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Native Resolution vs Standard Resolution

September 28th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Back in the day, arcade and console hardware ran at weird native resolutions like 384×224. When they were hooked up to a standard arcade monitor, the picture was automatically resized to standard 4:3 resolution.

We assume that the game designers intended their sprites to be viewed at 4:3 resolution. There’s no real debate here because Capcom and other companies used to manufacture complete arcade cabinets, so they knew the end result would be displayed at 4:3.

As a result, when you go from standard resolution to native resolution on an emulator, all the characters look short and wide. The whole screen looks stretched because 384×224 is actually 12:7 resolution. That’s a messed up ratio that doesn’t make sense at all.

However, the main advantage to native resolution is that it represents every pixel. So for archival purposes, sometimes it’s better to store screenshots at native resolution because it’s easy to stretch that image to 4:3 later. On the other hand, there’s no way to go back from 4:3 to native resolution because you can’t tell what the original pixels were when you look at a resampled 4:3 image. Resizing aspect ratios is inherely lossy.

But then again, compressed video is lossy too. If you’re going to show a video to a general audience, it’s usually better to go with the intended 4:3 ratio. That’s how everyone played it so that’s what looks natural and familiar to everyone.

Some places like TASVideos demand native resolution as part of their requirements, but then they see themselves as an archival library. They’re more concerned about preserving the game’s native look rather than presenting it the way it was meant to be presented (and the way everyone remembers it).

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So that’s the debate. What should our default guidelines be?

Well, here’s the heart of the matter. It’s easier to stick with native resolution because it requires less work and no commitment. But if all of us start doing that, it’ll gradually change the status quo to releasing videos that look wrong to everyone except emulator junkies.

I mean, i’ve been using emulators for a long time now, so i’ve gotten used to the messed up 12:7 ratio. It’s easy to forget that most of the people who played these games played them in an arcade machine or on a Saturn/PSX. When they watch a video like this, it looks warped to them and many of the oldschool players (legitimately) complain.

Now i can say, “Oh i don’t care, the only thing that matters to me are the pixels” but that basically turns me into a weirdo outcast. It sets a dangerous precedent which locks me (and everyone who follows my example) into a narrow sub-niche. Why would i do that voluntarily?

That’s still the only video i’ve ever made where i stuck with native res. And i feel like i had a pretty good reason, but again, the rest of the world remembers and expects 4:3, so it was important for me to go back to that and make it my default approach.

Well, now you’ve heard my take on the matter. What’s yours?

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  1. acku
    September 29th, 2010 at 03:22 | #1

    Thanks for the link to http://tasvideos.org/ – it’s great :)
    Ontopic – agreed with 4:3 if it is for end-user viewing purposes. Raw format for storage.

  2. Doctorcow
    September 29th, 2010 at 08:26 | #2

    This is actually something that the video encoding community has had to deal with for a while now, and there are solutions to the problem already in place. You’ll notice that most HD camcorders, and some digital HDTV is actually 1440×1080, and yet displays properly on the TV in 16:9 as if it were regular 1920×1080 content.

    The key lies in the Display Aspect Ratio, DAR for short. This is basically information on how the video is supposed to be displayed, and is already supported by modern video container formats. Formats like MKV support all DARs, so you can display in whatever mode you like. DVD MPEG only supports 4:3 and 16:9, but I doubt you need any more than that. AVI, however does not support embedding the DAR, so the video will need to be resized prior to encoding, making AVI a sub-optimal choice for an archival format.

    The optimal solution, then, is to release videos in MKV. You can keep the original video size so archivers and EMU freaks can extract their pixel-perfect original, and specify a 4:3 DAR so everyone else can watch the video in its intended aspect ratio.

    More info about DAR (and anamorphic resolutions) here:

  3. cidninja
    September 29th, 2010 at 15:55 | #3

    interesting, nobody ever really talks about this stuff. when i started playing 3rd strike it was via emulator, and i was playing it at native resolution so it was all widescreen and whatever. eventually i realized that it was supposed to be 4:3 and it definitely took some getting used to when i switched.

    is it just capcom games that do this or what?

  4. September 30th, 2010 at 16:37 | #4

    no, basically all games, at least cps2 has a standard resolution. Psx games can be anywhere from 368×480 to 640×512

  5. October 1st, 2010 at 11:48 | #5

    I really do prefer 4:3. It feels more natural to me than 16:9. I try to stay within this range. Oh, and virtual Dub is very good for this. I learn more and more with it every day! CPS . . . I want to use it, but I’m afraid to get addicted.

  6. October 2nd, 2010 at 02:31 | #6

    Doctorcow: What if the video contains several different games, so part of the source footage is natively 12:7 and part of it is natively 4:3?

  7. Doctorcow
    October 2nd, 2010 at 04:57 | #7

    Unfortunately (AFAIK anyway) the DAR is for the file, not for each frame so you’ll have to resize for your target aspect ratio when combining clips from multiple sources with varying ARs. When encoding for production, I think it’s better to resize anyways, so any transitions/effects also get rendered in a higher resolution.

    For the purpose cited in the original article, though, DAR offers a good compromise and lets people encode to just one file that satisfies TASvideos’ 1:1 pixel requirements, and is watchable in native 4:3 for the rest of the world.

  8. zero
    October 7th, 2010 at 23:58 | #8

    even on arcade it is not exactly 4:3. cabinets have its own aspect ratio. stg may requires accurate monitors. ftg can do with all kind of ratio. even for sf4 arcade, i have played both 4:3 crt and 16:9 lcd.
    and crt monitors have no accurate pixels.
    4:3 or native both works fine to me.

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