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Graphics Games

Making Old Games Look Good On Modern LCDs? 367

75th Trombone writes "I'm a fan of several old PC games — the Myst series, StarCraft, Diablo, etc — with 2D graphics that run at a low, fixed resolution. These games all look horrible on modern LCDs. If you run them at their original resolution, they're tiny, and if you upscale them they get all sorts of blurry, pixelly smoothing artifacts. My ideal goal is to run these games at exactly double their original resolution — running 640 x 480 games at 1280 x 960, for example — so that each original pixel takes up exactly a 2 x 2 block of screen pixels, yielding graphics that are perfectly crisp and decently big. I've tried arcane settings in graphics card drivers (new and old), I've tried forcing the OS to run at a given resolution, and I've tried PowerStrip, all to no avail. Short of writing a new, modern engine for my favorite games, is there a reasonable solution to this problem?" There have been many community-supported graphical overhauls of classic games — feel free to share any you know to work well.
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Making Old Games Look Good On Modern LCDs?

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  • Buy a cheap CRT (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Andorion ( 526481 )
    Problem solved. []
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Andorion ( 526481 )
      Actually, forget the pricewatch link, just check ebay. Plenty of 17-19" monitors for well under $100.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Forget ebay, check Craigslist. Chances are somebody in your neighborhood has an old CRT in their basement they want to sell for $15.

        • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @04:09AM (#30126816) Journal

          Hey, there are people out there who'd be happy to just have you take the clunky thing.

          • Tell me about it, I had my big ass 19" monitor sitting on my desk at work for three years, I tried to sell it, nobody was interested. I tried to give it away for free, still, nobody wanted to take it. I didn't want it taking up room on my desk, so I put it on an unused desk at work. It's still sitting there! I don't have the heart to write "TRASH" on it because it served me well for so many years, but it seems that's all it is now, trash...
        • by bemymonkey ( 1244086 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @04:13AM (#30126840)

          I have two you can have for free. They're here in Germany though... shipping might be a bit expensive ;)

          • Re:Buy a cheap CRT (Score:5, Interesting)

            by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @05:24AM (#30127084)

            I advertised a 17" CRT on Freecycle (London). I didn't expect any replies, but had several! One was from a woman who said she was disabled and would send a taxi round to collect it, but as it was only 10 minutes walk I carried it to her house. She turned out to be a research scientist who'd got an unusual disease (and couldn't walk). She wanted to research it but couldn't get any funding. So, she'd given up her job and was doing her research from home.

            This was 2 years ago, maybe now it'd need to be an LCD.

            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by Gulthek ( 12570 )

              But but, how could she afford healthcare then?

              According to top Fox News scientists everyone part of a public health care system is technically already dead.

      • Re:Buy a cheap CRT (Score:5, Informative)

        by denmarkw00t ( 892627 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @03:26AM (#30126650) Homepage Journal

        Actually, forget eBay, there are plenty of CRTs available at thrift stores (Goodwill, Salvation Army), presumably on Craigslist, and one of the best gaming CRTs I ever got came from a yard sale.

        I know we're nerds, but we too can purchase old televisions at low prices, face-to-face with an actual person ;)

        • Re:Buy a cheap CRT (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @04:48AM (#30126968)

          I love how everyone posting in this thread disregards the question asked and poses a solution that doesn't actually solve the problem.

          I don't want a fucking CRT taking up desk space, and I'm sure the person posing the question doesn't either - or he wouldn't have asked. Hm! Food for thought.

          • ...IPS monitor. If gamers would quit lapping up all those fast, cheap TN crap monitors and start holding out for IPS or even high end PVA monitors those willing to invest in quality products would risk their dollars on advancing the tech. That's just how the market works, the more crap that gets bought the more crap that gets made.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by fm6 ( 162816 )

      Well, that will solve the problem for the next few years. But those old CRTs will die eventually, and then what?

      Also, having a second monitor just to play old games is a pain, especially when that second monitor is a space hog.

