Super Nt review: a SNES for the 21st century
The best way to play Super Nintendo on a flat panel TV.
In 2017, Analogue released the Nt Mini - a premium console designed to play 8-bit NES games with exceptional accuracy and video quality but at $450, it was prohibitively expensive for most. One year on, Analogue has returned with the Super Nt, an FPGA-based precision recreation of the Super NES with many new features. Priced at $189, it's more affordable too, but with so many options available for playing Super NES games, you might be wondering what exactly makes this product special.
The Super NES is often heralded as Nintendo's greatest console and it's difficult to disagree. With its vast selection of genre-defining games and gorgeous pixel art capabilities, the Super NES helped shape gaming as we know it today. Despite its age, the success of Nintendo's own SNES mini suggests that a lot of people are still very much interested in the platform, but what if you want to play your original cartridges on your new 4K TV with the most authentic recreation of the console's original logic? That's where the Super Nt comes in.
The FPGA at its core is a Field-Programmable Gate Array, and with Analogue reverse-engineering the digital circuits of original console hardware and transplanting them across into the FPGA chip. The Super Nt's core is written using a hardware description language known as Verilog - this essentially allows the developer to define digital circuits in a textual manner. The result is a design that can execute instructions in parallel like the Super Nintendo's original integrated circuits, but its accuracy ultimately hinges on the quality of the code. FPGAs are not a magic bullet but in the right hands, the results are impressive. The key advantage in using an FPGA then lies in its latency or lack thereof. With no additional overhead, the Super Nt can precisely reproduce the behavior of the original Super Nintendo hardware with absolute cycle accuracy.
A hardware emulation solution is pricier than a software-level equivalent, so obviously the Super Nt is a lot pricier than a SNES mini, but it's still a lot cheaper than the original FPGA Analogue Nt and its variants. Despite the lower price, the Super Nt still exudes quality both inside and out. With its weighted base, the system feels hefty despite its small size. It also ships in four different variations including a transparent version and a Super Famicom-style design.
One of the key elements in bringing down the cost stems from materials and bundled peripherals. The Analogue Nt shipped with 8-bitdo controllers, but with the Super Nt, you'll need to bring your own pads. Then there's the casing: the anodised aluminum shell of the Nt and Nt Mini is gorgeous but expensive to produce. With the Super Nt, Analogue opted instead for plastic, in line with most other game consoles. The difference here stems from the fit, finish and thickness of the material used - which is roughly a millimeter or so thicker than original Nintendo hardware and feels sturdier as a result.
Another cost-saving measure comes in the form of available outputs. The Nt Mini features both HDMI and analogue video out while the Super Nt reduces this to a single HDMI connector. Analog video was a major selling point with the Nt Mini since NES consoles do not natively support RGB, but with the Super NES, this is supported out of the box, making this feature less critical. Of course, for CRT purists, Analogue has a digital to analogue converter in development for the system to return this functionality. Overall, the Super Nt is a beautiful, well-crafted system that has a premium finish, despite the switch to a plastic shell.
But it's inside where the Super Nt excels, particularly in terms of the sheer accuracy of the emulation. You can get an idea of the extreme lengths we went to in testing this aspect of the product by watching our main review video. By and large, SNES software emulation is in a really good place via the cycle-accurate Higan emulator, and Nintendo's own SNES mini does a pretty good job. Of course, there are many other emulators and clones available but we can't really recommend most of them due to inaccuracies or the misuse of open source emulation code. The bottom line though? Where lesser emulators - including Nintendo's own - fail, the Super Nt works beautifully, producing results that match or exceed the precision Higan emulator, but with a more useable package surrounding it and no need for a powerful PC.
Absolute cycle accuracy is the key ingredient here and a major feature of the Super Nt, but it's the overall user experience that elevates it to the top. The controller-driven interface, the ability to use your original carts and controllers and the lack of additional latency makes for an excellent way to play Super NES games. While we believe that SNES games should be played on a CRT for the most authentic experience, the Super Nt is the best way to play Super NES carts on a flat panel TV.
And just like its predecessor, it's loaded with options. The Super Nt supports 480p, 720p and 1080p output at both 50 and 60Hz. There's no 4K support because - as we understand it - there's no room left on the processor used to pump that many pixels out. To our eyes, 1080p provides the sharpest image when going for that raw pixel look, but 720p is beneficial if you want to use the scanline feature (two options are available here, or you can disable them completely). Another important option is gamma boost - this helps make up for brightness lost when using scanlines but is useful even without them.
Aspect ratio options (1:1 and 8:7) are also available, but they're not quite accurate. Thankfully, you can dial in your own settings and we recommend a 1365 width, an 1149 height, 38 for horizontal position and 42 for vertical position (thanks to @Tryumph4ks on Twitter for dialing in these settings). This is made possible by the addition of a framebuffer. The Super Nt essentially features its own very customisable scaler chip designed to match or exceed what can be achieved with an expensive XRGB Framemeister This includes the option to enable horizontal and vertical interpolation to clean up sparkling edges when using a non-integer scale and is recommended with our custom settings.
Another important feature made possible by the framebuffer are the buffer mode options. By default, the system runs using zero delay mode. Normally, the Super NES runs at a refresh rate of roughly 60.09Hz but zero delay reduces the system speed to 60Hz instead. The reason? To match up with modern flat panel refresh rates. Using this option, games run without any additional input latency and never exhibit skipped or torn frames. If you want to match the original speed of the system, however, fully buffered and single buffer are available. More options are available, but the point is clear: the attention to detail here is simply astonishing.
All of which begs the question: is the Super Nt for you? There's a kind of sliding scale of recommendation here where the accuracy of the emulation matches how much you care about an authentic experience. Software-based emulation boxes - Raspberry Pi-based or otherwise - will do a job, but not a particularly accurate one. The SNES mini is a more preferable alternative, though hacking it to run extra games once again introduces compatibility and accuracy issues. The best way forward is demonstrably a hardware-based solution.
For our money, the best way to play Super NES games for the most authentic experience is to pair a one-chip version of the original console with a quality CRT, but that's going to take up a lot of space. For those with a flat panel display, the Super Nt is our pick. The end-to-end digital processing and customisation offers a small but useful advantage compared to an original console outputting an analogue signal to a converter like the Open Source Scan Converter. And at $189, the Super Nt's pricing compares nicely with the cost of a decent example of a SNES console and the OSSC too. On top of that, you're getting a single, integrated unit clearly built by a manufacturer that cares about quality and has a passion for the original system.
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