Analogue Nt, the Luxury NES, Returns to Heat Up This Fall's 8-Bit Console Wars

The pricey, limited NES redux will make a comeback back in a smaller, more versatile (not to mention less pricey and less limited) release.

News by Jeremy Parish, .

Hard to believe it, but this year's most heated console war isn't about Xbox versus PlayStation, Scorpio versus Neo, 3DS versus mobile, VR versus AR, or any of those other timely conflicts. No, the deadliest console battleground of 2016 is... the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, which celebrated its 30th anniversary less than a year ago.

NES clones have always been a thing lurking in the background (and we've reviewed a few of them), but the concept leapt to the forefront of the public consciousness last month when Nintendo announced the Classic Mini: NES. That news was followed quickly by a plug-and-play clone console by Christian game publisher Wisdom Tree, and more recently by RetroUSB's promising standalone NES & Family Computer clone, the AVS. A few DIY-type NES projects have grown in prominence of late as well, such as the Hi-Def NES. Now, to round things off, luxury console maker Analogue Co. has announced that their highly coveted and out-of-circulation Analogue Nt will be making a comeback in the form of a new, revamped model called the Nt Mini.

"White dudes holding fake NES consoles in one hand" is this year's big look.

The original Nt launched last year in limited numbers, and I've found it to be an excellent investment despite its steep entry price. Unfortunately, the system fell out of production permanently soon after shipping. Analogue Co. built the console around salvaged boards from actual 8-bit systems, which resulted in a finite supply for the Nt. As such, it's become a highly sought-after device — while it certainly wasn't cheap to begin with (the base model began at $500), it's aftermarket value has already more than doubled in very short order.

With the Mini, the company hopes to address all of these issues: The system will cost less, be more capable on a technical level, and will theoretically never go out of stock.

Analogue's Chris Taber describes the Mini as "a completely new system.

"The motherboard is redesigned from the ground up, into a smaller enclosure," he says. "We had to redesign and re-engineer everything to be able to get the price down so much."

Where the original Nt contained repurposed Nintendo-manufactured boards, the Mini will run on a field-programmable gate array core. Lately, FPGAs have become the go-to solution for retro clone consoles, thanks to their combination of high fidelity and updatability. The Mini's FPGA core has been developed by Kevin "kevtris" Horton, a highly regarded emulation expert and the man who designed the original Nt's HDMI mod. RetroUSB's upcoming AVS console also runs on an FPGA, though Taber describes the Mini's as more powerful and versatile.

"The AVS's FPGA is a Xilinx Spartan-6 (about $18 for the part) and the Nt mini uses an Altera 32bit Cyclone V (about $50 for the part)," he says. "This is one of the reasons why the AVS only has 720p [output] — the FPGA doesn't have enough power and space to offer a 1080p output."

The Nt Mini will feature both HDMI and high-quality analog RGB video-out — it's no longer an either/or scenario.

Analogue is touting the Mini's output capabilities as its major selling point. It's certainly a more versatile machine than the older Nt, likely thanks to Horton's involvement in the development process. The first Nt model output high-quality analog video by default, a multi-layered signal that supported composite, S-video, component, and RGB connectors; unfortunately, installing the optional HDMI mod overrode the analog signal, stripping away everything except low-end composite support. While the HDMI mod added a huge array of new features, it meant anyone who wanted to play light gun games on a CRT had to settle for a substandard signal. (As such, I've never upgraded my own Nt to use HDMI, as I sometimes need to capture RGB video of games like Duck Hunt.) The Mini, however, will support both digital HDMI at 1080p while still offering a full spectrum of analog video-out in original 240p resolution. It will also offer these digital capabilities right out of the box, whereas the original hardware model relegated HDMI to an optional mod that added another $80 to the console's already sizable price tag.

That said, as Taber's comments about the Mini's FGPA core suggest, the Mini will still command a premium sticker price. Where the AVS sells for $185, the Mini will ship at $449. However, Taber notes that the Mini offers considerably greater value for the money than the original Nt (it also includes a wireless controller, which was an add-on with the older model), and altogether comes in at about $200 less than a comparable standard Nt package did while offering a more impressive feature set. The Nt Mini will carry forward the company's obsession with high-end materials and design; its shell will be a scaled-down version of the older model's machined aluminum exterior, for example.

"Our goal with the Nt mini was to create a sort of template for all the fundamental features we'd like each of our products to have," says Taber. "To be a true reference quality video game system. We refined it based on customer feedback."

In light of the Mini's price and feature set, this year's 8-bit console war is shaping up to be less of a battle and more like a case of separate, complementary markets: Nintendo's Classic Mini for casual players, the AVS for dedicated hobbyists, and the Nt Mini for even more serious enthusiasts. I'm interested to see how each compares to the other, and the first results will be in soon: Our review of the AVS will be up later this week, and we'll have an in-depth look at both "Mini" NES clones — Nintendo's and Analogue's — once they become available as well. In any case, it looks as there should be no shortage of options for high-quality NES gaming, whatever your budget and needs, and Analogue's new mini-console means there's one more choice available.

