Go Back  DVD Talk Forum > Entertainment Discussions > Video Game Talk
Reload this Page >

Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

Video Game Talk The Place to talk about and trade Video & PC Games

Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

Old 07-15-21, 04:00 PM
  #1  
Senior Member
Thread Starter
 
Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: Colorado
Posts: 812
Likes: 0
Received 2 Likes on 2 Posts
Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

When discussing the Sega Genesis, one thing that is always brought up as a shortcoming against it is its limited color palette, especially when compared against rival 16-Bit consoles. From what I have read it has a total color palette of 512 colors, with the ability to display 61 colors at once during actual gameplay. Does anyone know if there was a technical reason that Sega gave the Genesis a more limited color palette? Thanks to anyone that replies.
Old 07-15-21, 04:37 PM
  #2  
DVD Talk Hero
 
Join Date: May 2001
Posts: 41,630
Received 362 Likes on 282 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

It used a Yamaha YM7101 Video Display Processor that caused the limitations, it provided the system with 9-bit palette vs 15-bit for the SNES.

The Genesis could only have 61 colors on screen at once, the SNES could do 256 + blending which gave it a big advantage.
The following 2 users liked this post by RichC2:
John Pannozzi (07-17-21), tanman (07-20-21)
Old 07-15-21, 05:00 PM
  #3  
Senior Member
Thread Starter
 
Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: Colorado
Posts: 812
Likes: 0
Received 2 Likes on 2 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

Originally Posted by RichC2 View Post
It used a Yamaha YM7101 Video Display Processor that caused the limitations, it provided the system with 9-bit palette vs 15-bit for the SNES.

The Genesis could only have 61 colors on screen at once, the SNES could do 256 + blending which gave it a big advantage.
Thank you for that information, RichC2.
Old 07-16-21, 10:25 AM
  #4  
DVD Talk Legend
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
Posts: 18,835
Received 248 Likes on 186 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

There were some hacks to get more than that number of colors, although typically not during gameplay. The Genesis Toy Story game had up to 148 colors on the screen for some of the movie still screens:

The same developer worked on a method to get the Genesis to display 256 color stills (see 2:00 mark):

This is thought to be the "blast" color mode that inspired the term "blast processing", but no developer could get it to work in an easy consistent way back then. It took until 2019 for a method do to so was found:

Note that the 9-bit pallet was the overall pallet, i.e. 512 colors. For gameplay, you everything on the screen had to be colored by 4 pallets of 16 colors each (technically 15 colors for at least 3 of them, since one color was "transparent" in each pallet, excepting maybe the background layer's pallet), so 64 colors max, or 61 effective colors due to the transparent pixel "color". Also each item on the screen could only use one of the created pallets, so you had situations where the pallets may have duplicate colors for different things (sprite vs background pallets), so the "effective" colors on screen may be even lower. This video shows that often during gameplay the number of colors on the screen was well below 61.

This thread suggests that a big limitation was the amount of Color RAM (CRAM) Sega decided to include in the system.
https://www.sega-16.com/forum/showth...Colour-palette

Last edited by Jay G.; 07-16-21 at 10:36 AM.
The following users liked this post:
John Pannozzi (07-17-21)
Old 07-16-21, 10:29 AM
  #5  
DVD Talk Legend
 
Obi-Wanma's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: Detroit - Formerly known as Obi-Wan Jabroni
Posts: 11,499
Received 220 Likes on 125 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

There was no room for more colors. The rest of the processing power was used up for doing things that Nintendon't.
The following 4 users liked this post by Obi-Wanma:
Dan (07-16-21), steebo777 (07-22-21), story (07-16-21), tanman (07-20-21)
Old 07-16-21, 10:29 AM
  #6  
DVD Talk Hero
 
Join Date: May 2001
Posts: 41,630
Received 362 Likes on 282 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

Yeah, there were various limitations on both the Genesis and SNES when it came to additional resources. The Genesis definitely suffered more with it though. Stuff like the Toy Story scenes worked from a mix of ingenuity and the fact they were static screens.