  • by slifox ( 605302 ) * on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @03:10AM (#30126578)
    A quick google search turned up the following for Starcraft. You probably want to do a bit of in-depth research before running these binaries... they may be buggy, fake, etc

    One way might be to play Starcraft in windowed mode: []

    Or use a "high resolution" mod. There seem to be a lot of defunct mods like this that probably never worked too well, but the first link might be worth a shot: [] [] [] []
    • by supersat ( 639745 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @05:02AM (#30127014)

      I once wrote a tool called "StarPatch" that lets you run StarCraft in a window. It works by 1) patching a calls to CreateWindow and some DirectDraw initialization functions, 2) patching calls to DirectDraw's Lock and Unlock to return a fake video memory pointer, and 3) periodically copying the fake video memory to the real video memory.

      The source code is almost ten years old at this point, but I've made it available again at []. You'll need to tweak it to work with anything other than StarCraft 1.10, but you can modify it to scale up pixels, etc.

      - Karl

    • Windowed Mode: VM (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @05:32AM (#30127122)

      To get old games into "Windowed Mode" I often run them in a VM

      These games are old enough that a VM can handle their graphics card needs & the underlying CPU can run them through a VM at at least the original CPU speed.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by MistrBlank ( 1183469 )

      Starcraft plays fine in a VirtualBox which creates a custom tailored windowed mode without much hacking. Also there is a high likelihood that you have an old Windows Key for 98 or XP to run it on.

      If you don't install support for the virtual mouse drivers you can keep it locked in the VM.

      If you run VM on Linux you can run Compiz and turn on ADD Helper to black out the rest of the screen.

  • I haven't tried it myself, but what about virtualization? VirtualBox has an addition that lets you run windows at any size you want (in windowed mode).
    • by XanC ( 644172 )

      The problem doesn't appear to be the size of the windows, but the size of the pixels. Virtualization wouldn't help here.

    • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @04:12AM (#30126830) Journal

      There are other problems with playing old games on newer computers - depending on how they handle timing, you'll find that the
      Space Invaders zoom down and kick your ass
      in ways that they just didn't at the original speeds.

      Maybe virtualization can give you a way to slow them down?

      Meanwhile, Nethack works just fine...

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by SCPRedMage ( 838040 )

        Meanwhile, Nethack works just fine...

        Amazing how you never have to worry about turn-based games playing too fast, isn't it?

      • Do you remember back in the days of 386 computers, when they had a "Turbo" button on the case? I can remember having to turn off Turbo mode to play some games that otherwise ran impossibly fast.

        Many cases also had a two display that changed from "16" to "8" (or something similar) when the Turbo button was toggled. This was supposed to represent a change in the clock speed, but what really happened was that cache memory was disabled to make the system run slow.

        My kids think it's hilarious that we used to hav

      • by Orne ( 144925 )

        That's the problem with using hardware to clock your game cycles, we just don't know what the future will bring.

        I've read good things about Mo'Slow [] and Bremze []. Mo'Slow was at least updated through 2006 and says it works with XP, but Bremze development appears to have stalled in 2002.

        • Perhaps it would have been different if I was trying to run windows programs, but I find DOSBox much better for running old dos games than Mo'Slow and cmd on modern hardware. DOSBox is also capable of scaling graphics through a number of different filters to solve the posters original problem... if only he wanted to play Warcraft 2 instead of Starcraft.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mcvos ( 645701 )

      It's not about the size of the window, but the size of the pixels. I think I once managed to get dosbox or something similar to run Elite 2: Frontier using pixels that were 2x2 times as big. Worked very well.

      • The problem isn't just the scaling - it's that the games were designed to be viewed on CRT. Exactly 2x2 pixels does *not* acheive this - on a CRT even at low res, the CRT is more condusive to the eye interpolating detail. Crystal-clear pixels are not how older games are intended to be viewed. I've found some laptop LCDs (i.e. not huge resolution) actually allow you to play old games (e.g. on DOSBox) looking fairly similar to how they should, as the basic scaling to some extent achieves a similar effect to o

    • DOSBox.

