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Marseille mCable Gaming Edition - Remove Aliasing with an HDMI Cable!

Author:
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Marseille

Overview

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. 

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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.

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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. 

Continue reading our look at the new Marseille mCable Gaming Edition!!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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. 


September 26, 2017 | 12:10 PM - Posted by mAxius

About time Ken came out of the "MINES" i was looking at this cable this past weekend. now i may even pick it. Good work KEN :D

edit:
missing a non Mcable ut2k4 screenshot

September 26, 2017 | 12:32 PM - Posted by Mobile_Dom

This honestly sounded like pure BS when I read the title, glad I was wrong, good work Ken

September 26, 2017 | 05:44 PM - Posted by djotter

I had the exact same thought.
Ken, have you reached out to the manufacturer for more info onhow they did it? If AA is so processor intensive, how can they make an ASIC that runs on USB power that does the same thing?

September 27, 2017 | 04:46 AM - Posted by anon1234 (not verified)

Differing forms of anti aliasing techniques have differing process requirements.

Post processing AA types relatively have low processing load. This is why SMAA or the even lighter FXAA (or lesser used MLAA) methods have what are now considered negligible impact on performance when enabled.

An ASIC doing this would do so at greater efficiency than a GPU can which is more general purpose. Much like how GPU's hardware dedicated encoders can encode video much faster at a given budget (power, die size, etc.) compared to using the GPU itself.

Presumably this is an ASIC that implements a post processing AA method which either is tuned for higher sharpness or applies a sharpness filter. I'd think it would be some trade secret they wouldn't want to detail however.

Sharpness filters actually are already on the PC, commonly from third party tools if no in game option, for those that prefer it.

But the sharpness and blur thing seems to be rather polarizing. Some people seem to be more sensitive (or at least annoyed by) sharpening effects. While others the blur (softening) of images.

September 28, 2017 | 01:35 PM - Posted by Klyith (not verified)

The thing is, most types of AA on a GPU has geometry and sub-pixel information to make decisions with, and a chip in a cable does not. So no matter how clever it is, it's still just doing AA by some combination of edge detection and filtering in 2d.

Which is why there's good results in some areas like smoothing out agent 47's dome, but terrible results over on the street which is stair-stepped like crazy. And in that tomb raider scene it's supposedly better than FXAA because it's not blurring, but it's also not doing much in comparison to the original no-AA image. The grass in the foreground is still heavily aliased, the only places which really get AA are the highest-contrast edges.

So it works, if you put a fairly low bar on "works". But for $150?

September 26, 2017 | 12:32 PM - Posted by terror (not verified)

It is interesting, but the price point is absurd. Imagine if you wanted one for your XBOX, ps4, switch, etc.

September 26, 2017 | 12:37 PM - Posted by Ken Addison

You could likely get around this by plugging all of your consoles into a HDMI switch, and then plugging the HDMI switch into the TV with the mCable. Certainly not ideal, but should work.

September 30, 2017 | 08:59 PM - Posted by quest4glory

I thought about this, but compatibility breaks down when you want to use 4K HDR with something like an XBOX One S or PS4 Pro, since the cable doesn't have the bandwidth to handle those.

September 26, 2017 | 12:38 PM - Posted by me myself and I (not verified)

Did you try unplugging only the USB power cable (for the cable's signal processor) to see if that turned off the signal processing. That would prevent one from needing to switch cables to turn off image processing, unless unplugging power stops data transfer altogether.

Also, it seems like this concept be bettter implemented as some sort of cable add-on instead of a whole cable. Better yet, integrate the signal processor into a graphics card display out, or a TV signal in.

September 26, 2017 | 02:21 PM - Posted by Ken Addison

Unfortunately, I tested that and the cable does not function without the USB power.

I think you're onto something. Selling this as a cable is the cheapest way to prove the tech works, but it should be better integrated into products instead of in cable form.

September 26, 2017 | 12:49 PM - Posted by Anonymous5252 (not verified)

HDMI 2.1 is right around the corner.

September 26, 2017 | 01:35 PM - Posted by Anonymous331f (not verified)

AA is useless garbage and so is this cable

September 27, 2017 | 08:28 AM - Posted by Spunjji

This post is useless. Byeeeee anon coward

September 26, 2017 | 02:51 PM - Posted by odizzido2 (not verified)

The biggest thing for me this article is just how terrible fxaa is.

Also that cable barely does anything.

