I love crisp pixel art, but when you're playing a DOS game on a modern 4K monitor and it looks perfectly sharp, you aren't getting the authentic experience. Old PC games were designed to be played on CRT monitors—y'know, those giant beige things that used to take up half your desk. The image on these displays had a very particular look, which artists of the time took into consideration when they created the art for their games. Check out my new favourite Twitter account, CRT Pixels, and you'll see what I mean.
CRT filters have been around for years, but this one, created by Mattias Gustavsson, is the first really good one I've seen for DOSBox. Better yet, Gustavsson has hacked his filter into a modified version of DOSBox, meaning you don't have to mess around with any settings; you can just download it and play. It comes bundled with a few DOS game demos to show off the filter, but you can hit Ctrl+X to bring up a prompt and run your own games.
"This is just a slightly modified version of the standard DOSBox emulator," writes Gustavsson. "I have just hacked in my own shader which emulates some aspects of old CRT monitors, as I prefer to play emulated games with such a filter, and the built-in DOSBox filters are not to my taste." The filter adds scanlines, subtle chromatic aberration, and a slight curve to the image, which does a very good job of simulating the look of an old PC monitor.
The filter also includes the bezel of a period-appropriate monitor, which is a nice touch, although I would like the option to switch this off and on. Alas, Gustavsson doesn't seem to be interested in updating or expanding the tool. "I made this because I wanted it myself, but since I have it I thought I'd share it," he writes. "There's probably lots of things which could be done better, but it's good enough for my needs right now, so leaving it like this for now."
I'm a fan of purposefully lo-fi visuals, whether it's CRT filters like this, the PlayStation revival scene, or games like Loop Hero and Alien: Isolation, which incorporate these scuzzy, analogue visual elements into their aesthetic. It's partly nostalgia, because I grew up with this technology. But also, it just looks really cool. Emulating games shouldn't be about blowing games up to modern resolutions they were never meant to be viewed at; it should be about recreating the original experience as closely as possible.
A filter will never be as good as an actual CRT display, of course. But for those of us who either can't afford one, or live in tiny apartments where they're impractical to own, this does the job—and does it very well. You can download DOSBox-CRT for free here and see for yourself.