      The problem isn't the size of the pixels, it's the funny shading and fuzziness that the LCD does when it tries to operate in a mode that it isn't able to natively display. Straight doubling with no shading looks just fine.

      The .conf line you're looking for is:

      scaler=normal2x forced

  • RealMYST (Score:3, Informative)

    by gehrehmee ( 16338 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @03:15AM (#30126590) Homepage

    For Myst anyways, RealMyst impressed me. Actual 3d models of the puzzles, so you walk where you want. Totally playable in my opinion, and they managed to make it not distract much from the puzzles and art of the thing.

    • because of the DRM. As a longtime fan of the Myst series of games (one of the type that played every one of them from beginning to end without spoilers) I ran out and got RealMyst the moment it came out. The interface was fantastic; it was twice as immersive as the original and just as transparent. But it took me a while to get there.

      As your typical technojunk collector, I had about three optical drives connected to my main PC at the time and about another four or five or varying speeds and burning technolo

  • Try dos games. (Score:5, Informative)

    by sjwt ( 161428 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @03:15AM (#30126594)

    your problem is you are not looking old enough, try runing DOS games in Dosbox [], nice scaling options there.

    • Re:Try dos games. (Score:5, Informative)

      by naz404 ( 1282810 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @04:19AM (#30126870) Homepage
      The ScummVM [] emulator for running classic Lucasarts games like Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle and the Monkey Island series also has a nice set of scalers and graphics filters [].
      • Amen.. I'm just working my way through the Monkey island series on my aspire netbook and ScummVM, and ran through DoTT and Sam'n'Max before that. All look great when re-rendered into full 1024x600, their upscalers are excellent! There are very few aliasing artifacts etc..

        Vavoom [] (+the texture packs) also does a good job on Doom at the same resolution too.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I find that those old 1970s and 80s games run better on Atari 800, Commodore=64, and Amiga emulators. For one thing these computers have fixed specs, so they are as easy to use as a console (plug and play). No need to mess with annoying DOS, sound, or graphic card settings.

        For another the Atari, Commodore and Amiga were typically the best versions of the games with more colors and better sound than the PC DOS versions.


    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sopssa ( 1498795 ) *

      The article poster lists several favorite games of his that he wants to play, and your suggestion is to find older, different games?

  • For DOS games. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by brandorf ( 586083 ) <> on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @03:16AM (#30126600) Homepage
    Well, for DOS games, DOSbox can do a number of different scaling modes. From the Wiki: normal: nearest-neighbour scaling (big square pixels) scan: like normal, but with horizontal black lines tv: like scan, but with darker versions of data instead of black lines advmame: smooths corners and removes jaggies from diagonal lines advinterp: identical to advmame rgb: simulates the phosphors on a dot trio CRT As for old windows games, I hope to hear something else. One last note, Myst was re-released as a "Masterpiece Edition" with higher resolution re-rendered graphics.
    • by Narpak ( 961733 )
      I know that this might be a bit off-topic, but I bought the Tex Murphy games on Good Old Games []. They ran through preconfigured DosBox (same original resolution though) and they worked straight "out of the box" as it were; no problems there at least. They have a lot of other games to if people are interested, though, as I said, don't know about the graphics bit but if DosBox can scale I am sure you can mess around with it as much as you desire.
    • by fm6 ( 162816 )

      DOSbox is indispensable for playing old DOS games anyway. It emulates old platforms, including old hardware, extremely well. And it's a lot less hassle than booting a physical machine into DOS.

  • by Soul-Burn666 ( 574119 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @03:21AM (#30126630) Journal

    A mod was released for these games which pretty much handles higher resolution. It does that not by up-scaling but rather by showing you a larger section of the hand-drawn pixel-perfect game map, keeping the original crispness.
    The mod can be found here [].
    Nice example screenshots for Planescape: Torment here [].

