared to even a basic 14" VGA monitor of the same period those 15khz displays are really blurry and mask a lot of display shortcomings.

I would say the Microvitec monitors of the same period were a little better (but not by much). A nice Sony PVM/BVM is also good, but again still hides a lot of the image flaws.

I had both a Hitachi 14" monitor/TV with RGB input and a 1024S, the 1024S was much nicer than the Hitachi. However there was not a lot of difference between Hitachi and 1070, 1701, monitor or a Microvitec Cub, which were also about the same as CGA monitors I have encountered. 1024S I had was more like EGA or early VGA monitors. Though I have seen 1024 units that didn't seem much different than a 1701. The whole spread of Commodore monitors is a "thing" in itself though...
https://gona.mactar.hu/Commodore/monitor/Comm … rs_by_time.html

IDK quite which I had on that chart, thinking it might have been the 1084S-D1 with the digital RGBi capability.. 'coz I did have CGA going on it once.

Unicorn herding operations are proceeding, but all the totes of hens teeth and barrels of rocking horse poop give them plenty of hiding spots.

Reply 10 of 77, by Shagittarius

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When most consoles still used RCA out, I had long since retired the Amiga, but I still used the 1084 to output the consoles to. IT looked way better than any TV I had. That could be somewhat due to size, but that monitor looked really good.

Reply 11 of 77, by wierd_w

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Commodore composite monitor was a similar story. I happen to have one right now that I saved from a garage. It looks REAL sharp with oldschool consoles.

(By that, I mean the ones that were meant to be paired with a C64 or C128, not an Amiga, like my 1702)

Reply 12 of 77, by gerry

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an interesting viewpoint!

i do note that CRTs were often more 'forgiving', i.e. softer and fuzzier and this could give an illusory gain to graphics where as the same on a more precise screen would be more jarring, harsher edges and color changes etc

as a side note - remember how we all watched movies over braodcast tv onto relatively small CRT tvs back before larger TVs came along in the later 90's (and well before 'hd' and led). I think the brain makes up somewhat for a shortfalls in actual detail often

Reply 13 of 77, by Jo22

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gerry wrote on 2024-04-11, 15:45:

an interesting viewpoint!

i do note that CRTs were often more 'forgiving', i.e. softer and fuzzier and this could give an illusory gain to graphics where as the same on a more precise screen would be more jarring, harsher edges and color changes etc

Thanks, I think the same, as well. And I had been an early fan of LCD technology back then! 😅
Way back in the 90s, I had been fascinated by both monochrome CRT monitors (such as b/w camping TVs) and then-new portable LCD TVs.
Little handheld TVs, made by Roadstar or Casio had been a thing back then..

However, that being said, I quickly noticed how modern monitors didn't provide good image quality somehow.:
For some reason, TV shows and game consoles didn't look as nice on those big TVs found at my friends' houses..

You know, their parents had those huge 30-40" monsters of a TV, whereas my family and me had an 15" TV in the living room.
Not much different to the old Commodore 1702 that was my Nintendo monitor at the time (it also doubled as a TV for my VHS player and our satellite receiver; it had AV jacks).

Edit: Back then I had noticed how different games such as Super Mario Bros (NES), Mario Kart or StarWing (SNES) had looked on 1702 vs big screen.
On the 1702, via AV input (not chroma/luma), the games didn't look very pixelated, at all. Just "normal", video game-ish, as it was to be expexted.
Chess patterns turned into grey, for example. The edges of the characters were slightly blurred, which gave them a smooth appearance. I didn't remember any noticable scanlines, either.

If you were a kid or teenager of the day, you usually sat a meter or two away from your little TV/monitor, also.
Sitting on the floor in front of the TV or monitor wasn't too uncommon for the generation back then.

Edit: All in all, that's why the topic came to mind. To the older, cooler kids of the day, that overly popular Amiga A500 had been the equivalent to the SNES.
Both platforms had used similar resolutions and video monitors, which set them apart to PCs and their corresponding VGA monitors.

But even this comparison is tricky, because early VGA monitors were still much closer to oridinary TVs and video monitors.
Just like we used to have small CRT TVs in early 90s, before many of us moved over to those big TVs that are so common now.

Edit: This is another important point, maybe. Back in the 90s, video games were being available to both Amiga and PC platform, still.
So ports between both platforms weren't uncommon. Now, on which platform was the pixel art being done (first) ?

