Reviews >>

Monitor Types

Preramble: Once again, Kelsey at OSCAR Controls has the goods: He has a really good page of monitor close-up comparisons that show screenshots through a variety of monitors. It's an excellent visual breakdown of how things look on the various monitors.

This review is a very basic breakdown of the nuts-and-bolts differences between the three most popular monitor choices: PC monitor, arcade monitor, and television. "What's the difference between these choices?" gets asked a lot at the BYOAC FAQ site, so hopefully this will help someone asking the same.


PC Monitor

Pros:

Hands-down the best picture quality in terms of DPI. You can run the OS of your choice at a very fine resolution as well as other higher-end games graphics applications on it. If you're wanting to play PC games (and not just MAME), a PC monitor might likely be your best choice. This is obviously the "native" display device for a PC, so you're going to get the best possible picture quality by using it.

Also, using a PC monitor is by far the easiest solution. You don't need any fancy video cards or cables or software tweaks or anything special - it's as "plug and play" as you can get.

Cons:

One of the biggest downsides of a PC monitor is the price. Obviously, the bigger the monitor, the higher the price. You'd most likely want at least a 19" or bigger, and past 19" is the point where PC monitors start to get ungodly expensive.

Another downside is that - oddly enough - the picture quality is actually too good. How can picture quality be "too good"? Well, genuine arcade monitors actually have a pretty low resolution and scan frequency to them, and when you take these same games and display them on a PC monitor, the images turn out to be much crisper and clearer than they were intended to be. A common complaint is that arcade graphics look too "cartoonish" on a PC monitor because they're too "clean" (look toward the bottom of this page for a good example of this). Granted, you can always turn the "scanlines" option on within MAME, but it's definitely not the same.

Summary:

The picture quality is the best, although you might not like how the "best" picture quality looks. Also, it doesn't come cheaply if you want a large display.

Examples of arcade cabinets using PC monitors:
Raza's MAME/JAMMA cab (photo courtesy of Russ Prince)
Gene's Mean MAME Machine (photo courtesy of Gene Simpson)
Arcade Paradise 2 (photo courtesy of...me!)

 

Arcade Monitor

Pros:

For the "purist". This is the real deal. Your games will look as authentic and genuine as they possibly could. These monitors were meant for displaying arcade games, and that is what you're playing, isn't it? Remember how I said that a PC monitor was the "native" device for displaying from a PC? This is true, but an arcade monitor is the native device for displaying arcade games. If you're looking for 100% authenticity, and if you want to see these games as they were truly meant to be seen, then this is probably the monitor choice for you.

Cons:

The most obvious downside of using an arcade monitor is that it really is only good for arcade games. If you were thinking about running other PC applications on your cabinet computer, then you'll probably want to look elsewhere, since these monitors were just not designed to display from a PC. Some arcade monitors (like the Wells-Gardner D9200) will display from a PC natively "out of the box", but still not nearly as well as a PC monitor would.

Another downside: Let's just say that these things aren't exactly "Plug-and-Play compliant". There are various degrees of difficulty in getting it to work properly, depending on a lot of different factors, but you'll probably have to invest at least some degree of time and/or money into using an arcade monitor with your PC. While some models (again, like the Wells-Gardner D9200) can be hooked right into a VGA slot on a PC, some models have to run through converters or special/hacked cables, and some models will require you to use a special video card (like the Ultimarc ArcadeVGA card). You'll also most likely have to play with the refresh rate of your video card and/or possibly use a specialized version of MAME (such as AdvanceMAME) in order to get it to work right.

Also, arcade monitors aren't exactly cheap either.

Summary:

You can't get much more real than this...genuine scanlines and all. Be warned though: there is usually a decent amount of extra work and research (and likely money) involved in getting an arcade monitor to work on your PC. And again, you aren't going to be able to run anything very well except for arcade games.

Examples of arcade cabinets using arcade monitors:
Scott's Unicade Cabinet (photo courtesy of Scott Shumate)
Mr. Salty's Arcade (photo courtesy of Craig Dudle)

 

Television

Pros:

The best bang for the buck in terms of dollars spent for the size of the screen that you get. You can pick up a really nice-looking new 25" TV for under $300. Try finding a new 25" PC monitor or arcade monitor for that! The resolution is not nearly as good as what you'd get on a PC monitor, but as long as you use either S-Video or Component connections, you will be able to run the OS of your choice on it and have it look pretty darn good. And as long as you have a video card which has TV-Out on it, it's easy to hook up.

Another "pro" that's obvious but easy to overlook: You'll have a working TV! You can hook up an antenna / cable TV hookup, a VCR or DVD player, and here's the best part: you can hook up game consoles right to it.

Cons:

The biggest downside is the picture quality: It's not as good as a PC monitor or a true RGB arcade monitor. Interestingly enough though, the output from a TV looks pretty damn close to that of an arcade monitor (this is debatable, but I think it does) - moreso than a PC monitor. The colors do bleed (some colors more than others) a little bit in MAME, and the picture quality in Windows is kinda so-so.

Another "con" is that of "arcade authenticity". I said that a TV does output pretty close to an arcade monitor, but no matter how much you agree or disagree with this, it's still NOT an arcade monitor.

Summary:

Easily the best value. If you want a 25" screen but you can't justify re-financing your house to be able to buy a new 25" PC monitor or arcade monitor, then take a good look at this choice. Make no mistake though: You will be sacrificing both picture quality and arcade authenticity in exchange for that nice big screen.

Examples of arcade cabinets using televisions:
LuSiD's Arcade Flashback (photo courtesy of Sean Hatfield)
Jonathan's MAME Cabinet (photo courtesy of Jonathan Haas)

 

So to recap...


PC Monitor


Arcade Monitor


Television

 

| home |