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The Story
This is a story that didn't want to be released. It saddens me that within the hardest core of Neo fans there is a minority that delights in info hoarding, hard- and software stockpiling, and price manipulation. These people don't want you to know the truth, because they're busy taking money from your wallets and they don't want their gear de-valued. Or maybe not - as with any conspiracy, those who know won't say for sure. In any case, it would appear SNK's engineers were either incompetant or seriously constrained by cost issues. Maybe there were other issues at play, but the bottom line is clear: SNK made significant changes to the video output circuitry sometime around serial number 90,000, and the RGB output for some consoles is markedly better than others.

These changes were subtle at first, but by about number 126,000 the changes drastically decreased the quality of the RGB output. The change was designed to increase the saturation of the composite video output, to allow for brighter, more vivid colours. This was achieved at the expense of the RGB's super-clear output (Which, it could be argued, very few people were using).

What this means to the consumer is simple: approximately 25% of the Neo Geo units produced have superior RGB output, the rest have marginally better composite video output and poor RGB. If you're serious about your Neo you want one of the first 90,000 units.

Or you want to make some serious mods to your system. Or you want an MVS with a Jamma Gear/Supergun. Or you don't use RGB. Or you really just want to play the games, not brag about them and admire the spines of the cart boxes on the shelf. In any case, I'm digressing.

Here's the proof, kids. These screengrabs were made two ways, one with a Data Translations DT-3154 RGB capture card and official SNK RGB cable, and the other with an AlphaData TVK554 composite video capture card using an official SNK Composite cable.

Assuming the chart below accurately represents the different revisions, I tested six of the seven groups. Three revisions were not tested, accounting for the first 20,000 units. The serial numbers tested were:

30,675 (US)
52,607
85,570
126,156
232,699
Korean


This is the serial number breakdown as it was passed on to me:
Serial #RGBComposite
1-10,000
B
B
10,001-14,000
B
B
14,001-19,999
B
B
20,000-33,000
A
B
40,000-65,000
C
A
70,000-150,000
C
A
200,000-390,000
C
A

The Korean unit is reported to be the same as the 232,699 group, and the output seems to confirm this. One interesting discovery was made: The 85,570 unit has darker RGB output, leading me to believe the table is wrong, and that the most significant changes occurred somewhere around the 90,000 mark, not 40,000 or 70,000.

Also interesting, the 126,156 unit has RGB output different than the later units: It lacks the noticable vertical striping, but has an odd checkerboard effect instead. If you count this RGB as 'not bad' then the number of good RGB-producing units is nearly one third. Some might almost prefer this brighter, not-too-stripey RGB.

I think some changes need to be made to the table. Based on my own experience, the actual division for the RGB quality line should be made after the 85,000 mark. Without accurate data I'm hesitant to say exactly when, but definitely between 85,000 + 125,000, give or take a few. Below is a simplified table that should provide accurate results for anyone seeking to purchase a neo system.

Serial #RGBComposite
1-86,000
A
B
86,000-126,000
B
A
127,000-390,000
C
A


Based on this new table there are only three choices to consider, and there's a very acceptable compromise in the middle category. This is, of course, assuming you're concerned only with RGB or composite output. If you want to consider other things like S-video mods, the full original table is located here. Please post in the forum (No registration required) if you have any corrections, comments or suggestions about this article.


The Proof
Please forgive these overlarge pictures. I felt them necessary to give a really good idea of how the output of these systems differs.

Here's the first three models' RGB output. You'll notice it's a little dark, but typically nothing a monitor can't compensate for. I apologize for the 30,675 unit, that's an American system so the logos don't match up.

This next picture shows the later 3 revisions, and here's the big difference in RGB output. As you can see, the striping is quite pronounced, especially on the bright colours.

And there's the proof. Clearly the first units have better RGB output.


Giant Visuals
For reference, here's the entire screen divided into six sections, showing all six units' RGB output. You can clearly see it's not just the composite video that gets brighter, the RGB does as well.

And the composite video output, from all six. Notice how the picture markedly improves on the last three.


RGB vs Composite
Here's a quick comparison of the RGB vs Composite output, just in case any of you were wondering why RGB matters to anyone at all: