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Console Image Quality Guide 269

Posted by michael
from the big-screen dept.
Jakub writes "We've posted a comprehensive guide on how to improve your console's image quality. It covers everything from the various connectors through cables to fine-tuning by modifying sharpness and brightness. Though the article uses the prolific PlayStation 2 as an example, it applies equally well to all video devices."
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Console Image Quality Guide

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  • Text of article (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @10:07AM (#4373206)
    The Basics

    Introduction

    If you only remember one thing from this article, remember this: After the memory card, the single most important upgrade for your console is an upgraded video cable.

    Some of you may be surprised to read that the PlayStation 2 and TV are not configured for an optimal picture and audio quality straight out of the box. Neither is an Xbox or Gamecube. Some of you may be familiar with upgraded cables, but be unsure about the advantages on a "regular TV" as opposed to an exotic $15,000 plasma. Others may wonder if ultra-high-end cables such as those from Monster Cable are actually better than other cables. In this feature, we'll look at these questions and try to explain some of the concepts behind video quality without being too technical. We'll focus mostly on the PlayStation 2, as it is the most popular console, but by the time you finish reading this, you'll know how to maximize your console's picture and sound performance, whether you have an AV system that's 10 years old or 10 days old. This is a comprehensive article, so make sure you're comfy before you start reading.

    Background Check

    The first step in tweaking your console picture quality is using an appropriate video cable, and to do this we'll need to know the supported inputs for your TV. So, you'll either need to find your TV manual or take a look at the back panel of the TV as you read this next section.

    RF Connector

    All of you will have an RF connector. This is the input you normally use for your TV antenna and represents the oldest and worst format available. With this connection, the audio and video signal from the console must be converted into a "Cable/Antenna" channel for Channel 3 or 4. In the process, not only is the video quality greatly reduced but your console will also be limited to reduced-quality mono sound. If this is the only connector you have on the back of your TV, we're really sorry. There's not much you can do to improve your picture quality other than buying a new TV.

    Composite

    The composite video connector is the next most common input found on TVs, and unsurprisingly this is what the PS2, Xbox, and GC ship out of the box. In this approach, the video and audio signals are sent separately. Once the signal from the console system reaches the TV, it is decoded into separate luma (a form of brightness or intensity) and chroma (color) information.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @10:10AM (#4373220)
    Beyond the Basics

    S-Video (also called S-VHS)

    The Super-Video connector was introduced a little over a decade ago, is present in almost every TV sold today, and has been included on most good TVs for the last 5 years or so. Although the S-Video connector looks like it also uses one cable to carry the video, the brightness and color run as independent signals. Doing this improves the resolution of the image itself, and more interestingly eliminates "dot crawl" and "color bleeding."

    Remember when I said that composite video keeps the color and brightness information together and that the TV separates it later? What do you think happens if the separation is imperfect and a tiny bit of color signal remains in the brightness signal? The answer is "dot crawl" or "chroma crawl." With a composite cable, you end up with waving edges anywhere there is a sharp contrast in color. On the TV, this will be particularly annoying since the waving edges actually vibrate, creating a crawling effect.

    Color bleeding or cross luminance occurs is another problem caused by imperfect separation of the luma and chroma signals. This specific artifact occurs when the brightness signal changes so quickly that the TV interprets it as being part of the color signal. This causes colors to appear on fine black and white details such as pinstripes. With S-Video, the brightness and color signals never mix and so you won't have either problem. Pretty cool, huh? So how does it look?

    Final Fantasy X composite Final Fantasy X Monster-S

    FFX composite zoomed FFX Monster-S zoomed

    Using a S-Video cable will improve the color, sharpness, and "stability" of an image on any TV. Now, I should add that taking screenshots of image quality can be a problem because on the TV, the image will be blown up, you'll be sitting farther, and things will be in motion. To give you an idea of what the difference is, I've made two pictures of a paused DVD.

    Titanic generic cable Titanic Monster-S

    Component Video (also called Y-Pb-Pr or Y-Cb-Cr)

    At first glance this may look just like a composite input. There are at least three connectors, but instead of a single yellow connector, you have red, blue, and green connectors. With S-Video the luma and chroma signals were kept separate, therefore reducing unnecessary processing (on both the source and display). Well it turns out that the color signal itself originates as two separate pieces of information. So with component video, the chroma signal is in its two separate versions, further improving the signal integrity. The component video format has enough headroom for HDTV resolutions and is as pure as the video signal can get with a DVD source and as good as it gets for games on a North American TV.

    Here, things get tricky. Without spending five thousand dollars, it's impossible to take screenshots using a component connector, so you'll have to trust us. We figure that you would probably prefer that we spend that $5000 toward bringing you more PC hardware or PC/console gaming articles. With component video, the color range is expanded resulting in slightly richer and deeper images. Another way to think of it is that the colors are more accurate with greens looking greener and reds looking redder. It's subtle at first, but once you see the difference, you'll always see it. Your mileage may vary to a certain degree. The higher quality your S-Video comb filter is (the part that splits the chroma image into its two primary components), the smaller the improvement in component video.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @10:11AM (#4373239)
    Choosing a cable

    Choices, choices

    If we all had infinite budgets, wed all get a TV in the 5-digit price range, and get the best component cables money could buy. In the real world, component video cables are more expensive than S-Video cables, and composite cables are free! So what should you do?

    If the best connector on your TV is S-Video, there is no debate: you should not hesitate to make this upgrade. For DVDs and games, youll notice a dramatic improvement in color fidelity and resolution, as well as the elimination of dot crawl and color bleeding. This will be true on every TV whether its a 15 or 80. Its that simple.

    GT3 on standard composite GT3 on Monster-S
    THX on standard composite THX on Monster-S
    Pearl Harbor on standard composite Pearl Harbor on Monster-S
    FFXs Yuna on standard composite FFXs Yuna on Monster-S

    Weve paused a DVD and captured a video to show you what the difference between S-Video and Composite will look like on your TV. For best results, youll want to configure your Quicktime to loop the move.

    Standard cables S-Video cables

    Deciding whether or not to get a component video cable is a little bit trickier. Many Xbox games support high-definition or progressive scan video. Fewer Gamecube and PS2 titles support progressive scan (480p). No console currently supports progressive-scan DVD, although we always hear that its in the pipeline for the PS2. Since there are many games on all three platforms that do not support progressive scan, you will be buying component cables primarily for the improvement in color accuracy. This improvement is most noticeable in movies (both DVD and FMV) and less so in games because textures can be compressed.

    If youre in this situation, its a question of whether or not you use your PS2 or Xbox as a DVD player or if you like games such as RPGs, which can be FMV heavy. Since DVDs benefit the most from a component connection, if your stand-alone player is already using your only component input, then your best bet would be a S-Video cable for your console.

    What about Monster Cable?

    Hopefully weve convinced you that S-Video is immensely superior to a standard composite connection, and that the primary advantage of component video is improved color rendition. Perhaps the most interesting question is whether or not there is a difference between the premium Monster Game products from Monster Cable and generic cables. We obtained a complete set of Monster PS2 products to answer this question.

    Not even Monster Cable will disagree with the statement that Monster Game products are expensive. Over 40 million PlayStation 2 consoles have been shipped, and Monster Cable isnt looking to also sell 40 million PS2 cables. Like other luxury items such as a diamond or exotic sports car, squeezing the last bit of performance always seems to cost a lot. How important is that extra bit of clarity in a diamond, or the one-second improvement on your quarter mile? Thats not something we can easily answer for you. The better question is if there is any measurable quality difference between the Monster Cables and generic cables, or if its just marketing and a longer cable that you are paying for. Ive seen a lot of people on message boards say no, but after reading the next part, well explain and prove to you that the answer is yes, Monster Cables do make a difference.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @10:12AM (#4373248)
    A Crash Course in Cable Theory