    • Having just played Neverwinter Nights 2 tonight, I have to say that the visuals in Ps:T kick ass. Not kicked, kick. I don't know why they ever moved away from the 2d style, except for ease of mod-making.

      • They want to appeal to a younger audience... Remember when you were growing up (if it was recently enough) and you used to refuse to watch old movies in Black & White, because B&W automatically sucked, and colour was better? Then as you grew up, you started watching movies like Casablanca, Rope, The Maltese Falcon, Psycho, Citizen Kane, and Dr. Strangelove, and realised that there were a huge number of really, *really* good movies that were made in B&W? And that the number of quality films being

    • by sa1lnr ( 669048 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @07:58AM (#30127642)

      I used this process for Planescape Torment []

      Worked a treat, though widescreen v2.1 is linked there it worked fine with v2.2.
      I had to used the nVidia fixer near the end as I have an 8800GT.

      For Baldur's Gate using the Baldur's Gate II engine I use easytutu []

      And for Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura I use drog black tooths unofficial patch, high resolution patch and high res town maps. iirc you have to install the official patch before these two. []

      they are both under "Arcanum" -> "Unofficial"

  • by Rufus211 ( 221883 ) <[gro.hsikcah] [ta] [todhsals-sufur]> on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @03:30AM (#30126664) Homepage

    A number of emulators already have good algorithms for scaling fixed-pixel images that preserve the sharpness while removing aliasing. Wikipedia of course has a page on Pixel art scaling algorithms []. The 2 best ones out there are 2xSal and hqx.

    The problem is that these only work within emulators that implement the algorithms. This clearly does not work for something like StarCraft. Graphics drivers (both ATI and NV) already have options to scale between virtual and physical resolutions. The ideal solution would be for them to offer different scaling algorithms that can be picked - standard bilinear or a modified one for classic games. Everything "just works" then and you get nice graphics.

    I'm not going to hold my breath on ATI or NV ever officially implementing this in their release drivers. However I'm wondering how hard it would be to add an option like this to one of the open source linux X drivers, or maybe even to Wine/DosBox. Also for windows isn't there a way to intercept graphics calls (along the lines of what FRAPs does)? Would it be possible to create a wrapper program that intercepts all the graphics calls and adds a scaling algorithm after each frame is drawn?

    • by Rufus211 ( 221883 ) <[gro.hsikcah] [ta] [todhsals-sufur]> on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @03:33AM (#30126680) Homepage

      And then I notice that DosBox already has this implemented: []

      It should be fairly straightforward for Wine to implement a similar feature.

    • by makomk ( 752139 )

      In theory, you should be able to modify the open source drivers to implement any scaling algorithm that can be implemented as a pixel shader, though it'd probably be a pain to do. (The normal scaling is implemented in fixed function hardware, and is also therefore rather faster.)

  • hqx (Score:3, Interesting)

    by numbertheo ( 1517241 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @03:32AM (#30126674)
    TFA has examples exclusively involving line art and that's pretty much the worst case for standard upscaling techniques. The scaling technique you're been searching for is hqx []. Too bad there isn't any way to get it.
  • by fractalVisionz ( 989785 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @03:43AM (#30126718) Homepage
    "A group at Georgia Institute of Technology has developed a fun little open source program to emulate the CRT effects to make old Atari games look like they originally did [] when played on modern LCD's and digital displays. Things like color bleed, ghosting, noise, etc. are reproduced to give a more realistic appearance."

    From Slashdot story Atari Emulation of CRT Effects On LCDs [].
    • I wonder if they do Artifacting well enough.

      8-bit Atari had this neat mode, Graphics 8, which was a very high resolution monochrome mode. With the fun exception that 2 neighboring lit pixels were white, but a single pixel with no horizontal neighbors was reddish or greenish depending on position. Some games exploited it cleverly, for example Amaroute was mostly normal monochrome but the fence around the game area was red.