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Comments 25

  • Avatar for bad-scott #1 bad-scott A year ago
    Bah! I just ordered the AVS yesterday thinking I wouldn't see another run of the Nt. Now I'm torn...
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #2 jeremy.parish A year ago
    @scottrothman97 We'll have an AVS review up this week, so maybe hang on to your preorder until then so you can decide? I feel like you can't go wrong either way, honestly.
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  • Avatar for Dreamcaster-X #3 Dreamcaster-X A year ago
    This is great & all but when is somebody gonna do this with SNES/Super Famicom??
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  • Avatar for internisus #4 internisus A year ago
    Jeremy, how do you feel about the use of the Altera Cyclone V FGPA here instead of original hardware? At this price point, I'm looking for absolute authenticity. I could take the money I would spend on the Nt Mini and instead pick up a Famicom AV, send it off to Retro Fixes for RGB and audio modifications, and run it through my Framemeister. I would know that everything looks and sounds precisely as it was originally intended to, albeit with cleaner output, and I'd probably even save a bit of cash versus buying from Analogue!

    The Mini is "only" emulating that hardware. I know from watching Good Nintentions how much accuracy means to you, so I would really like to know what you would do if you didn't already have your Nt. Would you spend an absurd sum on a second-hand original Nt? Would you use modified Famicom hardware? Or would you feel comfortable with what amounts to a very high-end clone board?

    Perhaps the most straightforward way to ask this question: Hypothetically, if you could choose between the Nt and the Nt Mini at the same price point, which would you buy?Edited August 2016 by internisus
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  • Avatar for Mega_Matt #5 Mega_Matt A year ago
    Very nice. I was always kind of kicking myself for not getting the first NT. The only reason I didn't pick one up was because I already had an RGB modded Top Loader, and I thought it would be a little excessive to own both. Oh well, I already put down my pre order...
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #6 jeremy.parish A year ago
    @internisus There's more to this than I can really put into a comment response, but: At some point, emulation becomes necessary, simply for the limitations and restrictions on original hardware. At some other point, emulation becomes indistinguishable from original hardware, because its accuracy is impeccable. The hope is that we hit point two before point one. I don't know if the Nt Mini (or the AVS) offer that, but I will definitely do my best to learn... though I admit I'm not a technical nitpicker like our friends at Digital Foundry. As long as the experience FEELS right, it's good to me.

    I feel like FPGA retro consoles will fully come into their own when they start targeting HDR 4K televisions. At 4K, the debate between 720/1080p becomes moot, because 2160 lines of resolution is enough to create a very convincing simulation of 240p. Throw HDR into the mix and you have the potential to create scanline effects that convincingly emulate CRT phosphor glow, and that can be tweaked to emulate specific CRT models. Eventually (maybe 10 years from now?) it's going to be incredible.

    For now, I hope to check out a review unit of the NT Mini and see how it compares to a standard NT. I like the idea of its versatility for sure. If it compares, I'll quite possibly sell my original NT and buy a Mini. Accuracy is important, but so is pragmatism!
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  • Avatar for Patrick-C #7 Patrick-C A year ago
    So this is a superior unit to the original that's also cheaper?

    That's ... kind of unfortunate if you bought an original NT, although I guess you've also been able to enjoy it for an extra year-plus, so you win some and you lose some.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #8 donkeyintheforest A year ago
    @jeremy.parish Scanlines and great emulation on 4k, emulation of specific CRTs... that sounds wonderful!

    I think its time to coin a phrase like videogamophile or something.
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  • Avatar for UnknownJones #9 UnknownJones A year ago
    I was hoping Analogue's next project would be an "SNT." I can hardly wait for SFC/SNES clones to gain market traction the way FC/NES clones have.

    Still, this is excellent news in its own right. Here's hoping the accuracy of the Mini is as good as they say it is.Edited August 2016 by UnknownJones
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  • Avatar for internisus #10 internisus A year ago
    @jeremy.parish Using HDR to emulate phosphor glow—that's some crazy retrofuturism that I hadn't heard of before!

    Thanks much for your insight. I suppose a wait-and-see approach is less risky with this model since it isn't using chips that exist in a limited quantity like the Nt did.
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  • Avatar for victorehunter #11 victorehunter A year ago
    Came here as soon as I saw Analogue's tweet about the mini and I was not disappointed that this article already existed.

