I respectfully, but forcefully and actively reject the current fad that CRTs are some kind of be all end all device for making retrogames enjoyable or better. I also think that there are some serious analogies that can be derived from the audiphile community in that it’s a way to provide gatekeeping into a hobby both with knowledge and finances.
I’m going to use the word monitor for convention, but it can also mean a monitor that has either an analog or digital television tuner circuit which we all would call a “TV”.
As far as playing old games on modern monitors there are a few issues that didn’t exist years ago, but I feel like can be solved to get it absolutely good enough.
The first is latency. Games both old and new run around 60 Hz, so anything that’s under 1/60th of a second (16.7 ms) is absolutely playable. If you think that you can react to something that is faster than Millia’s 19-frame overhead, you’re straight up lying to yourself.
I had an “OK” 1080p Toshiba from 15 years ago that had a game mode. Turns off a bunch of image processing which is mostly there to get rid of MPEG compression artifacts which was a result of the ATSC (digital) TV broadcast compression standard or low-bitrate DVDs. Added several frames of lag. But if I turned game mode on I could play action games with no perceptible difference vs. the CRT HDTV I had. Point is, this is a reasonably easy problem to solve on the monitor side.
If you’re shopping for a monitor for older games, I do recommend you get a gaming monitor. I have an LG brand 32″ 1920×1080 gaming monitor. I don’t remember the model number, but it’s got single-digit refresh/response times which is what you need for games and they don’t have a bunch of image-quality stuff.
Obviously, this is ignoring any latency that you’re introducing because of analog-to-digital conversions because you’ve got an old SNES that you want to hook up using a framemeister or something. I’m totally unfamiliar with those.
The second and harder thing to solve is image quality. No, you’re not going to get the CRT color bleed you get from connecting composite to a cheap TV with a digital connection. So no, you’re probably not going to see the rainbows in Sonic. You’ll see the dithered pixels in all the other games that use it to fake alpha blending transparency. You can fart around with filters in emulation if that’s your bag. Or you can ignore it.
One thing I do recommend when buying a modern monitor for older games is that you get a 1920×1800 monitor instead of a 1440 or 4K. Especially avoid the 4K monitors. They are designed to assume they are eating 4K content and I haven’t seen one that I can get looking good for a low-res source. It’s a bad mix of scaling up to 4K res and edge detection which conspires to make everything look gloppy. Even playing Valhalla on Switch looked like garbage on my 4K TV when docked.
I know this is a lot of words and details, but ultimately I want people to realize that emulation is fine, playing on a modern monitor is fine and you’re already 30+ years removed from a lot of these games. When contemporary people watch Citizen Cain, we watch it on BluRay or Streaming. We’re not getting out film projectors. Please go enjoy the games rather than worry you aren’t enjoying them properly.
Edit: y’all are too kind to me. This thing was riddled with typos! 😭