Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wavebeam NES Palette

The many different colors of Super Mario Bros. (NTSC Hardware, FCEUX, Nestopia, Wavebeam)
If you grew up playing the NES as much as I did, then you probably have the 50 some colors of the system forever burned into your memory. The interesting thing though is that the colors you experienced probably weren't the same as someone else. Many have run into this problem after loading up their favorite games on an emulator or the NESRGB and realizing how different the games look from their memory. So what exactly is going on?

While hue and chroma aren't tracked by NTSC and can cause TV sets to look different if not properly calibrated, it seems the TV's NTSC decoder is the main culprit for why no one can agree on what the colors are supposed to look like. TV manufacturers wanted their sets to stand out in the showroom from the competition, so they started sweetening and tweaking the NTSC signal when decoding it to make it more colorful and vibrant. Every manufacturer used different chips with different formulas, and to make things worse, not even all TVs from the same manufacturer treat the signal the same. (Note: see the Sony CXA2025AS palette in the comparison images at the bottom. It was reverse engineered from a consumer Sony IC and shows what this processing can do to the image) So because of this it seems impossible to ever come up with a single NES palette that everyone can agree on.

For me, this all started after getting an NESRGB. I wasn't happy with the colors on its stock palettes so I started researching more about it. I began to learn of the great work people like FirebrandX were doing to create very accurate palettes based off the raw composite signal coming out of the system. My hope was that if I fed their raw capture palettes into my RGB CRTs I'd have something identical to how an original NES displayed on it. Unfortunately, it looked the same as the raw capture since RGB inputs skip the TV's NTSC decoder.

I decided then to create my own palette that looked great on CRTs and brought back my nostalgic memories. I do not claim that it's accurate in any way to a single CRT or mathematical formula or even Nintendo's intentions. It's only based off my preference and the many CRTs I've owned. The palette was created on a calibrated IPS screen and then tested on several CRTs. I went through dozens and dozens of games, cross-checking eight different palettes for consistency and tweaking the colors to hit the sweet spot between authentic and vibrant. While the palette is meant for display on a CRT, I think it works great on digital displays as well.

View the full comparison

Download the .pal

Download the NESRGB Firmware Pack

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