umihara kawase closeup

A while ago I made a decision. Since then I’ve made many hundreds of thousands of decisions, every second of my life in fact. But the decision I made ‘a while ago’ was a very important (cue pun) game-changing decision. I decided the end was near (and we’d just moved house and I hadn’t the room any more). It was time to say goodbye to the humble, beautiful world of the cathode ray tube.

“I started out with a PYE black and white portable that belonged to my nan.”

Over the years I have owned many CRT sets of differing shapes and sizes. I started out with a PYE black and white portable that belonged to my nan. That was kept safe and snug in the space under the stairs where I kept my Commodore 64, a weird briefcase filled with Kixx and other assorted budget games; and then the ‘special drawer’ which played host to the three ‘full price’ games that took me the best part of my entire childhood to save up pocket money for. Next to the hallowed full price games was the golden chalice, the epic, robust centrepiece that would be rolled out only when friends came over to visit or at Christmas when family would visit and I wanted to show off. Next to those full price games was my pride and joy, a Robocop 2 cartridge for my Commodore 64. The ultimate format for gaming luxury and the boy/girl of good taste. Instant loading, superior sound and visuals (I told guests) all encased in wonderful beige plastic at a price that would make even Bill Gates’ financial advisor’s eyes water.

umihara kawase screenshot
A raw, unedited screengrab from the Frameister. Delicious!

I’ve owned professional monitors from Ikegami and Sony, both the PVM and highly regarded BVM series. I have even owned a Nanao MS9 arcade monitor when, for the briefest of moments in time, I had a SEGA New Astro City arcade cabinet sitting pride of place in my office. Yet since all of these different beauties have both entered and swiftly exited my life, only one stood the test of time. A DELL CRT I purchased for €5 from a man outside a chip shop in a village just down the road from me. Shortly before Christmas we said an emotional goodbye as I tossed the still perfectly working set in to a mountain of other (probably perfectly functioning) CRT sets at the local WEEE recycling centre.

“With the DELL gone, an era of my life had now come to an end. Forever.”

With the DELL gone, an era of my life had now come to an end. Forever. He didn’t say it and neither did I but at that moment me and the guy at the WEEE recycling centre were closer than we’d ever been before. That guy knew I was saying goodbye to a good friend. Not the DELL CRT, although it had served me well, but that a bygone era for many was now a bygone era for me… Actually he probably didn’t give a shit about any that. It was cold, raining and dark at the time. He was probably annoyed I was the only person at the recycling centre and that he had to step outside, away from his cosy 4-bar gas heater and cup of steaming hot tea to receive some old, worthless piece of junk.

A desk that once groaned and struggled under the boisterous weight of a CRT now sat empty and alone. I would later fill the void with an Iiyama LCD monitor and a monitor arm that pretended it could deal with the miniscule weight of a 21.5″ monitor but would oddly keep wilting overnight under the obvious sheer bulk and weight of such a device. I bought a new monitor arm for about half the price and hooked everything up to the highly acclaimed XRGB Mini, or, Framemeister from Micomsoft (which is about 807,492 times the price of a monitor arm, but worth every last Yen I paid for it). I’m no stranger to the world of video processing, scaling and general tinkering/pottering around. I’m no expert, granted and openly admitted, but the more you get in to retro gaming, the more you develop this sudden itch, this overwhelming yearning for the ultimate display for your games of yore. It is at that moment you then want to ditch the pokey little CRT you’ve had in the attic for the last 15 years and begin research on professional video monitors, broadcast monitors, arcade monitors and so on. You then get highly obsessive about progressive images, deinterlacing, scanlines, 15khz, 240p, upscaling, 480i (ugh!). Brand names like Faroudja, DVDO, Geffen, Extron, Ikegami, Nanao and Micomsoft suddenly become the gamer equivalent of Gucci, Prada, Fendi, Officine Panerai and Hermès.

Before settling on the Micomsoft XRGB Mini Framemeister, I had a fantastic setup with a DVDO VP20 fitted along with the rather rare ABT-102 deinterlacing daughter card. I had everything working just as I wanted, granted with a little bit of tweaking required here and there. Everything was spot on, well, aside from Laserdisc and VHS input. For those formats I would, and still do, use a comb filter from a Pioneer DVD recorder unit to pass through a composite input to a component output. Why? Ask Fudoh, a true guru on all things scanlines and video processing (and whom the blame of this entire article lies with!).

“The XRGB Mini aka the Framemeister truly is the current king of video game processors and comes highly recommended.”

The gaming community quite literally went bezerk for the Framemeister upon it’s release. Heck, the community as a whole helped Micomsoft, a Japanese company (and makers of some of the finest arcade joysticks and controllers the world has ever seen) to translate the Framemeister menu system in to English, such was the wild demand and adoration for the product (and their previous products, the XRGB 3, XRGB 2+ and XRGB 2 et al). For me, aside for the technical merits of the device, one of the big attractions was the incredibly small footprint of the unit. Compared to the DVDO VP20 set up I had at the time it was like comparing a deck of cards to the Empire State Building in terms of scale. I decided to plump for a Framemeister and eventually part ways with the VP20 to help fund the purchase of the rather pricey little box of scaling and processing wizardry.

gaia seed screenshot
Gaia Seed, with it’s muted palette, looks rather splendid. Complete with scanlines!

I’ll spare you the gorey details of just what the Framemeister is capable of. There are many articles available across the Internet which venture in to an extraordinary amount of detail. A good place to start would be with Fudoh himself. His website proves a very insightful, interesting and entertaining read. Well worth checking out. What I have done though, is take a couple of screenshots and recorded a short video to try and demonstrate just what the Framemeister is capable of. Of course, nothing will truly compare to seeing the unit in action for yourself, but I hope that this small nugget of text, pictures and video will give you an idea of what to expect. The XRGB Mini aka the Framemeister truly is the current king of video game processors and comes highly recommended. If you have the opportunity to purchase one, do not hesitate!

For housekeeping purposes, the screenshots have not been manipulated, merely cropped to fit the dimensions of my blog layout. The video clip was captured at 1080p (the Framemeister set at 720p to keep scanlines intact) and recoded in Sony Vegas (no filters added, just a simple fade in) at 1080p resolution. I have removed the audio track in order to keep the file size down as I am hosting the file myself and need to keep tabs on bandwidth. Footage was captured with a Hauppauge HDPVR2 over HDMI from a Playstation 2 with component out, plugged in to the Framemeister and running an original PS1 black disc of the game Umihara Kawase (first edition). I hope you find the video footage and screenshots of some use. Please let me know what you think in the comments below.

I’ve gone LCD 110%, and with the Framemeister in tow, I’m not looking back!