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The NES zapper doesn't work on LCD TVs, but my friend has a Samsung CRT HDTV and was wondering if it would work on that type of TV. Does anyone know?

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up vote 23 down vote accepted

The NES must do the following to "read" the zapper:

  1. Wait until next frame starts
  2. Make the screen black, except for a small area where a target is
  3. Read the zapper to see if it's detecting light
  4. Wait until next frame starts
  5. Make the screen completely black
  6. Read the zapper to see if it's not detecting light

If it detected light in both step 2 and 5, the zapper is not pointed at the TV set and the program should count it as a miss. However, if light was detected in step 2 but not step 5, then the program should count it as a hit. This is why the screen flickers in Duck Hunt, and the duck sprite is replaced with a solid white sprite for 1/60th of a second, when you pull the Zapper trigger.

TL;DR: It should work on any TV if the contrast and response time of the display are good enough.

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you say it should work on any TV, but in practice it only works on CRTs. (Definitely not on LCDs. I haven't tried on plasma or DLP, but I've heard that it doesn't work well on those either.) Is it because LCDs have too low of a response time, or too low of a contrast ratio? If it's the response time, I wonder if new 120Hz LCD TVs will work with it. – Kip Feb 24 '11 at 14:59
@Kip Both. Most LCD TVs have both too slow a response time (which is measured in ms and is not the same as refresh rate measured in Hz) and too low contrast (often the contrast rating is "relative contrast" instead of the more meaningful absolute contrast). – SevenSidedDie Jun 23 '11 at 15:27
Great answer, I've always wondered how the zapper worked. – Jerron Jun 23 '11 at 15:27

I can confirm that on a 32" Sony Wega Trinitron CRT HDTV (with DVI inputs and everything, back then called HD Ready) a grey and an orange NES Zapper/Light gun did not work. I messed with various contrast and brightness settings and I confirmed the guns still worked on an even older CRT. By that point in history the technical requirements of the light guns and the technical specifications of the TVs had already parted ways.

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