When it comes to getting the best picture quality possible out of your Nintendo 64 there are a number of different options. The path you choose depends on how you want to play and what version of the console you own. In the world of analog video signals, RGB is king. If you are new to the RGB gaming community and would like an introduction to what it is all about then head over to this page where I layout the basics of what you need to know to get started.
Right out of the box, the Nintendo 64 outputs composite and s-video only. You can however buy an official RF adapter to plug into the multi-out if for some reason you want your video quality to be even worse. I find it funny that back in the 90s Nintendo would sell you a separate device to enable you to use RF video, but for a lot of people back then RF was the only input option on their television so that's what they had to do. Thankfully today there are modification options readily available on the internet that unlock the true potential of the N64.
There are three main mods for N64 video quality that you should consider when going down this road. The first is the called the Ultra HDMI and this is for people that want to play N64 exclusively on a modern display. It is a fairly difficult mod to install, expensive and almost always sold out but it gives you an extremely clean 1080p signal out of your Nintendo 64. With this mod, the engineers were able to undo the horizontal blurring that takes place on the N64 to drastically clean up the image.
The Ultra HDMI is truly amazing, but what if you are like me and want to also play on a CRT as well as an LCD? That is where the N64 RGB mods come into play. My gaming set up is based around using RGB and I would rather be able to also play my N64 in higher quality on my RGB CRT monitors so the Ultra HDMI is not an option for me, even though its de-blurring firmware is very tempting.
When it comes to N64 RGB mods there are two options; the simple RGB amp mod and the more advanced N64RGB mod by Tim Worthington, the engineer behind the incredible NESRGB mod.
The basic N64 mod is cheap and easy to install, but only works on early models of the N64. As a console progresses through its market lifespan, manufactures often make changes to the circuits inside for various reasons, usually to reduce cost. This means that not all mods can be universal and this is the case for the basic RGB amp mod for the N64. This mod only works on the first four revisions of the NTSC N64 motherboard and the only reliable way to tell which revision you have is to open it up and take a look. If you have a coloured N64 and want to do the basic mod, you are out of luck. The N64RGB by Tim Worthington on the other hand is universal and works on all models of the N64, including the "funtastic" colourful models. Tim's mod is only slightly more expensive than the basic mod but you do have to order directly from the creator himself in Australia. My last order from him took seven weeks to get to Canada, but it was well worth the wait.
WHICH N64 RGB MOD IS BETTER?
Both N64 RGB mods yield the same results. I have done many capture tests and viewed the footage side by side to try and spot differences but there are none. I can say with absolute certainty that there is no difference in video quality between the basic RGB amp mod and early revisions of Tim's N64RGB. Why did I put the emphasis on "early" just now? That is because recently something amazing has happened that is a total game changer.
After the Ultra HDMI was released and wowed us all with its de-blurring capabilities, a developer that goes by the name of Borti4938 on GitHub and various forums wrote his own firmware for Tim's board to enable it to utilize de-blur functionality. With the right equipment this new firmware from Borti can be flashed to version 1.2 N64RGB boards easily and all boards being sold by Tim today actually come with the new firmware already installed.
The implementation of the new firmware enables the de-blur functionality to be switched on and off. To enable it all you have to do is connect pin A to pin G on the board, so if you connect a switch in between you've got yourself a switchable de-blur function. According to Tim, certain games actually look worse with de-blur on but I haven't come across a game where this is true yet. The bump in picture quality is very noticeable and completely worth the extra effort in my opinion. Take a look at the screenshots below and see for yourself.
These screenshots were taken after being upscaled by the Framemeister with identicle settings, so the jump in clarity you are seeing is caused exclusively by the de-blur function. When jumping back and forth between the screenshots you can see how the de-blur function undoes the horizontal shift that the N64 applies natively to the output. This combination of RGB and de-blur is the perfect solution for me and I find it fascinating that it is even possible. The change in quality that the de-blur brings is also visible on a CRT. If you are already using RGB consoles in your set up and you ever plan to play on a CRT, Tim's N64RGB is your best option for getting great video quality out of your Nintendo 64.
Want to buy any of the mods I discussed here? Here are my recommendations for which ones to get and where to get them.