But now, 30 years later, I still played the Genesis a shitload more than the SNES growing up. Mostly for ABACABB purposes (and I mean, I was like 10).
Old 07-16-21, 10:32 AM
  #7  
Dan
DVD Talk Legend
 
Dan's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: In the straps of boots
Posts: 24,834
Received 452 Likes on 325 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

More colors on the SNES
vs.
Playing as the Velociraptor in Jurassic Park.

The ​​​​choice was obvious.
The following users liked this post:
Boondock Saint (07-20-21)
Old 07-16-21, 10:54 AM
  #8  
DVD Talk Legend
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
Posts: 18,835
Received 248 Likes on 186 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

It's important to keep in mind that the Genesis was released 2 years before the Super Nintendo, so was in some ways working the the best it had at the time. It's like wondering why the PS4 Pro doesn't have as powerful graphics as the Xbox One X, when it came out a year sooner, and for less money. You work within the constraints you have, and put your effort into what will provide the best return.

Of course, the TurboGrafix 16 (PC Engine) was released in Japan a year before the Genesis, and could display 482 colors out of its 512 color pallet at once. But that console had 2 graphics chips in it, and then only an 8-bit CPU, so compromises always have to be made.
Old 07-16-21, 10:58 AM
  #9  
Moderator
 
story's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Hope.
Posts: 10,631
Received 469 Likes on 287 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

I didn't know that. I always thought Genesis games seemed more muted. I had an SNES and said something about the different color palettes to my friend with a Genesis used to go on about how sure, I can like the SNES, if I want video games that basically look like cartoons. I remember thinking, no, it's not that. Something is just different. Now I know why.
Old 07-16-21, 01:57 PM
  #10  
DVD Talk Legend
 
milo bloom's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2001
Location: Chicago suburbs
Posts: 15,197
Received 431 Likes on 330 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

Yeah, I was always more interested in Nintendo systems but we did get a Genesis later. And I never really cared about the reduced color palette. I knew about it, since I devoured gaming magazines back in the day (used to have a huge collection of them) and I could tell you the specs of any system back then. But I feel that restriction made the developers for Sega be more creative with how things looked.

Like, my wife plays Phantasy Star Online 2 on the XSX and despite it looking like a modern game, there's just something about the aesthetic that screams "SEGA!" to me.
Also, the game Kingdom, it's a pixel art style and I've always thought it looked like a Saturn game.

But yeah, they were two years earlier to the market than Nintendo and had a true 16 bit CPU (unlike the TurboGrafx), so it just kinda worked out that way.
Old 07-16-21, 02:49 PM
  #11  
DVD Talk Legend
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
Posts: 18,835
Received 248 Likes on 186 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

I watched the documentary Console Wars, and there's a bit where the Sega guys, while promoting the Genesis at E3, answered the "less colors" question by doing side-by-sides of Sonic and Super Mario World, and ask "does it look like we have less colors?"

I found this comparison image online:



The Sonic game doesn't look that significantly "less colorful". I think the SNES games often used the additional colors for shading and gradients, so it didn't necessarily seem like there were "more" colors, just maybe the graphics seemed a little more rounded and less stark in the color divides.

Also found this image comparison of Lion King game on various consoles:


The SNES and Genesis player character looks identical. The big difference is in the background, where maybe SNES has an edge.

So the Genesis did alright. If its graphics were really vastly inferior, it never would've sold so wll.
The following users liked this post:
John Pannozzi (07-17-21)
Old 07-16-21, 09:29 PM
  #12  
DVD Talk Legend
 
milo bloom's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2001
Location: Chicago suburbs
Posts: 15,197
Received 431 Likes on 330 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

Originally Posted by Jay G. View Post
I watched the documentary Console Wars, and there's a bit where the Sega guys, while promoting the Genesis at E3, answered the "less colors" question by doing side-by-sides of Sonic and Super Mario World, and ask "does it look like we have less colors?"

