(Edit: Previous revisions of this article contained a typo that referenced analog video output from the DB-15 instead of the HD-15 port. This typo has been corrected. To reiterate, the Nt Mini Noir is not capable of outputting analog video from its DB-15 port.)
Retro hardware manufacturer Analogue released several statements today regarding the latest revision of their NES FPGA console, the Nt Mini Noir (a.k.a., the Nt Mini V2). Unsurprisingly, they opened by announcing that the release date for the console had been pushed back four months—from a June/July window to November 2020. While they neglected to elaborate much further, the delay has been attributed to disruptions in global supply chains caused by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
What was surprising was the reveal that Analogue has implemented a variety of significant hardware and software upgrades to the Nt Mini platform. Some of these improvements were announced already, like the improved cartridge slots, but others had only been rumoured until now:
- An upgraded FPGA, scaler, and UI, which all support a host of features present on the Super Nt and Mega Sg.
- “Perfected” NES cartridge slot, designed in house by Analogue.
- Simultaneous digital output over HDMI and analog output over HD15.
- Support for the Analogue DAC, enabling dual analog outputs.
- Completely re-written NES core, FDS audio core, and N163 audio core.
- Optimized composite video output.
- Improved accuracy and stability (“All known game bugs fixed,”).
- A 3.5mm TRRS port for simultaneous microphone input and audio output.
- Controller pass-through mode for decreased input latency.
- User adjustable cart-slot voltages for after market boards that use 3.3v parts.
These improvements bring the Nt Mini platform in line with the expanded feature sets of the Super Nt and the Mega Sg, not to mention competing products from companies like RetroUSB. As an example, arbitrary scaling with interpolation will allow users to render geometry accurately at non-integer sizes without introducing uneven pixel dimensions and juddery scrolling. In addition, Kevtris—the lead engineer behind the Nt Mini—has been releasing information outside of Analogue’s official announcements:
- Just like the original Nt Mini, a jailbreak will be released for the Noir.
- The Noir Jailbreak will include cores from the original jailbreak and some new cores that haven’t been revealed yet.
- The Noir will not support save-states.
- Full NES 2.0 ROM support will be implemented.
- The re-written NES core supports almost 300 mappers, including improved MMC5 and mapper 64 support.
- NTSC 60Hz games will run with correct timings and correct audio pitch when the console is set to output PAL 50Hz video.
- There is limited support for in-line volume control on some headsets plugged in to the Noir’s 3.5mm TRRS port.
- The Noir builds on the original’s extensive audio controls by introducing a host of new features, including tools like low-pass filtration.
Unfortunately, the gaming community’s reaction to these announcements could best be described as mixed.
For some context, the original Nt Mini has a unique feature set and was only sold for a limited time, which has resulted in sky-high prices for them on the secondary market. After three years of soaring prices and pent up demand, a community led petition eventually motivated Analogue to manufacture a limited edition batch of Nt Mini’s, to be sold through a brief pre-order window. Not content to rehash the same design, Analogue pitched the Noir as a new revision of the console that would include some aesthetic and quality of life improvements while providing an experience that was comparable to the original Nt Mini. Some prospective customers took this to mean that few significant changes were in store, so consumers who already owned an Nt Mini or wanted modern features like interpolation decided to take a pass on the Noir.
Fast forward to today, and Analogue has just surprised the retro gaming scene by revealing that they had a little more up their sleeve than we though. Some pre-order customers are thrilled that they will be receiving a marked improvement over the original Nt Mini, while others are frustrated that Analogue withheld information that would have motivated them to purchase the Noir before stock dried up. Add in the confusion and hope surrounding the hole in Analogue’s product lineup that looks suspiciously like a ~$200 FPGA NES, and you have a catalyst for dissatisfaction with Analogue’s approach to marketing.
Of course it bears mentioning that Analogue is no stranger to controversy. The boutique designer has drawn criticism in the past for their onerous shipping costs, the troubled release of the Mega Sg cartridge adapters, and their continued silence on the topic of the Analogue Pocket. Still, they have released truly ground-breaking products in the past and one hopes that the effort it took to upgrade the Noir doesn’t die on the vine with such a limited hardware run. Ideally, more enthusiasts will have access to these new features in the future—hopefully for less than $500USD—but only time will tell. In the mean time, the Nt Mini Noir looks like it is shaping up to be one of the best ways to experience the Famicom/NES/Dendy library on modern displays.