While for most rational people, the debate over HDMI cable quality is all but over (no, expensive HDMI cables do not give a better picture), in the analogue domain, where all our favourite retro consoles still live, cable quality matters. Even so, many of us will have spent big money on super duper cables only to plug them in, see no discernible difference and wonder why we even bothered. Can spending £39 on a Sega Megadrive/Genesis cable, which is in many cases significantly more than you would pay for a Megadrive console, actually give an improved picture?
The retrogamingcables.co.uk “Pack-a-Punched!” Megadrive SCART cable does a number of things differently from most cables. Not only is it built to an incredibly high standard, including gold plated contacts and individually shielded and screened cores, but it also uses the Megadrives raw sync output, rather than using composite video for sync. Doing this on the Megadrive is not trivial, as by default the consoles sync output is unusable. There is an internal modification that can be done to correct the problem, but it wasn’t until recently that most people realized this could be done externally in a cable.
For this test, the Pack-a-Punched cable will be up against a standard Mega Drive RGB SCART cable produced for me several years ago by Telegames. Screen captures have been done using my PEXHDCAP capture card and the Megadrive is running the excellent 240p test suite. You may notice some red/chroma bleed on some of the screenshots, this is more likely due to the capture card than the Megadrive or the cable, as the PEXHDCAP is known to suffer from this problem under close scrutiny. Bigger versions of the pictures are also available in the Pack-a-Punched comparison gallery here.
I haven’t taken the Pack-a-Punched cable apart to see what is going on internally but the differences in quality were immediate. Consider the picture below, a scene from the famous Green Hill Zone in Sonic. By default all the pictures on this page show a capture from the regular Megadrive SCART cable, mouse over the picture to see the Pack-a-Punched version.
Update – We’ve now compared the Pack-a-Punched SCART cable to better quality budget SCART cable. Click here to read more and see how they compare.
The difference in colour quality is remarkable. You could probably recalibrate your set to compensate for the standard cable, but it’s much easier if the console is outputting a standard signal from the start. You don’t necessarily need to buy such an expensive cable to see this kind of improvement with colour, but it certainly pays to buy a cable from a seller who knows how to wire them correctly.
Did you notice the black marks in the blue sky too? They are difficult to make out in the smaller picture but are definitely there. I don’t recall those appearing on the TV, but they certainly do when using the capture card. The Pack-a-Punched cable reduces these artifacts but doesn’t eliminate them entirely, but they aren’t visible on my TV at all.
The Mark 1 Megadrive/Genesis is known to suffer from a jailbar effect on the picture. The degree of this effect seems to vary greatly between consoles. I’ve owned Megadrives that seem almost totally jailbar free when used with a raw sync cable, while there are others that suffer with the problem terribly.
Considering the screenshot above, the jailbar effect doesn’t seem to be particularly strong on this Megadrive to start with, though under close inspection the jailbars are certainly still there even with the Pack-a-Punched cable. Consider the picture below, which shows the bee sprite on the blue background.
Notice how the better colours on the Pack-a-Punched cable reveal more detail in the cloud too. Let’s zoom in on this a little, now you can more clearly see the jailbar effect, though you may still need to get your nose against the monitor to see it.
Further reduction of the jailbar effect would probably require internal modification to the console. Using raw sync has a bigger effect on the jailbars on some consoles than others but it certainly never makes them worse.
Here are a few more comparison shots of the Pack-a-Punched cable vs the standard one, as you can see there’s always a noticeable difference.
The Pack-a-Punch cable wins on sound quality too, instantly beating the standard SCART cable. Swapping between the cables instantly eliminated background noise. By ramping the volume up high on my amplifier and using the white screen test on the 240p test suite, I was able to confirm that there is still some background buzz on the cable, but you have to be playing your Megadrive at a very high volume to notice it. I should add that I’m testing this cable through my regular SCART switch matrix and the noise could be added further along the cable chain.
If you plan to use your Megadrive/Genesis with an XRGB3 in B1 mode (the mode that gives emulated scanlines), using raw sync output is essential. If you do not, you will find that the XRGB3 will drop the picture any time the screen changes from dark to bright. I tested this cable using my XRGB3 and there were no such problems with picture loss or dropout, proving that the cable does indeed use a full, raw sync signal.
Can spending £39 on a SCART cable give you better quality? Beyond any doubt, when it comes to this cable, the answer is yes. The screen captures speak for themselves and the improvements in audio quality and colour are appreciable by anyone, not just videophiles. If you are using your console with an upscaler (especially the XRGB3) then I cannot recommend this cable highly enough. Even for those of you with CRT’s, the cable comes highly recommended. At £39, it is £6 cheaper than when we first reviewed it, but still rather pricey. Regardless, you won’t find a better Megadrive/Genesis RGB cable anywhere else at any price.
The Sega Megadrive/Genesis Pack-a-Punched SCART cable is available to buy right now from Retrogamingcables.co.uk.