Getting the Best Picture from Your Sega Saturn

By BuckoA51 from http://www.VideogamePerfection.com

Squeezing the very best picture quality from your Sega Saturn depends largely on the kind of display you intend to use and your budget. Games consoles that were around when the Saturn was new typically used a 320×240 screen mode, known then usually as “non-interlaced” but now usually referred to as 240p (with the ‘P’ standing for progressive). This fact actually complicates matters particularly when using the console on a modern HDTV set. Whatever solution you decide on, you should always start with the best signal possible. Start by inspecting your TV set or display and have a look what kinds of connection are available. On a typical set, you may see any of the following:-

RF-Connector

RF-Connector

RF – Also known as an aerial socket. The Saturn can connect to this socket using a Radio Frequency (RF) modulator if your TV has an analogue tuner. This works by encoding the Saturn’s video signal into a signal rather like your set might pick up through the aerial on your roof. The loss in quality is high however. This is the lowest quality option of all.

 

composite-video-input

Composite-Video-Input

Composite – Also known as CVBS, this connector uses a single RCA/Phono connector (usually with a yellow coloured plug) to carry all the picture information. Audio is carried by two separate cables. In practise this produces an image that’s rather fuzzy, without going into technical details there is a lot of signal loss and cross-talk caused by the modulation and demodulation of the video signal over composite. This is a better option than RF, but still considerably poor compared to the other options. The Saturn can output composite video directly with the correct cable.

S-Video Socket

S-Video Socket

S/Video – Also known as “Super Video”, this connection uses one single cable for picture, but inside the connector the image is separated into two connections, one carries luminance, the other chrominance. The result is a signal that’s much purer, with less interference. The Saturn can output S-Video directly with the correct cable.

 

SCART or RGB21 – Common on European and Japanese displays, almost unheard of on American sets, SCART is possibly the most confusing connector in the history of consumer electronics. Firstly, you need to get your head around the fact that these connectors can carry both the composite and S-video standards discussed above. Some SCART sockets (but not all) can also carry RGB.

SCART Socket

RGB is the absolute best signal you can get from your Saturn and is what you should aim to use if you want the best picture quality. Finally, to confuse matters further, there’s another type of cable that uses exactly the same connector as SCART, but that is wired up in a completely different way. This is usually called RGB21. If your TV was made anywhere in Europe it will have SCART sockets, you’re only likely to encounter RGB21 sockets or cables on Japanese imports. For instance, the XRGB series of video processors (which we’ll get to later) have RGB21 connectors.

In summary, if you plan to use your displays SCART socket(s), check in the owners manual to make sure you use an RGB SCART socket and make sure the cable you choose is an RGB SCART cable. I cover choosing SCART cables in this article (link here).

Component Video Input

Component Video Input

Component – Common on both European and American sets, component video can carry both standard definition and high definition signals. Do not confuse the connectors with the inferior composite video standard. The connectors are usually labelled Y Pb/Cb and Pr/Cr. The Saturn cannot directly output component video, however if your display does not have a SCART socket, it is possible to convert from RGB SCART to Component by using a transcoder. Unfortunately, many modern TV’s simply are not compatible at all with the low resolution 240p signal the Saturn outputs. Usually the only way to tell is to try it for yourself, so if you go down this route make sure you buy the transcoder from a sympathetic seller who will accept returns. You can learn more about this approach by reading this thread on the sites forum (http://segasaturngroup.proboards.com/thread/2600).

 

D4 Terminal

D-Terminal – D-Terminal connections are common in Japan but relatively rare everywhere else. They are actually exactly the same as component video connections, and converters to change from one to another are widely available.

 

VGA Port

VGA Port

VGA – VGA is another confusing connector. The correct name for these kinds of connector is DSUB-15. In some rare instances (e.g Arcade dual or tri sync monitors) you can connect your Saturn directly to this connector (by using a SCART to DSUB-15 adaptor such as the Sync Strike), but in most instances (virtually all HDTV’s, vast majority of standard PC monitors) you will need an upscaler/converter first. I’ll cover up-scalers later in the article.

DVI Socket

DVI Socket

DVI – This is the kind of connector that’s common on PC monitors. DVI can carry both analogue and digital signals.
The Saturn cannot natively output this kind of signal.

 

 

HDMI Socket

HDMI – HDMI is very similar to DVI although it’s digital only, found on most HD TVs and HD Projectors.
The Saturn cannot natively output this kind of signal.

 

SOMETHING ELSE – Some monitors have other kinds of connections not listed here. You may see a high end CRT monitor with separate RGBHV connections. Some of these monitors support the Saturn’s native output signal and some do not, you will have to consult the manual that came with the monitor, or ask online if you don’t have it.

 

 

Sega Saturn CRTCHOOSING A DISPLAY

So by now you should have a rough idea of the kind of cable you need for best results. The type of display you are going to be using can make a big difference too. Let’s break this down a little further.

CRT Television – This is the best display to use with a Saturn and other consoles from that era. If you can find a CRT TV (the old, bulky type) with a SCART socket that is in good condition and you have space to set it up, then this is the best option.
CRT TV’s are also the only type of TV’s that work with light-guns, so if you’re intending to play House of the Dead or Virtua Cop you will want to go down this route.
You will not need an external upscaler and using one will not make a difference to the picture quality (except possibly making it worse!).

CRT PC Monitor – Monitors designed for PC use typically have VGA inputs. In almost all instances these monitors are not compatible with the Saturn’s native video output. You will need an upscaler or line doubler such as an XRGB or an Arcadeforge scaler.

HDTV with SCART or S-Video socket – Unfortunately for us, HDTV’s are not well optimised for working with retro consoles. Feeding a Saturn directly into a HDTV will usually produce an image that is considerably poorer than you would expect to get on a CRT.
Furthermore, due to the way the image is handled by the HDTV, you will get increased input lag (the time between a button press and the actual image updating on the screen). In this instance it’s recommended you purchase a SCART cable or S-Video cable and ‘suck it and see’. If you’re happy with the results, then stop, otherwise read the section regarding up-scalers later in this article.
Some HDTV’s simply have too much input lag even when fed a high definition signal, unfortunately there’s very little you can do to mitigate this.

HDTV or Monitor with component, VGA, DVI and/or HDMI only – In these instances you will need to purchase some additional equipment to get your Saturn to display. As previously discussed, a RGB to Component transcoder may suffice for component equipped sets. If not, you will need an upscaler to convert to either VGA or HDMI.

So, having determined the best connection your display can use, you can go ahead and purchase the cables you need. CRT TV users can stop reading now, as you have already achieved perfection. Users of other types of displays should read on to the next section…

THE DARK ART OF VIDEO PROCESSING AND UP-SCALINGRGB

If you’re not happy with the picture quality on your HDTV’s SCART or Component inputs, or your new TV or monitor simply doesn’t have a compatible input, then you may need to consider an external up-scaler. There are several choices and this page (http://retrogaming.hazard-city.de/) covers many of the popular choices in depth. It’s usually false economy to buy a cheaper converter as not only will you get a poor quality product, you’ll get one that doesn’t know how to properly handle the Saturn’s signal. Always buy an upscaler/converter that accepts RGB (SCART) input. For most people there’s usually only a handful of choices to consider.

The CGA2VGA Scaler PCB:– This popular affordable scaler takes a 15khz RGB input and outputs a 31Khz VGA signal. To use it with the Saturn you connect it via a SCART cable into a sync stripper/SCART adaptor (such as the Sync Strike) and then feed the output of that into the scaler. The Sync strike and the Scaler are both available from ArcadeForge. This scaler does not fully support PAL. PAL material will work, but scrolling will not be smooth due to converting from 50hz to 60hz refresh rate.

XRGB2/3:- Known for their excellent quality and super finicky compatibility, the XRGB processors accept RGB signals (you will need a SCART to JP21 adaptor to use SCART) and output via VGA. Be aware that these processors can be difficult to work with and have poor compatibility with newer TV sets, though they usually work very well on older CRT PC monitors. PAL material is supported as long as your display accepts 50hz VGA. Many PC monitors will accept this but most HDTV sets will not.

DVDO Edge:- The Edge is a mid-range video-processor and upscaler that actually suits gamers pretty well. It will accept RGB in from the Saturn using a suitable SCART adaptor cable, and it outputs via HDMI. The Edge has a super fast gaming mode and supports 240p and 288p (I.e both NTSC and PAL). Picture quality on 240/288p material may leave a little to be desired, but it is processed properly. Note that the new model, the Edge Green, doesn’t support 240/288p material at all. You can read more about games on the DVDO Edge here (http://www.videogameperfection.com/dvdo-edge/).

By combining the XRGB3 and the DVDO Edge you can create an upscaling solution that’s stunning for the Sega Saturn as well as many other retro consoles, works on virtually all HDTV sets and fully supports both NTSC and PAL. Of course, such a solution is rather expensive.

XRGB Mini Frame Miester:- The latest XRGB model is also the best and most compatible. Engineered especially for gaming, the Frame Meister will take the Saturn’s RGB input and output via HDMI. It features very fast scaling and processing and supports both PAL and NTSC (although PAL support is still under development at the time of writing).
Testing, tweaking and other considerations

As with viewing any material on any display, it never hurts to properly calibrate your screen. A screen with too much brightness or contrast will lose picture detail. Dial up your contrast too high, for instance, and a cloud with lots of subtle tones of grey will become just one blob of white. One of the easiest tools for calibrating TV’s is the Digital Essentials DVD (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Digital-Video-Essentials-Artist-Provided/dp/B00009WW03/). You should use the standard definition DVD version for calibrating SD inputs where possible. Connect a DVD player to the same socket you are using for your Saturn and follow the steps on the DVD.

Another fantastic tool for evaluating your displays performance is the 240p test suite (http://code.google.com/p/240p-test-suite/). Unfortunately not available for the Saturn, it can be used with a Megadrive or (preferably) a Dreamcast connected to the same equipment you are using with your Saturn. The suite contains a huge amount of tests that help you evaluate and fine-tune your TV, monitor or video processor for best performance.

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