Or more precisely, which tools had the pixel artists being used at the time? How did their working place look like? Amigas? PCs? Both?
If we assume that quality testing/beta testing of many games had been done on an ordinary consumer video monitor, then things make sense, I think.

Many drawings we seen in games like Sam&Max, Monkey Island 1&2 do look very unpleasant on a modern day VGA monitor (CRT),
but surprisingly pleasant on an old Commodore video monitor. The colour gradients in the background, the shading of the text etc.
Everything looks surprisingly fine on a "bad" CRT monitor, as if the artists back then had fine-tuned everything especially for that purpose.

gerry wrote on 2024-04-11, 15:45:

as a side note - remember how we all watched movies over braodcast tv onto relatively small CRT tvs back before larger TVs came along in the later 90's (and well before 'hd' and led). I think the brain makes up somewhat for a shortfalls in actual detail often

I remember this! 😁 I've watched quite a few shows done in traditional hand animation at the time and I remember how good they looked on my Commodore 1702!
That's when we had VHS cassettes and our old, analogue satellite receiver and the matching old parabolic mirror (w/ LNC) still. 😀

I'd even go so far to say that those older shows still look best on CRT, even if they're being stored on DVD or Blu Ray now.
Because, no matter the medium, the source material, the original drawings, had been done in such a way that they look fine on a composite video monitor (NTSC CRT).

That's why I don't understand why programs like PowerDVD or WinDVD don't support CRT shaders by now.
Or PAL/NTSC emulation, at least, like good C64 emulators do.

The companies behind those programs are experts in their field, after all. I baffles me that they seemingly haven't realized this.
I mean, their software does de-interleaving (weave, bob, etc) and such, but doesn't emulate the rest of a video monitor? How comes?
The Wii Virtual Console had a CRT filter, even! By the 2020s, these companies could finally wake up and do something (imho).

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In what to one race is no time at all, another race can rise and fall..." - The Minstrel

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Reply 14 of 77, by BitWrangler

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Jo22 wrote on 2024-04-13, 09:58:

Edit: This is another important point, maybe. Back in the 90s, video games were being available to both Amiga and PC platform, still.
So ports between both platforms weren't uncommon. Now, on which platform was the pixel art being done (first) ?

I think that was more of a thing, late 80s PC EGA stuff being given minimum viable port to A500 leading to assumption that graphics on that were "just the same"

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Reply 15 of 77, by Jo22

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BitWrangler wrote on 2024-04-13, 10:59:
Jo22 wrote on 2024-04-13, 09:58:

Edit: This is another important point, maybe. Back in the 90s, video games were being available to both Amiga and PC platform, still.
So ports between both platforms weren't uncommon. Now, on which platform was the pixel art being done (first) ?

I think that was more of a thing, late 80s PC EGA stuff being given minimum viable port to A500 leading to assumption that graphics on that were "just the same"

What I still don't know is how EGA had really been perceived at the time (late 80s). 🙁

If I had asked my dad, he as a business man would have told me that users had proper EGA monitors and that the graphics were very sharp and clean.

However, I'm not sure anymore if this applies to games.

The more I read on the internet about EGA, the more it looks like everyone had used decommissioned CGA monitors, or worse.

Then there's the "EGA on VGA hardware" dilemma. When I got my 80286 PC, EGA was all but history. Physically, merely VGA and Hercules had remained.

Software-wise, applications and games still used EGA, though - but as a video mode, meant to be used on a VGA PC.

I'm thinking of Commander Keen series, EGATrek ..and some adventure games.

One of the applications that I still use, STS Orbit Plus, does use EGA's double-buffering feature to display smooth animation. As a video mode feature.
The main program assumes VGA, even prefers it.

Edit: Or in other words, I don't know how CGA monitors were.

Was there a clone market for IBM CGA monitors at the time?

And if so, which kind of CRTs had been installed in the cabinet? TV grade, similar to what a SCART TV had or was it high quality, the EGA type?

Whenever I asked my father about CGA, he makes some jokes. 🤷‍♂️

Again, the XT era was a bit before my time.
As far as 286s and VGA - and Hercules are concerned , I have my own memories.
But CGA/EGA was before my tine, to be honest.

Getting an original Atari ST monitor (colour or mono) is no problem where I live.