I found this comparison image online:



The Sonic game doesn't look that significantly "less colorful". I think the SNES games often used the additional colors for shading and gradients, so it didn't necessarily seem like there were "more" colors, just maybe the graphics seemed a little more rounded and less stark in the color divides.

Also found this image comparison of Lion King game on various consoles:


The SNES and Genesis player character looks identical. The big difference is in the background, where maybe SNES has an edge.

So the Genesis did alright. If its graphics were really vastly inferior, it never would've sold so wll.

Yeah, the big difference in the the last two is the leaves in the background. The SNES ones may look more detailed but they stand out more as computer generated graphics while the Genesis ones arenít as detailed but they itís like they just accepted it and moved on. I think Iíd prefer the Genesis version of all those.


Iíve never actually played any game of The Lion King. I should get around to that.
Old 07-17-21, 02:36 PM
  #13  
DVD Talk Legend
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
Posts: 18,835
Received 248 Likes on 186 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

Originally Posted by milo bloom View Post
Iíve never actually played any game of The Lion King. I should get around to that.
GOG has a pack of Lion King and Aladdin:
https://www.gog.com/game/disney_clas..._the_lion_king

It has the SNES, Genesis, and Game Boy versions of Lion King, and the Genesis, Game Boy, and Super Game Boy versions of Aladdin:

The combo pack is also available on Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch. It's $20, but I've seen it go on sale
The following users liked this post:
John Pannozzi (07-17-21)
Old 07-18-21, 03:45 PM
  #14  
Senior Member
Thread Starter
 
Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: Colorado
Posts: 812
Likes: 0
Received 2 Likes on 2 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

Thanks for all of the information and replies.
The following users liked this post:
Jay G. (07-18-21)
Old 07-20-21, 03:41 AM
  #15  
DVD Talk Hall of Fame
 
tanman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Gator Nation
Posts: 7,658
Received 285 Likes on 204 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

Originally Posted by Jay G. View Post
GOG has a pack of Lion King and Aladdin:
https://www.gog.com/game/disney_clas..._the_lion_king

It has the SNES, Genesis, and Game Boy versions of Lion King, and the Genesis, Game Boy, and Super Game Boy versions of Aladdin:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0L3DxDCy5I

The combo pack is also available on Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch. It's $20, but I've seen it go on sale
But it's lacking the SNES version of Aladdin which I really wish it had but of course that was an entirely different game made by Capcom so I'm sure they couldn't have included it.
Old 07-20-21, 04:07 AM
  #16  
DVD Talk Hall of Fame
 
tanman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Gator Nation
Posts: 7,658
Received 285 Likes on 204 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

Oddly enough I remember the sound on the Genesis being far worse then the color palette. Not that there weren't some truly iconic soundtracks being produced on the system but from a purely objective standpoint the SNES had far superior sound capabilities.
Old 07-20-21, 07:41 AM
  #17  
DVD Talk Legend
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
Posts: 18,835
Received 248 Likes on 186 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

Originally Posted by tanman View Post
But it's lacking the SNES version of Aladdin which I really wish it had but of course that was an entirely different game made by Capcom so I'm sure they couldn't have included it.
Yeah, all the other versions included for both games were from Virgin Interactive, so licensing a single version from Capcom to include likely would've been difficult.

Originally Posted by tanman View Post
Oddly enough I remember the sound on the Genesis being far worse then the color palette. Not that there weren't some truly iconic soundtracks being produced on the system but from a purely objective standpoint the SNES had far superior sound capabilities.
Be careful trying to apply "objectivity" to a determination of what's good/bad/better/worse. Which sounded better has been a debate since the consoles were released:
https://www.quora.com/Why-did-Super-...share=e407cc72
The short answer is that SNES music is sample-based and Genesis music is usually FM-based. I say ďusuallyĒ because it is possible to make extensive use of samples on the Genesis, as Toy Story did on its title screen, but generally itís more practical to have five FM channels and one sample channel.

