Getting an Import Saturn Working in PAL Land

ntsc_sega_saturn

By DavyK

This is, in my experience, a minefield. I’m no technical wizard but I’m no slouch either. I’ve been in the IT industry for 16 years as a software developer and I’m now in IT management. I’m used to solving quite complex problems but I had difficulties with this. I thought I’d relate my experiences here to perhaps help others and clear up a great deal of confusion around this matter.

I have had a PAL Saturn for some time. I have an RGB SCART lead for it and the results are different depending on which SCART socket I use on my TV.

The 1st socket (labeled AV1) is usually the one on a TV that supports RGB. As expected, I get a great colour picture on that with all my consoles via RGB SCART.

The 2nd socket (labelled AV2) gives me a lower quality picture. It’s a bit more blurred and it’s OK but there is a marked improvement in AV1. In some cases though, I only get sound and no picture. For example:

PAL Saturn with RGB lead. Sharp colour picture on AV1. Blurred colour picture on AV2
PAL Dreamcast with RGB lead. Sharp colour picture on AV1. Sound only on AV2.
PAL GameCube with RGB lead. Sharp colour picture. Blurred colour on AV2.

SCART Sockets

Example of double SCART socket present on most European TV sets.

It seems my TV will only support RGB on AV1 (as is usually the case). What you get on AV2 will depend on the combination of console and cable. Sometimes the signal gets converted to composite (giving you an OK but blurred picture), sometimes not (giving you sound only). There are probably differences between 1st and 3rd party cables as to what exactly will happen but that’s another complexity I want to ignore here!

For an import Saturn you need a SCART socket that supports NTSC. From my PS2 experience I know I have a socket that supports NTSC as long as I have an RGB lead so I thought I would have no problems.

I recently got a white import Japanese Saturn (it’s quite lovely) and a step down transformer; and when I first plugged it into AV1 on my TV, with my RGB lead, I got a crisp black & white image. My heart sank.

 The first thing I thought was maybe I have a dodgy RGB cable – but remember I get a lovely sharp 50Hz picture with my PAL Saturn on AV1.

Raven Games of London sell PAL RGB Saturn leads and Japanese RGB SCART leads as separate items, same price so there’s no scam here, but they claim they are wired differently.

I ordered one but I got exactly the same results on both PAL (crisp colour picture) and NTSC (crisp back and white picture) machines.

Make sure your SCART lead is RGB not composite, or a B&W image is all you can hope for!

Make sure your SCART lead is RGB not composite, or a B&W image is all you can hope for!

Despite what Raven claim, I have come to the conclusion that there is no difference in the cables. Raven were very nice and gave me a full refund when I returned the cable and they are sure that they sent me a Japanese RGB lead (they even tested it on a Japanese Saturn when it arrived back with them).

I went to the NTSC-UK forum and people there say that the cables are the same. I’ll say no more on that subject.

So I was left with my RGB cable which I had to assume to be OK since it worked the same way as the new Raven cable.

I mentioned the NTSC-UK forum earlier – well I found a fix for this problem there – but it’s really odd.

There were a few others on the forum with the same problem. There was all sorts of talk about making up custom cables, versions of Saturn firmware etc. and I was getting depressed.

I decided to do some research of my own.

 

I have a cheap DVD player connected to my gaming TV and I went into its setup menu. Now cheap as this thing is (£20 from Tesco) it lets me select different types of output signal.

I connected it to AV1 and selected NTSC + Composite. I got a black and white display! The same effect I was getting with my Saturn. Despite using an RGB lead with my Saturn, I was effectively getting an NTSC signal with composite (same as I was getting with my PS2 before I got an RGB lead)

I selected NTSC + RGB on my DVD player and I got a colour display. So I confirmed that I must have an RGB signal for NTSC to work on my AV1 socket. This made me suspicious again with the lead – but then I had to keep telling myself it was generating an RGB 50Hz signal OK and it worked the same as the new lead I had returned to Raven. I was stumped.

 

I reported my findings back on NTSC-UK and we (I say we, more those with electronics knowledge) had come to the conclusion that certain pins on SCART plugs must generate a certain voltage to make the TV switch to RGB. This wasn’t happening with my import Saturn and RGB cable for some reason. My heart sank.

Then I saw a post that mentioned using a particular type of SCART block. These are normally used to connect more than one device to a single SCART socket. This block has 3 inputs selected by buttons on the front (labelled A, B and C) and one output.  You have to buy a separate cable to connect the block to your TV – it is not supplied. The SCART block also has an RGB button.

Now, according to the NTSC-UK forumite, the unusual thing about this SCART block is that if ANY RGB source is plugged into this block then it will force the TV to switch to RGB – EVEN IF THAT SOURCE IS NOT THE ONE SELECTED ON THE SCART BLOCK. So the proposed fix was:

 

1) Plug any working RGB source into slot A of the SCART block. I plugged my digital TV receiver into this. It generates a nice RGB signal on AV1

2) Plug the NTSC Saturn’s RGB lead into slot B of the SCART block.

3) Connect the output of the SCART block to AV1 on the TV.

4) Switch on the digital receiver.

5) Switch on the Saturn and select input B (the Saturn).

6) Depress the RGB button on the SCART block.

 

Well the SCART block only costs £10 in Argos so it was worth a punt – and it worked! A clean, crisp 60Hz colour picture. Full screen, full colour Radiant Silvergun and Sexy Parodius. Despite the SCART block being quite cheap, it seems to be of a decent build quality and there is no interference from the digital TV receiver.

If I switch off the digital receiver OR I deselect RGB on the SCART block, the Saturn reverts to black and white. I switch on the digital receiver AND the RGB button and my crisp colour picture is back again.

The kind of thing you will be seeing if your SCART lead is RGB & your TV is both RGB and NTSC compatible.

The kind of thing you will be seeing if your SCART lead is RGB & your TV is both RGB and NTSC compatible.

It’s a bit of a cludge having to use my digital TV receiver but it’s a solid state device and is usually switched on all the time anyhow (adding to my carbon footprint no doubt). I suspect my TV is the real problem and I’m hoping I won’t have to do this when I get a new TV. But then it’s not the end of the world if I do.

 

IN SUMMARY

To get an NTSC console working ask yourself these two questions:

Q1). Does the TV support NTSC? 

You can’t always tell by looking at the rating label on the back of the TV either. The TV I use for 60Hz and NTSC gaming only reads PAL 50Hz on the back. You must also be aware that NTSC is different from a 60Hz PAL signal (PAL60).

Your TV may well support NTSC but not in all situations. For example my TV only supports 60Hz through my AV1 socket when using a proper RGB SCART lead. This leads onto Q2.

Q2) Is your cable a genuine RGB lead?

SCART is a connection type NOT a video standard! Make sure it’s not a composite only SCART lead! 

One good way to check if your TV will work with an import console is if you have a PAL PS2 and you get a clean colour picture when you select a game’s 60Hz option, then you should be OK. If you don’t have a PS2 then you can simulate an NTSC console by using a digital receiver or DVD player as most of them let you select combinations of PAL/NTSC and composite/RGB signals.” Select NTSC and RGB and if it works then your TV should support an import Saturn.”

 

If you answer YES to these questions and it still isn’t working, look for the type of SCART block I described and use the workaround I described above.

I hope this helps – was all this worth it? In a word – yes. Japanese Saturn gaming is quite simply superb – especially for the old school 2D SHMUP head like me.

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