    24 karat Gold Plated Connectors with 8-cut Turbine Connector and Split-Tip Center Pin

    Before we show you the results of our testing, it makes sense to go over a little bit of the theory behind cables. Designing speaker and video cable takes a lot of science and a lot of experience and empirical evidence. From a high school physics perspective, it may seem as if cables shouldn't matter very much. It's not "doing anything" like a transistor, resistor, or a capacitor -- it's just a path for moving electrons. Certainly everything has resistance and so maybe an ultra thin or a really long cable might be bad, but none of this seems to apply to 6 or 10 feet of a PS2 cable. Once you take a university physics class, you suddenly realize that there's much more going on in the real world. You have to worry about inductance and the geometry of conductors and that's just the beginning. Instead of trying to teach the physics behind designing cables, I'll just step through a few of Monster Cable advertised features and separate the marketing from the science.

    Even if I had all the money in the world, I would still take a copper cable over one made entirely of gold. Why? Believe it or not, the conductivity of copper is much better than that of gold (pure silver is the best). So why are gold connectors used? It doesn't corrode very easily whereas copper and silver would. An ultra pure copper or silver connector would be awesome until it corroded and deteriorated. Since gold connectors won't corrode, performance is preserved over the long run. Regular cables use nickel connectors that aren't as inert or conductive. The oxidation that occurs with non-gold connectors is a very poor conductor. I once had an old cable that I though was defective until I cleaned off the oxidation.

    Expensive toys

    What's this business about an 8-cut Turbine Connector and split-tip center pin? The simple answer is that this provides a tighter grip. With a tighter connection, there is less-conductor exposed to the air and more surface contact between the connectors. This prevents dust from getting in between the two connectors connector, and also reduces the TV or receiver's connector to air moisture (preventing corrosion), further improving the signal transfer in the long run. The goal is to try to create as close to a cold weld as possible. A cold weld is when you metal are compressed under such great force that they deform and eliminate any air between them.

    So, having gold and segmented connectors will only do a little bit to improve your immediate performance, but go a long way in maintaining the quality of the cable over the years. One caveat, is that the Monster turbine connectors are infamous for ripping the RCA jacks off of your equipment, so be careful when attaching and removing the cables.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @10:19AM (#4373295)
    Conclusions

    Now that you've reached the end of this enormous article, you should now have a good idea on what you need to do to tweak your console's audio and video setup. As we mentioned at the very beginning, an upgraded video cable is the single most important upgrade for your console after the memory card. There's no excuse to use a standard composite A/V cable if your TV supports S-Video. Just remember to tweak your TV's picture settings as we've described earlier.

    So what about Monster Cable? I think simple answer is to use common sense. Don't go pick a composite Monster Cable over a generic S-Video cable. Second, if you have a very old or budget TV, the extra quality may not matter to you or be noticeable. However, if you have a high-end TV and demand the best possible picture quality from your PlayStation 2, Xbox, or Game Cube, Monster Cables are they way to go. We've given you visual proof that Monster Game video products from Monster Cable really do offer something extra over generic cables.

    For audio, the only improvement you can make is the use of an optical cable -- just buy the one you're most comfortable with. In terms of performance, optical cables are essentially identical. If you move your console around a lot and are worried about cracking a generic optical cable, then a more durable high-end cable makes sense

    Video

    RF connector - 2.5
    Composite - 10
    Monster Gamelink 200 - 15
    S-Video - 80
    Monster Gamelink 300 - 85
    Component - 90
    Monster Gamelink 400 - 95

    Audio

    Standard Analog Cables - 40
    Monster Analog - 50
    Standard Optical - 70
    Monster Lightwave 100 - 71
    Audiophile Grade Optical Cable - 72

    ALL 10 pages posted AC for karma safety :)
  • by UserChrisCanter4 (464072) on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @10:22AM (#4373317)
    There are plenty of TVs out there that display 1920x1080 (the HD standard).
  • Re:ad for monster (Score:5, Informative)

    by jonnythan (79727) on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @10:24AM (#4373337) Homepage
    But the article is all about Monster Game.

    Any audio or videophile will tell you Monster Cable is way overpriced... and Monster Game?! Stick another name on it and up the price!

    There is tons of good cable out there. Notice he didn't compare the Monster Game S-Video with the $6 Wal-Mart S-Video. Hmmm.
  • by mbourgon (186257) on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @10:25AM (#4373344) Homepage
    Not sure which one to buy, but apparently (and according to everyone in the office who bought it - damn my television's 1 S-Video!) the difference between RCA and S-Video is nothing short of stunning. Not sure if the monster cable is worth however much extra they get over the Microsoft (or generic) kit, but if you have the ability, get the S-Video cable.

    Now if it only helped the gameplay...
  • Slashdotted already? (Score:4, Informative)

    by UserChrisCanter4 (464072) on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @10:35AM (#4373409)
    I can't even get to the article, but it seems pretty simple.

    Don't use the composite video cables that came with your system. All kinds of TVs from 19" on up now ship with S-Video and even Component inputs (JVC ships a 20", 25", and 27" TV with component-in), so if you're anywhere near being in the market for a TV, there's no reason why you shouldn't be getting one with those inputs. $25 gets you the Sony-brand component cables, ditto for Nintendo (although you have to order them off of Nintendo's website). XBox component cables have been a little cheaper, $20 at most places, but the cables themselves look kind of cheap.

    While the difference between S-Video and Component isn't quite as pronounced (I mostly only see the difference in the colors, not in the fidelity of the picture), the difference between composite and either of the upper-tier inputs is enormously pronounced. On larger televisions in particular (32" and up), you can see very pronounced scan lines and blurriness of the image when using composite cables. The Nintendo Gamecube can give you a great demonstration fo this fact. The back of the unit has the standard video-out and then the "digital-out" port where the component video hooks in. You have to have both jacks connected and active, since the video is only fed on the component port, and the analog audio is still fed along with the composite video. Hook up both signals, turn on a game, and just flip back and forth between component and composite. You'll see what I mean.

  • by Rude Turnip (49495) <[valuation] [at] [gmail.com]> on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @10:38AM (#4373429)
    If your TV has only one S-video connector, get yourself an A/V switch box that lets you plug in multiple sources (VCR, PS2, XBox, Camcorder, etc) and then just hit a button on the switch box to switch the source going to your TV. I bought one made by Pelican that has 5 inputs (RCA video & audio & S-video options for each input) and even RF in/out if you really need it for only $25 at Best Buy.

    As for the quality of S-video, I find the picture vastly sharper and clearer than using RCA video. When I was living at home still, my mom's TV had S-video. I hooked up the Dish Network receiver using both RCA and S-video to compare both. The S-video blew RCA away. The RCA video image appeared kind of grainy and especially so with the on-screen guide. This was using the generic S-video cable that came with the Dish Network receiver and nothing hyped-up at all.
  • Re:ad for monster (Score:3, Informative)

    by BaronVonDuvet (612870) on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @10:41AM (#4373442)
    I worked in hi-fi/tv sales for a number of years so spent quite a long time trying different cables. All hi-fi people agree that the cheap cable you get in the box isn't up to much and that a slightly more expensive shielded cable will give you better results. The problem is the differences are small, so most people would be hard pushed to tell the difference between a very expensive cable (such as Monster) and something cheap from Wal-Mart.

    It's definitely better to have something like S-Video rather than an RF connector. However, a cheap S-Video would only look bad compared to a more expensive cable if you are using good quality Home Cinema equipment. I'm not convinced the output of a game from a console is that good. Generally you'd be better off cleaning the screen, buying a cheap connector and breaking & making the connections periodically to avoid the build-up of dirt.

  • Some missing points (Score:4, Informative)

    by MetalHead666 (532749) on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @10:44AM (#4373460) Homepage
    This was a fairly good guide, but not as comprehensive as one could wish.

    As one reader noted it would have been interesting if they actually wrote about something other than cables, eg how to set up your TV/HDTV/projector to make things look as good as possible, how VGA-boxes compare and so forth. And as far as I am concerned, Monster Cable are not by far the only manufacturer of high-end cables. Interact make some good stuff too, and about a million Hong Kong-manufacturers have different budget variants that will improve your results, if not by as much.

    More specifically, a note that while MC do produce S-Video cables for all recent consoles, the PAL GameCubes do not support this kind of output, and thus a little test of RGB-Scarts wouldn't have been such a bad idea, eh? Especially considering that more people have Scart/Euro-connectors than S-video on their TVs, and that an RGB-Scart is easily on par with S-video output.

    Since most people also only have one "good" Scart input on their TV set, a little write-up on different Scart-splitters and how they affect the quality would have been nice too.

    Well, well, just a few thoughts. I guess we'll have to test these things ourselves, seeing as they who wrote the article are sponsored by MC and not interested in alternatives, which the consumer always is...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @10:44AM (#4373463)
    There are currently no games on any console with high definition output (720p, 1080i). The first true high definition console game to be released is Dragon's Lair 3d for the Xbox, and is supposed to be 1080i.

    However, all Xbox games (with 1 or 2 small exceptions) are progressive scan (480p) which gives a small improvement is visual accuity over normal output (480i).
  • by Sarin (112173) on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @10:45AM (#4373467) Homepage Journal
    I had a spare 21" monitor here, so I thought it would be nice to buy a vga adaptor for my playstation 2.
    It's definately not worth the money:

    -some games were black/white, it had something to do with the pal/ntsc switching of the console.
    -the games that were displayed in color were in some sort of scanlined resolution on the monitor with a very low refresh-rate.
    -there was no way to tweak the settings.

    A couple months later I bought a better scart adaptor for my television set, which made the image a lot clearer and I gave the monitor to my little brother.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @10:48AM (#4373484)
    As soon as the world realises that SCART/RGB is the way to go the better.

    It will only cost you about £6 for the cable for most consoles and gives you full 3 channel R G B for
    your TV
  • Re:ad for monster (Score:3, Informative)

    by _|()|\| (159991) on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @11:33AM (#4373762)
    Notice he didn't compare the Monster Game S-Video with the $6 Wal-Mart S-Video.

    Actually, if you made it to page six, the article does just that. I couldn't see a difference, except in the zoomed-in screenshot.

  • by fireboy1919 (257783) <rustyp.freeshell@org> on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @01:17PM (#4374557) Homepage Journal
    And any true audiophile who has done a blind test (switching the cables on their system using EXACTLY the same speakers/reciever/amps) will tell you that cables aren't important and that the rest of the audiophiles have been fed a line.

    Any such audiophile who does research on the physics of cables will come up with the knowledge that the very, very, slight benefits of higher end cables can only be achieved at lengths of greater than about HALF A MILE.

    You can argue this 'till you're blue in the face, of course, but I suggest that instead you use the scientific method: hook your cheap cables and your good cables up to a switch so that all the other equipment is the same. See if it makes any difference whatsoever.

    I have a friend with a LOT of monster cable who became a bit depressed after this test, because he owned a LOT of Monster cable. He could have spent the money on even more expensive speakers to actually improve his sound.

    Qualifier: there is a difference between shielded and unshielded, twisted pair, and straight. However, there is very little difference between Radio Shack 16 gauge shielded, twisted pair and Monster 16 gauge shielded, twisted pair.

    My qualifications: I've been a sound technician for 9 years now, and a musician for 17 years. I can play four instruments, have a vocal range of three octaves. I have worked VERY hard to have a critical ear over this time period, and I think I do.
  • >We did a blindfold test. I could hear the difference in microphone cables. Line level cables are harder but at least 80% of the class still got it.

    EE says that's highly unlikely, unless you were comparing something like balanced vs. unbalanced cables. I really, really, really doubt that a reasonbly cheap Mic cable (not the absolute bottom barrel) and an expensive Mic cable have anything different other than durability (I think a 2-input summing/inverting Oscilloscope could show there's no difference). But, in the home stereo world, you don't get balanced, so you need to stick with decent quality cables.

    If you're really worried, use RG-6 satellite cable for home stereo stuff. Cheap, easy to get ahold of, and if the quality is good enough to carry 1 GHz 100 ft., 20 kHz is not going to be a problem.

    >Furthermore you can hear the difference between minidisc and CD and MP3.

    Go here [r3mix.net] and read it. 320 kbps MP3 (which is similar to MD for recording time) is better, bar none, when coupled with a decent encoder and decoder. It actually picks up more of the (admittedly useless) frequencies that the MD doesn't.

    >Furthermore you can hear the difference between a 2 million dollar Sony Oxford and a Behringer and an SSL.

    Can't fault you there. But most people don't have a 2 million dollar budget.

    >If you could not tell a difference professional studios would just use shit cables.

    No they wouldn't. In a professional studio, cables get stepped on, ends crushed, and they get yanked out of the sockets by the cable. They need the durability that a good cable brings. Not to mention that you're looking at 100ft.+ runs -- you don't want a cable with high resistance. They don't need a cable that goes flaky the fist time the audio engineer rolls his chair over it.

    >There is a difference its just that for some electrical applications the difference is less.

    Seriously, electrical applications (by which I'll assume all electronic applications) often work in the Ghz range. Even a $100/ft. Balanced XLR cord won't handle that, nosiree.

    But audio frequencies aren't even within a factor of 100 of that.

    >Use good cables for speakers

    Use 16 or (if you can find it and have high-current speakers/stereos) 14 AWG lamp cord for speakers. Nice and flexible, and unless you run it parallel with your fluorescent light ballasts/power cables, very clean sound.

    >Use pretty good cables for line level signals and you should be ok.

    Of any signals, line level reqiures the best cables. We're talking less than 1V signal level in some applications. Thin, crappy cable will not do.

    Just my 2 cents.
  • by MrCaseyB (200218) <casey_slash.luxedit@com> on Wednesday October 02, 2002 @01:27PM (#4374661) Homepage Journal
    Monster Cables are like Bose products or Sony Home theater, a joke. All 3 are a text book lesson in genius marketing and polishing shit.

    Make no mistake, cables make a difference to those who care and Monsters products are worlds better then what comes out of the box or from wallmart. But they do not represent a good value-performance ratio. For the same amount you can buy a lesser marketed but more respected cable that is far superior. Many people will tell you that when you buy Monster or Bose you are paying for all their bright shiny ads in the magazines. This is very true, your dollars go to more marketing and not so much R&D or quaility materials/manufacturing.

    Im not one of the crazy bastards who spends $15,000 on one speaker cable. I think if you add up all my cables it would total less then $3000. Many people who watch a movie at my house are blown away. There are also a lot of people who are convinced that it doesn't look any better then there 20'' Magnavox tv thats 10yrs old and conencted to an old VCR. Its quite simple, they are WRONG WRONG WRONG. At the same time, they do not know enough or care enough about the picture or sound to invest a dime in their equipment. I may not agree with them, I may think they are farking idiots, but I must respect their opinion.

    P.S. Despite the many mentions of Monster Cable, I think this was a great article for educating people on the different connections, and the bennefits of investing in good cables.

    bettercables.com [bettercables.com]

    vampirewire.com [vampirewire.com]

    vandenhull.com [vandenhull.com]

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