Iíll note that itís possible for the SNES to sound almost exactly like a Genesis, while the reverse isnít true, so I would say the SNESís audio is superior. But, as we see in other answers here, many people prefer the sound of Genesis games, so itís largely a matter of taste rather than tech.
SNES vs Genesis Sound Chip
Which you like better is subject of course, but which chip is better? That's also subjective. On paper, the SNES is obviously better. It's a more advanced chipset with two years on the Genny. But that doesn't tell the whole story. The SNES chip was just a bit too forward thinking for its own good. PCM sound is the de-facto standard now, but at the time it wasn't cost effective at all without heavy compression. The SNES chip also forced Gaussian filtering whether developers liked it or not, and that made a bad problem that much worse. The musical possibilities are effectively endless, but they're all going to sound muffled and warbled.

The Genesis on the other hand packs in a good ole' YM2612. It's a simple little six channel synthesizer, but its quite versatile (and yes, @oldyz, it IS stereo, it just happens that early model Genny's only output stereo to the headphone jack). It also happens to be the guts of more sound dev equipment in the 80's and early 90's than you can shake a midi tune file at. The Genesis does have a difficult timing interrupt scheme that few programmers can master. That's where you get gutter trash like Street Fighter Laryngitis Edition. But in the hands of an experienced or talented developer, you get Streets of Rage 1/2, Revenge of Shinobi 3, Shinobi, Vectorman, and so on. If you were really creative, you could even get the main CPU involved to pull off feats like the Toy Story opening theme.

Basically, with the SNES, you were guaranteed to have at least passable quality, but probably nothing great. Genesis tended to suck, but was unbeatable in the hands of a master.

Again, it's all subjective, but don't ever count the Genesis sound chip out. It's the underdog, but does have several advantages over the SNES.
Due to the SNES's used of compressed and Gaussian filtered samples, there's been some fan "restorations" of the soundtracks by tracking down the original samples used and reconstructing and playing back the soundtracks using modern sound hardware:
https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2021/...audio-samples/
The game cartridges couldn't store much data, of course, so the original synthesizer samples usually took a heavy hit in fidelity during the transition to game soundtracks. "The composer [often felt] obligated to sacrifice sound quality to get their music running without any lag and to fit into the cartridge," said Michael, a video game music source investigator from El Salvador..."As a person who enjoys video game music, it made me wonder how the music would sound without those limitations"... He's part of a loose collection of hundreds of video game music (VGM) source investigators who have spent years scouring old audio collections and analyzing classic synthesizer hardware to track down the original, uncompressed samples that were the building blocks for some classic video game tracks.


Here's one of those restorations:
Old 07-20-21, 08:58 AM
  #18  
Moderator
 
story's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Hope.
Posts: 10,631
Received 469 Likes on 287 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

Wow, that's fascinating. Here's a brief side by side comparison analysis:

Old 07-20-21, 11:55 PM
  #19  
DVD Talk Hall of Fame
 
tanman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Gator Nation
Posts: 7,658
Received 285 Likes on 204 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

I get the point Jay and I very much appreciate the information but that's why I carefully said that objectively the SNES had superior sound capabilities. I didn't say anything about the subjective nature of the soundtracks and even said that Genesis era games had some great soundtracks. Some of the very best video game soundtracks of all time IMHO. I will admit the technical difference between the two is a lot more subjective then I thought, but I still contend the SNES sound chip was capable of a lot more then the Genesis sound chip.
Old 07-21-21, 07:39 AM
  #20  
DVD Talk Legend
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
Posts: 18,835
Received 248 Likes on 186 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

Originally Posted by tanman View Post
I get the point Jay and I very much appreciate the information but that's why I carefully said that objectively the SNES had superior sound capabilities... I still contend the SNES sound chip was capable of a lot more then the Genesis sound chip.
I'd say they have different capabilities. Genesis had a FM Synthesizer chip, SNES had a sample-based (soundfont) chip. The SNES had issues with compression and filtering in its samples, and the Genesis was largely limited to sounds that could be synthesized, at least not without getting CPU intensive.

