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Seeking Advice on monitor size and resolution for a Retropie Arcade Cabinet

  • Hi all, I'm new to Pi, Retropie and MAME, so I'd really appreciate your advice.

    I'm building an arcade cabinet using my new Raspberry Pi 4 and an X-Arcade Tankstick. But I'm struggling to under how big a monitor I can safely run, and at what resolution.

    I don't have sufficient depth in my setup for a CRT. Under my setup, the screen will be about 75cm from my nose. I'm concerned that a typical 19" LED monitor will be too small at that distance, particularly for vertical arcade games.

    I have 82cm of horizontal wall space available in which I can hang a 16:9 LED monitor. My thinking is that, if I get a big enough 16:9 monitor, vertical arcade games will still be big enough to play comfortably, and I can live with the huge black bars on each side.

    I have found a second hand 30inch monitor at 16:9 ratio, with a resolution of 2560x1600. It's DVI-D only, but I already have a cable that will convert the Pi's mini-HDMI to VDI-D. The response time of this monitor is 6ms.

    Do you think the Raspberry 4 with Retropie will be able to drive a monitor that size? If not, could I force the Pi's resolution down to half the monitor's native resolution (ie 1280 x 800) and would that make a positive difference?

    All advice would be appreciated, thanks!

  • Hello, welcome to Retropie and this forum.

    It very much depends on what kind of games you want to run, and if you plan to use bezels around them. The native resolution of the games from the 80s and 90s is much smaller than today's resolutions, so either the emulator or the monitor has to scale them up to fill the screen. That takes computing power, may add input lag, and reduce the picture quality if the scaling ratio isn't an exact multiple of the native resolution.

    Other than you, I dislike the typical black bars on modern 16:9 screens while playing only 4:3 or 5:4 games, so I bought an refurbished 21" TFT from 2006 for 70€ with a resolution of 1600x1200 with very good reviews from that time. You can see its size in my normal-sized upright cabinet (HxWxD 172x59.6x57cm) here.

    I chose such a relatively high resolution to be able to display bezels in good quality next to or around the games. Unfortunately, most bezels from the community are made for 16:9 monitors to fill their black bars, but there are some made for 4:3 like these from @AndrewH.

    Alas, I can't tell you anything about the limits of the Pi 4 in regard to screen resolution.

  • @Clyde Thanks for your advice, and congratulations on that gorgeous Asteroids-themed cabinet of yours - a really nicely crafted piece of work.

  • @Appogee I went for a 5:4 (close enough to old-school 4:3) aspect ratio 19" LCD running at 1280x1024 in my cocktail style arcade system (link in my signature). I find this resolution to have a lot of benefits for the Arcade build. Mine is a Sony, but the same display is found in a lot of Dell models including 17" versions. For the golden era of coin-op video games, the resolution seems like overkill, but although I don't run any bezel artwork, I do enable zfast shaders. At this resolution, you have enough "extra" pixels to adequately simulate the scanline and shadow mask artifacts of a traditional CRT. The Pi-CRT and Zfast shaders are quick so they don't add enough overhead to hurt performance on older titles.

    Then, for VECTOR games, the high resolution gives you clean vector lines, so games like Asteroids and Tempest look more authentic. Nothing can match the variable glow of a true vector CRT, but running a high resolution does improve the look and feel.

    If weight and depth are not a concern, consider going the CRT route. I would myself, but it is just not practical for my cabinet. I did pickup a 17" Dell E773c CRT over the weekend for a dollar (seriously, just $1). It is in perfect condition and works great--too great actually. The image has a nice phosphor glow, but a computer monitor is just too clean. I would trade it for a high dot-pitch low-res clunker that really shows off it's RGB triads! That's what I want next. Maybe an old TV?

  • I would absolutely prefer a CRT in a cabinet.
    And as caver01 mentoined it should be an (old, but not too old ;) ) TV as the Arcade-Monitors in the old cabinets did not have such a good quality like computer-Monitors.

    Sadly i live in Germany and dont have the possibilty to buy arcade-stuff at every corner.
    But therefore you can get dozens of CRTs free here.
    Hundreds of People just want to get rid of it in exchange for their new flat screens and as far as no one is willing to pay a penny for them they are givven away for free (Giving them to a junkyard would cost Money ;) ).

    Me myself got two this way: a 21" Flat-CRT that would fit perfect in a cabinet and a 27" Flat-CRT that i use for my Pi3+ at the moment.
    Good luck that all these european TVs have got SCART, so connecting is very easy.
    The experience is so awesome IMO that i totally removed my Pis from my 55"HDMI Flatscreen.
    And as far as homebuilt cabinets are concerned it should be CRT in any way.
    Just my 5 Cents ;)

  • Although I concur with @sirhenrythe5th about CRTs being preferable for a real retro style, like @caver01 I don't have the room for a CRT in my cabinet (as well as no room for a bigger cabinet in my home), and since it's running practically all the time when I'm at home, the much lower power consumption of a TFT is an issue for me.

    But I have to ask @sirhenrythe5th, why did you go only "half retro" with a flat CRT instead of a curved one? Even I as a TFT user simulate the latter via the curved zfast crt shader. :)

    I forgot to mention shaders and vector games as reasons for a (reasonably) higher resolution of the monitor, so thanks to @caver01 for mentioning them.

  • @Clyde very good question! I would like to have a curved CRT very much, but to be honest: these are harder to get. It seems that most of the people who still have CRTs have those from the last generation of CRTs.
    Curved ones are really rare and in most cases broken or damaged.
    Both TVs that i own now are mint, it is pretty hard to get one in this shape with curved screen.
    But i am still searching, maybe i will have luck later on ;)

  • @sirhenrythe5th Thanks for the detailed answer!

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