Super Nintendo: Composite vs. S-Video

written by Kris Caballero (February 13, 2016)

Regardless of what 16-bit system you first played and enjoyed, you can't argue: the Super Nintendo is by far the most classic, and most successful, video game console in the annals of video gaming history. While majority of us have our personal favorites, the Super Nintendo (SNES) is a system that every human being has played at least once in their lifetimes (I sure hope so). And then comes this:

At the time of this writing, it's 2016, and already technological advances continues to rise and rise. The most recent ones, of this modern day, is virtual reality and 4K video (even cell phones can shoot 4K video). We want to polish up our childhood dreams, and thus comes the idea of modifying retro video game consoles—"modding" for short. The main purpose for modding a retro console is to output and display properly on a LCD/modern TV. Another reason is to output crystal clear video quality and clean, stereo sound. And while I personally have nothing against the idea of playing an emulated version of games, which displays razor-sharp video and clean audio, this is for those who still want to hang on to their beloved hardware.

Before we continue, spoiler alert: an RGB/Component/HDMI modded connection is very much the closest thing to emulation quality and in HD (using a connection called SCART). However, due to a game's "clock speed"—the 'speed' in which the game normally runs (think "frames per second [FPS]," if you're a specialist in video production)—this can cause some speed issues dealing with syncing both the video and the audio during gameplay. However, with professional advice and purchasing the correct cables (they're not cheap), you're on your way to retro gaming in HD Heaven.

Too much work for you? Yeah, I hear you; That's what this post is all about. Here's to those not willing to undergo the picky, let alone expensive, path and just wanting to pick up simple SNES-compatible cables for less than half the cost. With that said, here are our contenders:

Analog, 'Cheap' S-Video and S-Video (fully grounded)

Two different kinds of S-Video cables? It's not what you think.

The composite cables work like they should, so the quality shouldn't surprise (though it's much better than coaxial, which you already know). When it came to S-Video, not all cables are created equal. First up is the S-Video cable paired with composite video and audio. According to those who have dissected the cables through the insolation, the S-Video receives interference with the video composite. Although it displays a much better picture quality compared to composite, along with it comes what fans call the "screen door"/"checkerboard" effect—fuzzy, diagonal/checkerboard-like reception when shown on TV, though it's much more obvious when captured via capture card or DVD recorder. This cable I got, which was dirt cheap and for good reason, displayed the "screen door" effect. While the S-Video does its job, this can be mistaken for extra sharpness but that's not the truth (pixel-peepers, rejoice). Therefore, I STRONGLY DISREGARD spending a few bucks on these, many of which are sold at top online retail shops, auction websites and even at your local video game store. Again, STOP BUYING THEM.

Searching and digging through the best ones, like the rare but expensive Nintendo-licensed MONSTER® S-Video cables, I found one that caught my eyes: a hand-made, grounded S-Video cables from a third-party seller in Sweden**** (yes, I'm serious). I personally have never ordered anything from Sweden but with his high ratings from customer reviews, I'll go for it. About twelve days later, it finally arrived, and here is the result:

(Click image above for larger view.)

A vast improvement, indeed, namely the elimination of the "screen door" interference from the 'cheap' S-Video cables.

Advice: spend an extra few bucks to go for the S-Video WITHOUT the video composite, and just the left-right audio plugs. I can't speak for the other cables, but these ones I have purchased from an auction seller in Sweden has outdone himself and created an excellent, third-party product that works well. The cables are thick and heavy and is well-made. Let's compare them all:

SNES picture quality comparison between Analog (Composite), 'Cheap' S-Video and full-grounded S-Video

Once again, if you have the time, the money and the patience, especially if you're "pixelly" picky, go all out and get your SNES modded for RGB/Component output for super-sharp video and CD-quality audio; Another is to snatch up a SCART connection. It really depends on which model you have, so exercise some patience and do careful research before whipping out your wallets. However, those not looking to do so and wanting to spend a small price here and there without all the hassle, then upgrading your connection to S-Video should be enough for your 16-bit enjoyment. Just make sure your TV has an S-Video input.

Rock on, Super Nintendo/Famicom!

NOTE: The sources were captured and recorded using a Panasonic DMR-ES20 DVD recorder. Results of the clarity may partially vary due to the DVD's MPEG2 compression.

**** [UPDATE 1/20/2019] The seller hosted three different online stores and closed them all. If you're the store owner and producer of these cables, contact us!

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