Old 07-22-21, 01:59 AM
  #21  
DVD Talk Hall of Fame
 
tanman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Gator Nation
Posts: 7,658
Received 285 Likes on 204 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

Definitely more subjective then I thought but in your own reference the fact that the SNES can replicate all the sounds of the Genesis but not the other way around makes me tend to believe that the SNES was more capable. But I love learning how limited these machines really were and how creative these developers had to be to work around the limitations. I mean they made some really iconic soundtracks with limited hardware. I'm literally listening to a metal cover of the Batman soundtrack on the NES as I type this.

Old 07-22-21, 09:00 AM
  #22  
DVD Talk Legend
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
Posts: 18,835
Received 248 Likes on 186 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

Originally Posted by tanman View Post
Definitely more subjective then I thought but in your own reference the fact that the SNES can replicate all the sounds of the Genesis but not the other way around makes me tend to believe that the SNES was more capable...
The SNES can "replicate" the Genesis sound by using FM Synth samples, but while it sounds really close, it's not quite as good as the real thing. There's a reason why FM Synths are still popular to this day, instead of just using a soundfont library.

Here's a comparison, "Go Straight" from Streets Of Rage 2 on the Genesis:

And an arrangement for the SNES, reproducing the quality of the SNES chip with its Gaussian filter.

There's definitely something "off" about the SNES reproduction.

Check out the notes in the description on that SNES arrangement:
Audio on SNES it has been know to be muffled. That because to the very downsampled audio effects and it is internal interpolation, the *gaussian filter*. In this case, several adjustments where applied to the audio samples to make it clearer...

It is really hard to make sampled FM sounds because they are two differents tecnologies. On FM side we have (in this case) 4 operators (oscillators) with independent ADSR envelopes, so if we have different settings for each operator, the audio will have a non-uniform loop point, so this may be so long that does not fits on the 64KB of RAM of the S-DSP and S-SMP....

I still prefer the YM2612 chip, because we can create some complex instruments fastly, scalable audio fidelity, etc.
Sample synthesis-based chips will need high quality sound samples, and on the most insane case, pay for good samples.
Both are too good, for synthetic sounds and real life-like sounds, (orchesta sounds) respectively.
The following users liked this post:
tanman (07-23-21)
Old 07-23-21, 04:33 AM
  #23  
DVD Talk Hall of Fame
 
tanman's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Gator Nation
Posts: 7,658
Received 285 Likes on 204 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

That's a pretty interesting comparison. I love the "uncompressed" SNES soundtracks. It's amazing how much was really there before being compressed. It's amazing how much there still is to learn and discover from this era of video games.
Old 07-24-21, 06:44 PM
  #24  
DVD Talk Legend
 
Drexl's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: St. Louis, MO
Posts: 16,075
Likes: 0
Received 15 Likes on 13 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

You know how some Sega CD versions of Genesis games were pretty much the same but with redbook audio? I like to think of SMW with the restored soundtrack as the SNES PlayStation version that might have been bundled with it.
Old 07-24-21, 09:32 PM
  #25  
DVD Talk Legend
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
Posts: 18,835
Received 248 Likes on 186 Posts
Re: Was there a technical reason why the Sega Genesis had a limited color palette?

Originally Posted by Drexl View Post
You know how some Sega CD versions of Genesis games were pretty much the same but with redbook audio? I like to think of SMW with the restored soundtrack as the SNES PlayStation version that might have been bundled with it.
Someone is actually working on something like that, a patch for SMW that you can play using the restored soundtrack PCM files. It uses the theoretical "MSU-1" enhancement chip that can be used in certain emulators and certain flash carts on real hardware.

https://www.zeldix.net/t2227-super-mario-world-restored

There's quite a few homebrew projects that do various enhancements like CD audio and even some Full Motion Video.

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Terms of Service - Do Not Sell My Personal Information -

Copyright © 2021 MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. All rights reserved. Use of this site indicates your consent to the Terms of Use.