A 256x192 display was something to shout about
Old adverts for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum are full of priceless boasts. How about "Full colour - 8 colours for each foreground, background and border plus flashing and brightness intensity control"? Wow, a whole eight colours. Then there's "Massive RAM: 16k or 48k". Yeah, that's more than we'll ever need. But the one that we love the most is this one:
High speed? 100 seconds to load 16 kilobytes? Even the modem at the start of this article could send twice that in one second, and that's a dinosaur. But it gets better...
While we're currently impressed by a 1920x1080 display on 360 or PS3, this Sinclair machine can output a whopping 256x192 display.
That's exactly as many pixels as the whole image on the right. If you put that on a 1080p TV, without scaling it up, it would look a bit like this. Although probably not stuck in the middle like that. Who knows?
Great, huh? There's a high enough resolution on a 1080p TV to display 35 Spectrum images simultaneously, with room to spare around them.
But let’s go back to that boast of eight colours. Colour used to mean a lot, in a Top Trumps kind of way. The Spectrum there may have had eight colours, but it couldn't display one colour over another – the reason Dizzy used to turn the same colour as any object he was standing in front of, background or otherwise.
Now, of course, we're used to a possible different colour for every pixel on the screen, but it used to be a big deal. Especially when SNES came out with a palette of 32,000 colours, of which up to 256 could be shown at once. Boring tech talk? Hell, yes. But it was never more important to playground debate than when Street Fighter II was ported to the Mega Drive, which only supported 16 colours at once. Can you spot the difference in colour between the two versions here?
Um... the carpet's got more colours on the SNES? Cross-hatching? You know what, we don't care any more - despite the still-great gameplay, they both look ancient, so it doesn't matter. It was a stupid argument and we were lame to care about it.
So what can we learn from our former lameness? That perhaps we're still making the same mistakes? Paying too much for machines that will be obsolete in a few years? Arguing bitterly about things that we'll laugh at in a decade? Maybe so.
But GTA IV does look better on the...