Light Guns, Zappers, Phasers, Not HD Compatible - Here's Why

nintendo light gunThe reasons why this is the case have been covered extensively in other online posts. However, for the purposes of this column, it makes sense to eschew the tech jargon and explain the issue in ways that any non-gear head can understand. So here’s a breakdown.

Light guns, zappers and phasers reflected light

It’s true—the NES Zapper you used to shoot ducks out of the sky, as well as the Super Scope from which you launched missiles, were  nothing but simple light reflectors. They didn’t “shoot” anything at all. Instead, they merely captured light and motion. So when you would aim for those ducks, what you were really doing was using the reflector to sense for motion on the screen. And for this to work as effectively as it did on those retro shooters, the timing had to be perfect. More on this below.

The guns were calibrated for timing

To pull off a shooter that actually worked, timing between the NES console and the light-gun accessory had to be perfect.  Also, very similar with other consoles, light guns. Like the Sega Saturn Zapper, the DreamCast gun & the Super Nintendo Super Scope. The way to ensure this perfection was with the help of the TV. As it turns out, those old tube TVs of the ’70s, ‘80s and ‘90s had the perfect sync signal to make this happen.

Why do Light Guns only Work on CRT?

Unlike the digital TVs of today, CRT (cathode-ray tube) TVs actually used internal vacuum tubes to present thewhy do light guns only work on crt image on screen. As you might suspect, this wasn’t as efficient as the contemporary digital models. I could now start talking about internal electron guns and phosphors and how they all work to create a CRT television image, but that’s not important. What’s critical to know is that it all happened quickly and at a reliable frequency.

The Nintendo light gun signals worked so well with the light gun because the CRT TV image frequency never wavered. But in modern Digital TVs, there is a delay (“latency”) in delivering the image. This delay is so fast the human eye can’t catch it, but that doesn’t matter. It’s enough to throw off the sync signal of a Nintendo NES light gun completely.

And that, in a nutshell, is why light guns will not work on any LCD Display, HD TV or Projector TV. Those who do want to play “Duck Hunt” on a large screen with slick image quality have only two options, pick up an early-to-mid 2000s tube TV. The picture quality on those sets was decent, and it’s as close to digital as you’ll get.  Option two is there are a few nes light gun for hdtv out there that will work on HDTVs. 

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Comments 1

Guest
Guest - Amon on Wednesday, 03 June 2020 18:38

The main reason why Light guns don't work anymore on modern displays: Old CRTs only showed 1 Pixel at a time. It drew pixels from the top left corner to bottom right corner very fast (60 times per second in America or 50 times per second in Europe ) Modern TVs buffer all pixels and show the whole screen at once.

When the shoot button on the Light gun is pressed, the next pixel gets drawn white or another distinctive color (set by the game). The human eye can't see this because it's so fast.

Because of this technology mismatch, an old Lightgun will never work, because the technology between CRTs and other more modern TVs are completely different. Personally, I keep a small old CRT TV around just to play some Battle Clash.

The main reason why Light guns don't work anymore on modern displays: Old CRTs only showed 1 Pixel at a time. It drew pixels from the top left corner to bottom right corner very fast (60 times per second in America or 50 times per second in Europe ) Modern TVs buffer all pixels and show the whole screen at once. When the shoot button on the Light gun is pressed, the next pixel gets drawn white or another distinctive color (set by the game). The human eye can't see this because it's so fast. Because of this technology mismatch, an old Lightgun will never work, because the technology between CRTs and other more modern TVs are completely different. Personally, I keep a small old CRT TV around just to play some Battle Clash.
Guest
Tuesday, 04 October 2022