    • It's called xanalogtv, it's also used by the Pong and Apple2 hacks
    • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @07:38AM (#30127570) Journal

      I don't like how they presume everyone had crap TVs or poor Ataris.

      Take the Enduro image - it never looked that bad on my real set. The playfields were a solid color (no noise), and the sunset was a rainbow of distinct colors, not a blurry orangish mess. In fact most Atari games look quite crisp, with visible pixels, on my original unit and original CRT.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jellomizer ( 103300 )

        Actually a lot of software written back then was designed for crap TVs. You run these programs say a PC program now you see that it is in 640x200 b&w images. While at the time it had a bunch of colors, at a lower resolution. They took into account that the old TVs couldn't handle 640 width however it will still send the signal so only a few phosphors will get hit in a pixel thus creating color. Or even when we get further along where we got actual computer monitors the old systems had such a low DPI

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          >>>They took into account that the old TVs couldn't handle 640 width however it will still send the signal so only a few phosphors will get hit in a pixel thus creating color.


          Your explanation is wrong. NTSC televisions can easily handle 640-or-more pixels per line, per the original 1930s design spec. The problem is the addition of color (NTSC-II). Chroma resolution is only 150-160 pixels across due to the color signal beng bandwidth-limited to 2 megahertz. So while a television can display

  • software scaling (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mambodog ( 1399313 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @03:58AM (#30126768)
    I dunno, on my 1920x1080 display old games look pretty good using Nvidia (driver) scaling (fixed aspect ratio, scale to fit vertically). Maybe just because its sufficiently high res, scaling artefacts are not particularly noticeable.
  • Isometric 2D RPGs (Score:2, Interesting)

    For Infinity engine-based RPGs — the Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale series, plus Planetscape Torment —, you can use the Gibberlings 3 widescreen mod []. I have also been lucky with Arcanum, since Terra Arcanum hosts a high resolution patch [] that works perfectly.
  • If you're after Myst in particular, there are a number of redone, later editions that support better resolutions and modern operating systems. Check Amazon.

    My favorite is RealMyst, which is a complete 3d recreation of the original game.

    • by ynohoo ( 234463 )
      RealMyst only works up to XP - I was unable to get it working under Vista. Anybody tried on Win7?
  • I have a Samsung 191T that I bought for my wife many years ago. One of my test criteria was that it should display well at other-than-native (1280x1024) resolution. Star Craft looks quite good on it. I recently returned a 1920x1200 LCD because it couldn't even handle 800x600 (literally complaining in a big box, center screen, that the signal was out of range while displaying the image).

    It looks as though LCDs have become like "winmodem"s or super cheap ink-jet printers, which rely on the host system to d

    • All modern NVidia cards use automatic scaling on the GPU. My 2560x1600 monitor doesn't have any scaling at all. It can display only 2560x1600 and 1280x800, period. However, I never notice this limitation because the graphics card can scale any resolution so even if I try some obscure OS like AROS, all VESA resolutions just work. Other modern cards probably also do this, but I haven't tried it. The PS3 doesn't, however so if I connect my PS3 to it, I get a picture in the middle and black borders around it.
  • Blocky scaleup (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sfraggle ( 212671 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @05:28AM (#30127106)

    I'm the author of Chocolate Doom [], which deliberately maintains the low resolution of the original game, but has to run in modern, high resolution screen modes. One of the problems with Doom is that the graphics are designed for non-square pixel modes (the original game ran in 320x200, stretched to a 4:3 aspect ratio screen), so there's the double problem of having to scale everything up to work in a square pixel screen.

    I developed a technique [] that does a blocky scale-up, interpolating the edges of the blocky "pixels" appropriately, so that you end up with a fairly decent looking result []. I don't know if this is useful to the developers of programs like DOSBox, but the code's there [] if anyone wants it.

  • by jez9999 ( 618189 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @05:46AM (#30127164) Homepage Journal

    Heh, this story could almost have written by me. It's the reason I held out so long on getting an LCD instead, and why I have my beloved Samsung CRT sitting still in the loft.

