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artphotodude
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SEGA SATURN - To SVideo or Not to SVideo...

by artphotodude Fri Feb 02, 2018 3:17 am

SEGA SATURN - “To SVideo or Not to SVideo - THAT is the Question!”

Everywhere you look on Youtube, and retro game forums, you see discussions about how to get a better picture on the Sega Saturn (among other systems), and I always have to laugh when people describe themselves as “Purists” and they are Scoffing at the very mechanism retro-systems were designed to use - Composite Video. Not being a purist myself, I take each game on its own merits. Some like Soul Calibur just look better played on the XBox 360 with the added anti-aliasing, and others like SNK Fighters are often best played on original hardware, Saturn, Dreamcast or Wii Virtual Console because they were designed to be played at 240 on a CRT and a good one can’t be beat for these games. I still own the PS2 collections and 480 is fine, but honestly, having grown up in the Arcades it never quite feels right, compared to the real low-rez (But crisp as heck) 240-presentation.

When 16, 24 and 32-bit systems were made there were really two ways they were designed to be seen: SHARP in S-Video/RGB for Arcade titles and SOFTENED for home releases. The average gamer (kid) was likely playing on a 13” color CRT and on such a set, Composite doesn’t look half bad. The N64 in particular was designed around an ideal that the viewer would not encounter pixels EVER and as little moire and dither as possible - consequentially it is anti-aliased up the HooHa. The PSX and Saturn were prepared to let the viewer deal with pixels, and honestly this early phase of 2D, 2.5D and 3D is likely the most inventive in gaming history and should really be seen as Videogaming’s “Impressionist” period.

For developers of the Playstation, there were a lot of possibilities and emphasis they could pick from in making a game, and Composite video combined with hardware-dither, enabled incredible color-depth on the average TV in games like Tomb Raider I & II, that were not outpaced until the “True Color” PC versions released more than 5 years later. Also in games like Tekken 3, that pushed the hardware to the breaking point, Composite enabled shamefully low-rez backgrounds to skirt-buy looking pretty good. While some games on the Original playstation like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Crash Team Racing and Bloody Roar 2 are sharp enough to go well beyond Composite into the SHARP quality of the Arcade using S-Video, RGB (and Component via PS2), try that with games like Tekken 3 and you realize that Composite Video is the most awesome set of “Beer Goggles” ever invented!

So why do people hate Composite? Because on the most common and leading-edge systems during the transition, PS1, Dreamcast and PS2, the video processing is pretty bad, and results in more than average dot-crawl, loss of edge-sharpness & reduction of color quality. On titles that are sharp enough to use better, you really should as the jump from Composite to S-Video on a crisp title is shocking and causes most gamers to want to “through-out the yellow cable” and never look back.
On some systems, this is not the case. The Saturn has pretty EXCELLENT video processing, if I had to choose all Composite, or all S-Video/Scart-RGB, it would be a NO BRAINER. Composite is KING for most Saturn titles.

Why? As most gaming nerds and scholars realize, the Saturn was not originally designed to be a 3D system, but was instead made to be a 2D BEAST and to be honest, IT STILL IS! For 3D, there is a massive amount of power, and in some titles, it’s 3D chops are pretty dope. But Alpha transparency is very rare on the system, and requires a lot of hoop-jumping that developers didn’t even see as necessary because the average user was on Composite Video TVs! So they held over the “Pixel Screen” method of transparency used in many 2D systems like Capcom’s CPS 2 board. In a 2D game, this effect is not really too distracting, and on the average overworked arcade machine with poorly-aligned CRT, it got the job done very well for life-bars, flame effects and dialog boxes. In 3D, however, this effect is much more distracting, and in S-Video/Scart-RGB just simply looks like CRAP. The starkness of it against the slightly coarser 3D just grabs your eye like a fish-hook and is best avoided. So using the default yellow video cable is no vice. It mixes these pixel-screens into a flat transparent field that looks decent. Occasionally there is a bit of strobe or rainbow effect, but it isn’t too common and is a lot easier to put up with than seeing the digital “barbed-wire” naked on screen. Especially because with Saturn, the sharpness, color and solidness of the picture in Composite are not bad at all.

So why bother to take pages to explain, what could be said in a sentence (“Maybe try the yellow cable before throwing it out”)? Because the Saturn does have a few games that really justify S-Video/Scart-RGB and even sort of demand it. What games?? I don’t have them all, but here are the ones I do and they are varied enough to maybe help you decide if it’s worth spending extra to get one.


BEST LEFT IN COMPOSITE-LAND

Most 3D games - drivers, shooters, 3D platformers, etc.

VirtuaCop I & II - these are pretty sharp and crisp but use LOTS of transparency screens and just don’t do well when displayed too clearly.

Alien Trilogy, Amok, Burning Rangers, D, Daytona, Die Hard Trilogy, Hexen, Duke Nukem 3D, Fighting Vipers, Fighter’s Megamix, Powerslave, Quake, Resident Evil, Sega Rally, and Tomb Raider. These games have some transparency screens, but more than that are just not very sharp to begin with and have a fair bit of aliasing that interferes with the allusion-of-depth. The gentle smoothing of Saturn Composite makes them much more playable.



CAN GO EITHER WAY

Next, we move onto games that may have some transparency screens, but either they are better executed/less distracting, and/or there are other considerations like really rich color-work and high-resolution details.

Earthworm Jim - There are a few transparency screens, but they are not common enough to distract too much and a few levels like “Anything But Tangerines” really pop with a sharper signal. But there are also levels with pretty flat colors that don’t really benefit at all.

Guardian Heroes - VERY CRISP, BUT LOW-REZ GAME. Since the artwork is really flat, aliasing isn’t bad and honestly this is a total tie.

Mr. Bones - First off, if you have not played this game, it’s time to really think about what you are doing with your life! If Metal Jesus on Youtube WAS a videogame, this would be it! Cool as Heck. OK - onto the topic at hand. FMV-game with pretty decent detail, and like Guardian Heroes, not much aliasing so looks fine in S-Video/Scart-RGB, but also looks just as fine in Composite. Another tie.

Bust-A-Move series, Command & Conquer, Mortal Kombat series, Street Fighter Alpha/Alpha 2, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Waku Waku 7, Warcraft 2, Worms. These are 2D games and so seem like an obvious choice for the “Royal Treatment”, but honestly they are a bit lower in detail and color-range than some other 2D titles and just kinda work fine either way.

Clockwork Knight series, Nights into Dreams/Christmas Nights - These have some transparency screens, but they are a fair-bit less grating/intense. The Clockwork Knight games have some ridiculous bitmap-quality that looks very snazzy when sharp as can be, and while the Nights games are not as sharp, they are simply COLOR-CRAZY and do get a bit of a bump from the sharper signal. But are honestly just as playable in Composite though - so probably wouldn’t think to switch cables for games like these two.


S-Video/Scart-RGB ALL THE WAY!!

These are the flagship titles on the Saturn that really show its 50MIPS at work.
Sharp, detailed and featuring superior resolution, artwork and/or color-depth.

Virtua Fighter 2 - This is simply one of the sharpest and highest-rez games of the SD era. 720x480!!!!! That is Straight-Up DVD quality. Not even the Gamecube could render at that level. While Fighter’s Megamix is simply more fun than should be legal, and the better game, you are not going to regret buying Virtua Fighter 2 and playing it on a GIANT CRT using the best cables possible. Honestly Tekken 2 & 3 on Playstation are UGLY by comparison.

Later Capcom Fighters/SNK games and Shmups. Metal Slug, In the Hunt, King of Fighters series, XMen: C.O.T.A., Marvel Super Heroes, Cyberbots: F.M.M., M.S.H. vs Street Fighter, Street Fighter Zero 3, XMen vs Street Fighter, Darkstalkers/Vampire Savior series. To play these games on the Saturn in S-Video/Scart-RGB is to have CPS II/Neo Geo MVS cabinets in your home. These games are what the Saturn did better than any other console, up to the Wii Virtual Console service, and while playing them in Composite is still gorgeous, once you have seen them crystal clear, you really will feel the itch to change the cables!

Die Hard Arcade/Dynamite Deka - Probably the most surprising title in this analysis. Made for the Sega St-V board (based on Saturn’s hardware), this first polygonal beat-em-up is a shockingly-Sharp affair, with crisp colors, great-frame-rate and ACTUAL ALPHA TRANSPARENCIES!!! Since it was made for the RGB arcade platform, the developers managed to figure the problem out and while the polygons are a bit blocky, this is a really pretty game on a sharp monitor in full quality. Even the tiny handful of transparency screens used are really well-executed and subtle. Am shocked this engine didn’t get more use back in the day.



SPECIAL CASE ONLY FOR SONY WEGA HD-CRT OWNERS

While the first 3 cases will be useful to the vast majority of Saturn owners/collectors, there is a unique case for owners of Sony’s majestic last CRT units. These TVs have 3 special features that change the game somewhat. DRC (which stands for “Digital Reality Creation” - a fancy description for ‘field-scaling’ a super fast, loss-less upscaling of interlaced video), a 3D-Digital Comb Filter and ClearEdge VM (edge sharpening).

The combination of these three features, especially if you don’t want/play lightgun games (not compatible with HD), pretty much negates the need for S-Video/Scart-RGB.

The advanced comb-filter removes every last trace of dot-crawl, the DRC upscales to 960i and the ClearEdge VM puts a very crisp edge on everything onscreen. While I’m not sure this is preferable for high quality 2D games that look so good at 240, the effect on Saturn’s excellent Composite signal comes out looking very close to the HD Remakes we’ve seen of other games from the time. Both Nights into Dreams and Vampire Savior come out within 15% of the fancy new HD releases on my XBox 360, and just look G-O-O-D!
Last edited by artphotodude on Fri Feb 02, 2018 2:54 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: SEGA SATURN - To SVideo or Not to SVideo...

by marurun Fri Feb 02, 2018 11:55 am

Hey, what a way to first post!

I think you make some good points. I think some might argue the Genesis is also a platform that benefits from some of the fuzziness of composite. But just about anything on the Saturn that's 2D is going to benefit from slightly richer colors from S-video.
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Re: SEGA SATURN - To SVideo or Not to SVideo...

by ElkinFencer10 Fri Feb 02, 2018 12:03 pm

marurun wrote:Hey, what a way to first post!

I think you make some good points. I think some might argue the Genesis is also a platform that benefits from some of the fuzziness of composite. But just about anything on the Saturn that's 2D is going to benefit from slightly richer colors from S-video.

The Genesis composite output is a blurry mess. S-video is a way better solution even for the things that benefit from a little bit of fuzz. My HD Retrovision component cables are still king, though, even if a few games do look a bit off with the sharper picture.

What's REALLY interesting, in my opinion, is the Wii. For about half the games I've played, they definitely benefit from the sharper picture and 480p output of component cables, but for the other half, they look way too aliased and look much better with 480i composite. It's a weird console, to be sure.
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Re: SEGA SATURN - To SVideo or Not to SVideo...

by Stark Fri Feb 02, 2018 12:06 pm

S-VIDEO, separate it to Chroma and Luma and pipe it into a Commodore monitor. :)
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Re: SEGA SATURN - To SVideo or Not to SVideo...

by artphotodude Fri Feb 02, 2018 2:57 pm

marurun wrote:Hey, what a way to first post!

I think you make some good points. I think some might argue the Genesis is also a platform that benefits from some of the fuzziness of composite. But just about anything on the Saturn that's 2D is going to benefit from slightly richer colors from S-video.


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Last edited by artphotodude on Fri Feb 02, 2018 3:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: SEGA SATURN - To SVideo or Not to SVideo...

by artphotodude Fri Feb 02, 2018 3:06 pm

ElkinFencer10 wrote:
marurun wrote:Hey, what a way to first post!

I think you make some good points. I think some might argue the Genesis is also a platform that benefits from some of the fuzziness of composite. But just about anything on the Saturn that's 2D is going to benefit from slightly richer colors from S-video.

The Genesis composite output is a blurry mess. S-video is a way better solution even for the things that benefit from a little bit of fuzz. My HD Retrovision component cables are still king, though, even if a few games do look a bit off with the sharper picture.

What's REALLY interesting, in my opinion, is the Wii. For about half the games I've played, they definitely benefit from the sharper picture and 480p output of component cables, but for the other half, they look way too aliased and look much better with 480i composite. It's a weird console, to be sure.


With a few exceptions (Toejam & Earl series), the Wii Virtual Console actually outputs in 240p or basically the REAL ARCADE THING!! Sadly if you are playing on a flat-panel, it upscales (this is likely where you are getting the hit/miss output you described), and you'd never know, but if you have a good component SD CRT Set (JVC, Sony, Panasonic, etc), and the very common/cheap Wii component cable it is seriously arcade perfect. The Metal Slug games, King of Fighters, etc - the Wii VC is seriously the most awesome emu resource there is! The store is closing in 2019, and Wii U is missing most of the great rare games - buy them now!! Also, huge plus of Wii VC is that it is saved in a normal format to the SD card and you can back it up really easily. :D
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Re: SEGA SATURN - To SVideo or Not to SVideo...

by Sarge Fri Feb 02, 2018 3:40 pm

Interesting take. Me, I prefer the crispness regardless, but I can definitely see the argument for composite in masking all the dithering that goes on with the Saturn (and PSX as well). I was playing a touch of Syphon Filter last night, and it's very grainy-looking.
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Re: SEGA SATURN - To SVideo or Not to SVideo...

by nightrnr Sat Feb 03, 2018 5:14 am

Interesting topic.
Myself, I like S-video and am the only person I know who still uses the connection. Most of my CRT's still blur it enough to look nice, but it's just a better and more stable signal. Also a lot of my TV's only allow one hookup at a time (Video "or" S-video, not both, even with my system switcher), so I opt for S-video. I've done enough comparisons to know it just looks nicer 98.79% of the time. But if I could change the input without a remote on my retro game TV's I would use the yellow cord more.

I know this example isn't Sega, but bear with me. Play Super Mario World and get Yoshi. Make him stick out his tongue. Look how spikey it looks with composite. That goes away with S-video, along with the electrified outlines of, well everything. Can anyone relate?

Not to mention that upscalers don't treat composite signals very nice (in my experience anyways). S-video looks good with my X-RGB 3 last I checked (useful for unmodded N64, among others).

I will admit that Saturn looks less bad than most systems for composite, and I do still use the connection. Mostly it's just not convenient with my current setup.

I do plan to get a SCART cable for Saturn sometime. I'll have to further develope my opinion later on that later.

Sorry that I ramble. I do like this topic.
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