But CGA seems not to have been very popular, it seems.
Anything CGA could be being displayed on a video monitor in black/white (old XT PCs have monochrome CGA out, via RCA/Cinch).

Last edited by Jo22 on 2024-04-13, 11:34. Edited 1 time in total.

"Time, it seems, doesn't flow. For some it's fast, for some it's slow.
In what to one race is no time at all, another race can rise and fall..." - The Minstrel

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Reply 16 of 77, by wierd_w

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proper EGA needs a proper monitor. CGA monitors have the wrong signal parameters.

That said, one COULD flip some dip switches on the better ega cards, and make it work, this was a poor thing to do.

IBM made very nice EGA monitors, and they did indeed look very clean and sharp. EGA was fantastically better than CGA for games on the PC, but lacked the timing fidelity to get reliable/robust artifact color modes. Some demos from the demoscene did neat stuff with CGA, but Amiga's OCS graphics were geared toward doing fun stuff with the ntsc signal from the get-go, and could do such color modes more natively/easily.

Amigas were heavily marketed in the US as video editing workstations, and used for stuff like 'weather man's forcast overlays' and other fun stuff.

Many games were 'downported' to PC EGA/VGA from Amiga titles in the 90s.

Some notable examples are Dungeon Master, and the early Sirtech games.

Reply 17 of 77, by Jo22

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wierd_w wrote on 2024-04-13, 11:33:

proper EGA needs a proper monitor. CGA monitors have the wrong signal parameters.

Yup, I heard of it. The full EGA with 350 lines and the negative v-sync.
Saw it here -> https://minuszerodegrees.net/video/bios_video_modes.htm

For a long time, I also always thought that EGA was all about running Windows or GEM and about the 640x350 resolution.
Then, in the 2000s I learned about how IBM had made that compromise to allow CGA monitors to be used, which I found to turn things "ad absurdum". 😕
(I've also learned about the exotic 200 line mode (640x200 16c), which has one fixed 16c palette to choose from.)

I mean, you have that high-end graphics adapter and nice hi-res video modes ..and they can't be used in pratice. Because users refuse to get a proper monitor for it? 😕
So as a software developer, you can't make use of it, either, because you always have to bother for the users with a CGA monitor? To be honest, I never understood this. Why IBM, why? 🙁
I also didn't understand why EGA doesn't allow 64 colours on screen, whereas the EGA monitor supports it?

If EGA had been made in such a way that it would have allowed 64 colours, using one contingous palette vs 4x 16c palettes, then it would have been really useful.
Heck, on paper, even the Amiga is a better companion to an EGA monitor - it can do 32 colours at once.

Edit: No offense, though. IBM was an excellent typewriter company, but electronics weren't their specialty it seems.

"Time, it seems, doesn't flow. For some it's fast, for some it's slow.
In what to one race is no time at all, another race can rise and fall..." - The Minstrel

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Reply 18 of 77, by BitWrangler

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They were still kinda reeling from the minicomputer shock and the fact that ppl didn't want to batch process punch cards any more 🤣

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Reply 19 of 77, by Jo22

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BitWrangler wrote on 2024-04-13, 16:45:

They were still kinda reeling from the minicomputer shock and the fact that ppl didn't want to batch process punch cards any more 🤣

YMMD 😁

Edit: Seriously, though, with EGA IBM has done some design decisions that I don't understood.

I mean, backwards compatibility with older monitors is noble and I understand that 64c need Rr/Gg/Bb pins for RGB which CGA monitors don't have.

But at this point, wouldn't it have been wiser to just drop backwards compatibility with CGA monitors and focus on native EGA graphics?

It's not like older CGA monitors couldn't be retrofitted for EGA. A new circuit board was all it needed, the CRT tube itself can resolve 350 lines, still.

IBM could have offered a return service for existing CGA monitor users who had bought am EGA card or let contractors do the modification job.

The upper limit for an ordinary TV grade tube was 300 lines (non-interlaced), after all.
So an slightly higher end tube, as being used in CGA monitors, surely would have been able to display 350 lines in poor quality.
It was still better than sticking to CGA, at least.

Edit: Ah, sorry, I'm going a bit OT again.. 😅
The different monitor standards were interesting, though.

"Time, it seems, doesn't flow. For some it's fast, for some it's slow.
In what to one race is no time at all, another race can rise and fall..." - The Minstrel

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