    I was actually quite surprised that ZSNES at 640x480 fullscreen mode, whilst there is a small noticeable interpolation effect, looked quite good. Perfectly playable once you have the graphics being displayed... I almost forget I'm not on a CRT.

    What has been a problem, though, is fast movement. This seems to be a problem inherent to LCDs. :-( Try emulating Sonic 1 (MegaDrive/Genesis) on a CRT vs an LCD. On the CRT, no problems. On the LCD, the rings in particular look fainter, and darker... well, everything seems to look a bit darker as you're running. I guess this is a small form of ghosting, and I don't think there's any way to get round it on an LCD. Any tips would be appreciated. But, I'd say that if you wanna play Sonic or the like, use a CRT.

    By the way, I'm using an NEC MultiSync EA191M.

  • by KevinColyer ( 883316 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @06:11AM (#30127236) Homepage

    Try squinting?

  • Right now I'm playing Fallout 2 with a high rez patch [] on a 22" LCD. I've also got a widescreen mod [] installed for Torment, but it works with any Infinity Engine game.

  • It's all firmware controlled these days, anyway. So hack your monitor to teach it new tricks like displaying video in a subset of the actual LCD pixels available. Blog your results with code.

  • Remote Desktop (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cbhacking ( 979169 ) <been_out_cruisin ... om ['yah' in gap> on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @08:18AM (#30127724) Homepage Journal

    This is going to sound weird, but if your version of Windows supports it, Remote Desktop may solve the problem. You can specify the size of the RD window, and a full-screen application running on the server's remote session will treat that as the maximum display resolution (meaning your graphics card should be able to stretch StarCraft to a 1280x960 RD window happily enough).

    Technically this even works for 3d-accelerated games (the DirectX commands are sent across the network and executed on the client's GPU) but for something as old as StarCraft that won't even matter.

    The catch is that client (non-server) versions of Windows don't allow you to RD from computer X into computer X again, so you'd need to have another computer somewhere with StarCraft installed, preferably located on a LAN.

    Virtualization should also work just fine, especially since there's no risk of 3D acceleration stuff being a problem with games that old. If you have Win7 (Business or higher), you don't even need to install a second copy of Windows yourself; just install Virtual XP mode, have it start in a window (rather than the rootless mode usually used) and set the window's size appropriately.

  • Two options:

    Fix it at your video card:
    Make sure your video card supports video scaling for your monitor. I know for a while, I could tell my nvidia card to handle the scaling to my display for out of scale screens so that it would either stretch, full, or not scale at all and still display using the best native resolution of the monitor by adding letterboxing (in most cases around the whole screen). The video card would thus override the scalar in the monitor as a result.

    Fix it at your video:
    Buy a screen

  • by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Tuesday November 17, 2009 @02:41PM (#30132210)

    Repeat after me: A pixel is not a little square []. CRT monitors reconstruct an image using something closer to a gaussian distribution, rather than a crisp rectangular one [] as you'd get if you simply doubled pixels. The graphics of games made when CRTs were common were made on CRTs and thus take advantage of this. The video game console emulation crowd has faced a similar issue, only there it's more than just a CRT; there's also the distortions introduced by the various composite video encoding schemes (color bleed, fringing, artifacts). You might think that removing these distortions would improve the image, but you have to realize that the artists viewed things on the same systems, and thus tailored the art to look good in those circumstances. It's sort of like a web page designer getting a page to look just right in a buggy browser, even though it looks all wrong in one with proper rendering; here you want the buggy browser, at least if you want to see the page as it was intended.

    The thing that gets me is that a high-resolution LCD could horizontally display exactly what a Trinitron CRT did, as the vertical stripe phosphor pattern matches that on most LCDs. The scaling algorithm would need to simulate the blurred-edge electron beam and mixing between pixels. There would be some sub-pixel action too, as on a CRT.

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor