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Video Cabling - What you need to do it Right...

by artphotodude Thu Oct 29, 2015 6:28 pm

Recently have posted quite a bit on retro TVs worth your time and money, but no system is stronger than its weakest link. Cabling is that thing that most scrimp on, telling themselves that they will buy better when they can, and buy the time they can, they have moved up to the next new system.

HDMI has been a Godsend to gamers. Not just for the sake of better color and 1080p, but because a digital signal is there, or it is not. There is no tangible difference in output from a $50+ Monster vs a $4 Chinese-made cable. The durability obviously varies, but that is about it. This was true even of VGA boxes for the Dreamcast. I spent $70 to get the rare, official Sega made box 8 years ago, only to realize its output was identical to the $9 Naki model from the local game store. Analog is the opposite however. Build quality of cabling is essential - particularly in eliminating signal interference.


The first thing to do is to pick the right type of signal:


Composite or S-Video?

S-Video is sometimes, depending on the games and system, an arcade-quality solution. BUT it is also sometimes a pitfall. While it generally provides a sharper picture, dot-crawl can, on some systems and TVs become worse! TVs with higher-end comb-filters, in particular, don't always benefit from S-Video and you will absolutely need to check before spending much on it. Most of us probably know someone with a cable we can borrow before buying and this will save a bundle in cases where S-Video is a bad choice. Secondly, while the original Playstation seems, more than most, to look better on well-matched TVs with S-Video, many other retro systems actually look worse. The Saturn, for instance, has many titles that depend on the blurring of composite video to make transparencies display correctly. With S-Video on them, you get obnoxious screens of free-floating pixels - this even occurs with some high-end Playstation titles like Metal Gear Solid and Gran Turismo.

On better retro-TVs, with good signal processing, you can absolutely have the benefits of composite (smoothing out of color-dither/transperancy screens) and minimal dot-crawl. Those like the Sony HD-CRT sets with Interlaced-DRC and 3D comb-filters, play like HD remakes/emulation in most cases, with just the normal, out-of-the-box cords.


Component

Go MONSTER, or go home! There is no-other reasonable choice. For systems that need component cables, the precision goes up exponentially. The faintest interference shows up, in dark areas, and you simply can't screw around. The good news is that used Monster cables for PS2/PS3, XBox/360 and Wii are pretty cheap these days (I see them often at Goodwill stores, or on eBay used). The GameCube is a quirky exception here. To the best of my knowledge, Monster only made S-Video cables for it, and the O.E.M. Nintendo component cable is CRAZY expensive to this day (often over $100.00). But since Wii is a perfect GameCube-Player, this is not really an issue.


Native VGA Cables (PS3, XBox 360)

Quality, as with HDMI is there or not. A great choice in many cases regardless of manufacturer, however can sometimes be complicated to deal with. Screen formatting in most newer games assume you are on a wide-screen set, and PC Monitors don't always adequately allow for this, color is generally inferior to HDMI because of the lack of digital device profiling and the lack of HDCP can make video playback difficult or impossible.


Non-Native VGA Converter Boxes (i.e. GameCube, PS2, XBox)

AVOID like the Plague!


Notes on Video Switch Boxes

If you have just a couple of systems, there is no problem. Just plug them straight into your TV. BUT, what if you have the dreaded "3, or more component cables" problem? As awesome as monster cables are, they are also a 'B-Word' to unhook (have had them rip the outer ground-collar right off of a TV before!). Most high-end TVs have 2 component and 3 or 4 composite/S-Video inputs. If you have the need for more than this (with Component, in particular), you can often luck-out by making use of an older, high-end audio receiver/surround deck. Many such decks have an assortment of video inputs that electronically switch without signal-loss/degredation. So finally putting that optical/digital audio output to use can yield an important additional perk.

A number of multi-switcher boxes do exist (see Pic 1 below), but many like the Philips just referenced, are more trouble than they are worth. They have, on the non-electronic models, a tendency toward imperfect contact-conductivity and the electronic ones nearly always add a lot of noise to the signal.

A special exception is shown below in Pic 2. The Audio Authority 1154a (there is a newer, more expensive 1154b also). These boxes are AMAZING! They feature 4 Component Video/Audio+Optical+Coaxial with automatic signal switching and add NO NOISE WHAT-SO-EVER to the signal. Am running mine through about 12 feet of cable and the signal looks as good as a direct plugin. Be careful if picking up used however, as these use a rare CENTER-NEGATIVE Power Adaptor - if the one you get is missing this, will need to order one, get a universal adaptor or hand-wire a plug (12VCD, 1A).


More on S-Video

Once again this format comes with caveats: With the exception of the surround-deck solution above, S-Video is tough to switch. Not too many commercial switchers handle well.


Composite, Part 2

This ancient format too gets a special note. With some care, Composite doesn't need a switcher! It works just fine using y-cabling. With only the exception of the PS2, most consoles don't interfere or add any additional noise to the signal by being attached in parallel (the PS2 does, if powered, drown out the audio signal of other systems, but its video cable can simply be pulled out OR, if present the master power switch on the back can be turned off to alleviate this problem).

I have two TVs that I play older systems on - a Sony HD-CRT and a Sony SDTV (mostly for light-gun games). In my case I made a junction box that solders the output of the Sega Saturn, N64, Dreamcast composite and Playstation 1 composite cables all together into a tough little brick. Each solder point is hand-wrapped in non-conductive tape and then in grounded foil with a final blanket of Epoxy to fill the box solid. The result is that one cable serves all four systems and can be plugged into the front input of either TV in a jiffy, and the quality is as good as if the system cables were plugged in directly. Make no mistake, this solution is just a preference. A wad of y-cables could do it just as well. Just make sure that your output cable is good quality, and tough if you plan on plugging/unplugging it often. I used an old-school professional video cable from a local University equipment auction (see Pic 3 below). Many of these cables were made to ridiculous standards back in the '80s, and actually compare in quality to Monster. You can always tell them by the much thicker yellow video line and often small labels for 'Video', 'Audio-L' and 'Audio-R' (from back in the times before all humans were born Tech-Savvy ;0)


Great image quality - making the most of your retro-favorites doesn't have to be expensive these days. As the masses run to Digital Video those of us too smart, cheap or stubborn to abandon the great games of old, can pick up the best cables ever made for next to nothing. While you may not be surprised again by the gameplay, stories or innovations of your old games, YOU CAN however, fall in love with them all over again and maybe even be surprised by how beautiful and well-crafted they were by choosing to display them properly!
Attachments
Philips.jpg
The Philips SWS2326W/17 ($5-$20)

Just another one of the masses of CRAPPY video switchers - Avoid.
Philips.jpg (11.87 KiB) Viewed 1920 times
1154A_top.jpg
Audio Authority 1154a ($30-$197 check around for best deal).

The BEST of Its Kind!
1154A_top.jpg (24.07 KiB) Viewed 1920 times
Good Composite.jpg
Old, Pro-Quality A/V Composite Cable ($1-$10)

Very Good Cables!
Good Composite.jpg (13.23 KiB) Viewed 1924 times
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Re: Video Cabling - What you need to do it Right...

by Ziggy587 Fri Oct 30, 2015 11:04 am

Didn't read the whole post yet, but I just wanted to say...

artphotodude wrote:HDMI has been a Godsend to gamers. Not just for the sake of better color and 1080p, but because a digital signal is there, or it is not. There is no tangible difference in output from a $50+ Monster vs a $4 Chinese-made cable. The durability obviously varies, but that is about it. This was true even of VGA boxes for the Dreamcast. I spent $70 to get the rare, official Sega made box 8 years ago, only to realize its output was identical to the $9 Naki model from the local game store. Analog is the opposite however. Build quality of cabling is essential - particularly in eliminating signal interference.


VGA is an analog video signal, not digital. Even the VGA boxes for the DC are entirely analog. The reason VGA signals always tend to look good, whether you're using cheap or expensive cables, is for a few reasons. One being the way the cables are made. The R, G and B signals are all individually shielded from each other, and then the entire cable has a braided shield. This is why VGA cables are usually pretty thick and rigid. Even the cheap VGA cables are shielded this way. Also, there's no audio in VGA cables, which means no signal interference from audio.
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artphotodude
 

Re: Video Cabling - What you need to do it Right...

by artphotodude Fri Oct 30, 2015 1:45 pm

Ziggy587 wrote:Didn't read the whole post yet, but I just wanted to say...

artphotodude wrote:HDMI has been a Godsend to gamers. Not just for the sake of better color and 1080p, but because a digital signal is there, or it is not. There is no tangible difference in output from a $50+ Monster vs a $4 Chinese-made cable. The durability obviously varies, but that is about it. This was true even of VGA boxes for the Dreamcast. I spent $70 to get the rare, official Sega made box 8 years ago, only to realize its output was identical to the $9 Naki model from the local game store. Analog is the opposite however. Build quality of cabling is essential - particularly in eliminating signal interference.


VGA is an analog video signal, not digital. Even the VGA boxes for the DC are entirely analog. The reason VGA signals always tend to look good, whether you're using cheap or expensive cables, is for a few reasons. One being the way the cables are made. The R, G and B signals are all individually shielded from each other, and then the entire cable has a braided shield. This is why VGA cables are usually pretty thick and rigid. Even the cheap VGA cables are shielded this way. Also, there's no audio in VGA cables, which means no signal interference from audio.



That is true. VGA is analog, but in the case of Dreamcast boxes, the wires are completely unshielded, and after trying 6 different brands - made in this way, there is no difference. I suspect that part of it has to do with the frequencies of the signal perhaps not being at or near the same range as most interference bursts.

The majority of interference in most cables/boxes comes from standing waves coming from the power-supply that tend to follow all leads out of a device. This is why many consoles have ferrite chokes (spool-shaped hunks around the cord near where it plugs into the device).

VGA is twice the frequency of NTFS, and the further it gets from 50/60Hz, the less likely any S.W. making it past the choke will effect the the signal (or most likely would appear 'off-screen' in the picture margin, where it cannot be seen).
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Re: Video Cabling - What you need to do it Right...

by ApolloBoy Sat Dec 12, 2015 4:15 am

No mention of RGB whatsoever? Hmm...
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Re: Video Cabling - What you need to do it Right...

by Anapan Sat Dec 12, 2015 6:20 am

I also really like those Phillips auto-switchers. The price is right, and they work awesome.
Monster brand cables are really good for analog video, but I've got some heavy ones from RCA and other manufacturers that are just as good - I'm really picky about signal noise, and even some off-brand ones work really well...
I've cut many VGA cables in half and tossed them for the slightest ghosting. I've never had any issues with color coming through better or worse on any system through them tho. Typically the system has an option for a different color profile if some change would happen between the digital to analog process. Similarly, most displays have an option to change from the 0-255 to 16-235 dynamic range.
HDMI cables can fail when dealing with HDCP - notably on PS3. Some longer ones I've had were also unreliable.
Also wondering about RGB...
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Re: Video Cabling - What you need to do it Right...

by marurun Sat Jan 02, 2016 12:57 pm

I disagree with the insistence upon Monster cables. True, with analog signals cable construction is important, but analog signals are not as sensitive as you suggest. There are other good quality cables out there, and Monster was great at selling voodoo at high prices. I've had great luck with non-Monster cables. The key is simply to buy something that looks well-insulated and constructed durably.

I'd say the MOST important factor with analog (and even some digital) cables is length. If your console can connect just fine with a 3' cable, do not get a 10'. Also, don't coil your excess cable. A short, lower quality cable can transmit just as high quality a signal as a much more expensive, fancier, better-built cable of a much longer length.

I realize video signals are more prone to interference than audio signals, but here's a detailed piece on speaker wire/cables that should help put things in perspective:

http://www.roger-russell.com/wire/wire.htm
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Re: Video Cabling - What you need to do it Right...

by d123456 Mon Jan 04, 2016 4:27 pm

I have that AA 1154. It might be the awesomest piece of kit I own.
It's just flawless. There is probably better kit out there for more $'s, but it works so effortlously automatic. I got it off ebay for cheap without a power brick, so I used random power brick. But I had to change the + plus and the - minus on the wires. They reversed it, probably to sell their own 'special' power bricks. Nice try.
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