Can a HDMI cable really improve your image quality?
When we first saw product page for the Marseille mCable Gaming Edition, a wave of skepticism waved across the PC Perspective offices. Initially, an HDMI cable that claims to improve image quality while gaming sounds like the snake oil that "audiophile" companies like AudioQuest have been peddling for years.
However, looking into some of the more technical details offered by Marseille, their claims seemed to be more and more likely. By using a signal processor embedded inside the HDMI connector itself, Marseille appears to be manipulating the video signal to improve quality in ways applicable to gaming. Specifically, their claim of Anti-Aliasing on all video signals has us interested.
So for curiosities sake, we ordered the $150 mCable Gaming Edition and started to do some experimentation.
Even from the initial unboxing, there are some unique aspects to the mCable. First, you might notice that the connectors are labeled with "Source" and "TV." Since the mCable has a signal processor in it, this distinction which is normally meaningless starts to matter a great deal.
Similarly, on the "TV" side, there is a USB cable used to power the signal processing chip. Marseille claims that most modern TV's with USB connections will be able to power the mCable.
While a lot of Marseilles marketing materials are based on upgrading the visual fidelity of console games that don't have adjustable image quality settings, we decided to place our aim on a market segment we are intimately familiar with—PC Gaming. Since we could selectively turn off Anti-Aliasing in a given game, and PC games usually implement several types of AA, it seemed like the most interesting testing methodology.
First up is Hitman (2016). For this test, we are running at 1080P, Very High image quality settings on a GTX 1060.
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From even the initial impression, it's clear that the mCable is indeed doing some image processing. Let's dig deeper into this particular scene.
If you look closely at the outline of the character models on this portion of the screen, you can see that the mCable is, in fact, applying AA to the scene. SMAA-enabled in the game engine seems to have a greater anti-aliasing effect but overall looks less sharp compared to the other options.
In a similar vein, we also tried Rise of the Tomb Raider with the mCable Gaming Edition.
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This time, we traded SMAA for FXAA, which is one of the most common types of AA found in modern games.
Pay attention to both the foliage, as well as the edges of the stone structure in this scene. Here we see the dramatic softening effect that FXAA has on the scene. In the attempt to prevent aliasing on the edges of surfaces, the entire scene loses detail.
Next, we decided to try out a retro title without any AA settings, UT2004.
There is a noticeable difference in image quality between a regular HDMI cable and the Marseille mCable Gaming Edition, as odd as that sounds.
Additionally, we decided to run a couple of quick tests to verify that the mCable wasn't adding any input lag. We connected the mCable to the Leo Bodnar Video Signal Input Latency Tester and then to our Dell WFP3008 display.
Comparing a standard HDMI cable to the mCable, we saw no additional lag introduced by the signal processing.
The Marseille mCable Gaming Edition is a fascinating product. Even in my short time with this product, I have started to think about different possibilities where it may come in handy. For example, the impending release of Nintendo's SNES Classic Edition. With an HDMI input, there's no reason you couldn't pair it with the mCable.
One thing I would like to see is a switch to disable the processing. In its current state, you are stuck with swapping physical cables if you don't like what the processing has done to a given game which is less than ideal. Also, keep in mind that there is no frame scaling ability in the mCable, so if you require the input to be upscaled to the resolution of your given display those duties will still fall on the display hardware.
However, for gamers who often enjoy retro titles, the $150 pricepoint might be worth it to get some new life to the games they know and love.