    Really looking forward to your AVS review!
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #12 jeremy.parish A year ago
    @internisus I don't know if that would actually be possible, but now that I've spitballed it, I really want it.
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  • Avatar for Galgomite #13 Galgomite A year ago
    @scottrothman97 At this point I think the cheaper alternative is the only one that makes sense. We're past original hardware now, so there's nothing special or collectible under the hood, and ever-better, ever-cheaper iterations will always be just around the corner (the first being built-in bluetooth, no doubt).
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  • Avatar for orient #14 orient A year ago
    @Dreamcaster-X Tell me about it -- wake me up when companies like this start producing quality 16-bit clone consoles. I get the importance of the NES, but now the HD NES market is well and truly catered to, it's time to move on to bigger and better experiences.

    The truth is most 8-bit game concepts were drastically improved upon and fleshed out in the 16-bit era, moving away from pure arcade experiences and solidifying the long-form console experience. Also from a visual perspective, the colour range of most 16-bit systems means the games still look appealing today, whereas the limited colour palette of the NES is pretty nasty to look at if you don't have fond childhood memories associated with it.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #15 VotesForCows A year ago
    @Patrick-C Well the original has original NES hardware, doesn't it? Whereas the new one is based on emulation. So its not quite the system, though I guess different people will evaluate the merits of each system differently.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #16 VotesForCows A year ago
    @orient I largely agree with you. I have those memories, and love the look of games from the 8-bit period. Whats surprising to me is that my wife also prefers the look of 8-bit games, with zero experience of it. I think there's something in the cleanness or lack of clutter of the presentation. The screen are often less busy, and visually simpler.
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  • Avatar for orient #17 orient A year ago
    @VotesForCows I respect that. For me it's all about the colours. It's hard to find NES games that are visually appealing to me because the palette is mostly made up of primary colours and gaudy shades that just don't blend well together. Look at any NES game compared to Phantasy Star or Fantasy Zone for Master System and the NES's limited palette is immediately apparent.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #18 VotesForCows A year ago
    @orient That's a good point. It's so long ago that I forget not all 8-bit consoles were created equal!
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  • Avatar for internisus #19 internisus A year ago
    @orient I certainly understand not liking it, but for a lot of people that gaudiness in the color palette is a big part of the appeal!
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  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #20 KaiserWarrior A year ago
    @Patrick-C That is debatable. What it is, is a DIFFERENT unit from the original. The output and input (controller) capabilities are undeniably superior to the base Nt, if that's what you care about.

    But the guts are different. The Nt is an actual NES/Famicom board with the higher-fidelity output and extra input options bolted onto it. The Nt Mini is a clone board that emulates NES/Famicom hardware. How well does it emulate? That we don't know yet. They claim it emulates very well. Time will tell.

    Unfortunately, we're fast approaching the point where the argument of which is better is moot. The Famicom is over 30 years old now. Original boards are getting more and more rare, and original boards in working condition even moreso. Nobody's ever going to manufacture more of them. We can only hope that emulation will hit the "indistinguishable from the real thing" stage before it's gone forever.

    All I can do is hold on to my original hardware and maintain it as best as I possibly can for as long as I possibly can.
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  • Avatar for garygalloway29 #21 garygalloway29 A year ago
    @jeremy.parish And selling the NT will pay for itself and the mini.
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  • Avatar for garygalloway29 #22 garygalloway29 A year ago
    @Dreamcaster-X Wouldn't be surprised if it's within five years.
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  • Avatar for Galgomite #23 Galgomite A year ago
    I was hopeful that Analogue would move onto 16-bit as well. I imagined a Sega Genesis with 32X and CD built-in. I suppose they're obliged to stick with the NES as long as they can though, as Kevtris already had the design and I don't think any other console commands such a following.
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  • Avatar for ironjoe99 #24 ironjoe99 A year ago
    I have to say that while the FPGA is programmable with updates, I'm still not sold on either this or the AVS. At this point, no one knows what the compatibility is going to be like. I'm not suggesting everyone run out and XRGB and RGB mod it, (can that be a verb?) but I doubt this is at 100% compatability at this point. The analogue NT wasn't and it included the original famicom guts.

    Also, updates to the Analogue were a pain unless you owned a flash cart. You actually had to wait for them to mail you one. I say wait Jeremy to test the machine to the brink and then put in your pre-order. I hope he has an everdrive, as that had problems on the NT.

    On a final note, bravo to both companies for not trashing old famicoms to make new systems. FPGA seems be the wave of the future, but I'm still a sucker for the real thing.
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  • Avatar for Lane #25 Lane 10 months ago
    Following up on a 7 month old article here, but the Analogue NT Mini is a far more attractive option now. Kevtris (the guy who designed the NES FPGA core used int he Mini) has since released is "jailbreak" firmware that hosts about a dozen more cores - Gameboy, Gameboy Color, Game Gear, Master System, SG-1000, Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Colecovision, Odyssey 2, RCA Studio II, AdventureVision, Gamate, Gameking, Spectravision, and I'm probably forgetting a couple. *And* it allows you to play games off the SD card.

    $450 for the NT Mini is still pricey as all get-out, but you get a lot more bang for your buck now.
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