For years, Analogue has been delivering high-end retro consoles that run original carts and deliver pixel perfection seamlessly to modern televisions. The Super NT is the culmination of these efforts: a 99-percent-accurate recreation of the Super Nintendo in a consumer-friendly package. Analogue achieves this magic via field-programmable gate array (FPGA). Nearly all purpose-built consoles, including Nintendo's own SNES Mini, run retro games through software emulation, which means they're using a program to simulate the original Super Nintendo. But FPGA is an integrated circuit that is coded to recreate the architecture of the original Super Nintendo hardware itself.
To look at it another way, software emulation is like streaming a recording of a classic song while FPGA is playing the original vinyl on a modern turntable with digital outputs. For most consumers looking for a quick hit of nostalgia, software emulation is just fine. Many emulators deliver a mostly accurate and quality experience. But for enthusiasts seeking purity, software emulators just can't compare to what the Super NT's FPGA chip delivers.
To be clear, the Super NT is not the "perfect" SNES experience for purists. The absolute gold standard is to locate an original Super Nintendo 1CHIP console (a rarer revision of the hardware that outputs video over RGB) and either wire it into a high-end CRT monitor or run it through an expensive Framemeister or Open Source Scan Converter in order to hook it up to a modern TV. It's a deeply nerdy experience that is time-consuming and space prohibitive, and it requires a strong knowledge of how old consoles work. But the Super NT is about as close to this gold standard as you could possibly get -- plus, it is a pretty piece of hardware, and it plugs in with only an HDMI cable. For anyone who has spent weeks tracking down a good CRT or tweaking the settings on a Framemeister, the act of plugging the Super NT into a 4K TV and receiving pixel perfection with the click of a button is a magical experience.
As simple as it is to get started, the Super NT has a deep well of options that you can modify on the fly through a menu that has been cleverly programmed to run on the Super Nintendo CPU. You can adjust the resolution, the refresh rate and the aspect ratio. In my experience, 1080p output delivers the sharpest pixel-perfect image, and 720p is better suited for turning on scan lines (there are several options to customize your scan line thickness and improve brightness, which dulls when using scan line effects). Buffer-mode adjustments are available. Normally, the Super Nintendo runs at 60.09Hz, but with the zero-delay buffer option, you can adjust this to 60Hz, which removes any latency in the gaming experience (or there are options that more closely replicate the original experience).
Other adjustments available to tinkerers include interlacing options; pseudo high-res blending, which simulates certain techniques that made use of CRT monitors to create special "high-res" effects; and 64-sprite mode, which enables more sprites on-screen and fixes flicker in certain classically problematic games. These modes will give hobbyists plenty to play with, though they only really apply to select games. In my experience, 64-sprite mode eliminated a lot of the notorious flicker from R-Type III. I suspect that in time, retroheads will discover all kinds of new applications of these features, and recommended-settings regimens for each game will begin circulating.
It also works with all Super Nintendo peripherals (except light guns, which will require a CRT), such as Super Game Boy. And you can toggle regions and frequency to play PAL carts (though I didn't have any on hand to verify this). In short, as Analogue founder and CEO Christopher Taber told me, the Super NT was "literally designed to be the end all, be all."
The range of visual options are stunning (and a tad overwhelming), but for me the real "wow" moment came from the sound. Strictly in auditory terms, switching between the SNES Mini and the Super NT is night and day. SNES audio has always been notoriously difficult to emulate on the software level, but the FPGA chip's hardware mimicry achieves the best achievable sound quality from games. It hits the difficult notes in Yoshi's Island or Final Fantasy III perfectly.