September 26, 2017 | 03:11 PM - Posted by Tman (not verified)

Have you tested it used between a avr and screen instead of source directly to screen? I am wondering if you can buy this once and have all your devices going to the avr like normal, yet still reap the benefis.

Would we need a display port version to support our high refresh rate gsync and free sync systems? I feel like a display port model would appeal to PC players more.

September 26, 2017 | 03:32 PM - Posted by Positron (not verified)

While this is an amazing bit of tech for consoles,

as a PC gamer I would rather put the $150 that this cable costs towards a better graphics card.

September 26, 2017 | 06:37 PM - Posted by Isaac Johnson

Neat. I may have to try this out for Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii U. Thanks for the review...or...overview...whatever. :)

September 26, 2017 | 06:58 PM - Posted by Russ (not verified)

Try it on the oculus rift or htc. It would be interesting to see what happens to the headset image quality then too.

September 29, 2017 | 07:44 AM - Posted by psuedonymous

A decrease in image quality. Performing SSAA from the higher-resolution eye-buffer is the correct way to do AA for VR. If you're taking the already sampled and warped final image then starting to mes with it, you're only going to reduce image quality.

September 26, 2017 | 10:13 PM - Posted by Smoothie (not verified)

I was wondering if I run this cable from my receiver to the tv and my xbox one and ps4 pro are onnected into the receiver, will the AA provided by this cable still work?

September 27, 2017 | 12:07 AM - Posted by Power (not verified)

No Windows desktop screenshot?

September 27, 2017 | 04:30 AM - Posted by notAnonymous (not verified)

kind of a crazy idea, but I wonder if you could use this with a PS2? it had the worse aliasing, I know there is no HDMI out, but using a component to HDMI adapter in 480P (some games supported and others you can force with a hacked console) and... ?

September 28, 2017 | 12:42 AM - Posted by hJ (not verified)

Looking at the screenshots, the processing it's applying is very subtle and specific - something like a 1-2 pixel blur and some edge enhancement that's applied where there's high-contrast pixels.

I would imagine that an analog->digital standard def video signal wouldn't have enough fidelity in the image to trigger the filter, and even if it did, I'm not sure it would look very good. It's one thing to apply a low-pass filter to mask out some irregular high-frequency artifacts in a signal that's otherwise quite good, it's quite another to apply it to a signal that's inadequately sampled in every respect.

September 27, 2017 | 07:42 AM - Posted by AcidSnow

I disable AA in everything, so yeah, have fun selling this $150 cable...

September 27, 2017 | 08:28 AM - Posted by Spunjji

What does that have to do with anything?

September 27, 2017 | 10:11 AM - Posted by MoUsesJustifyThatHighCost (not verified)

If thay would have offered data transfer capabilities between laptops/PCs from this cable(HDMI can do bi-directional data movement) then they would have made the product much more attractive at that price point.

So maybe thing about adding some form of bi-directional data trensfer feature and use HDMI for data transfer and such over HDMI.

September 28, 2017 | 01:33 AM - Posted by RonBurgundy (not verified)

150$ for a lesser effect than smaa ? This cable is bullshit. For a 150$ I am expecting at least 8x msaa

September 28, 2017 | 11:12 AM - Posted by TrollFinder (not verified)

Are you sure this isn't just a Redmere cable, which has been around for years?

September 28, 2017 | 05:01 PM - Posted by Ronin (not verified)

Also, check out Linus Tech Tips video about this cable and the cinema version for more info and comparisons.
https://youtu.be/MjJzibFTaqA

September 28, 2017 | 11:41 PM - Posted by Ralanham 76 (not verified)

So what I wonder is what happens if put these in series?

September 29, 2017 | 06:52 AM - Posted by Martin (not verified)

Something akin to More JPEG? :)

September 29, 2017 | 04:47 AM - Posted by Just another Dave (not verified)

Just save your money for a better pc down the road. 150 here, 150 for mem, hd upgrade 150 ... it goes on and on. Been there, done that.

September 29, 2017 | 01:38 PM - Posted by Just another Dave (not verified)

So, they are marketing this for consoles. $150???

Just save that money for a new ps4 or xbox one. If your true "retro" gamer you won't want better resolution.

September 29, 2017 | 12:13 PM - Posted by kingofgrills (not verified)

Ken, great write up. I am normally quick to throw up the BS flag when it comes to HDMI cables, but I watched the video and then read the article.

I do have a question though, which might be on the minds of many readers who use their consoles for both gaming and cinema viewing. For mixed use which cable should be purchased, gaming or cinema? Looking forward to your response! Thanks!

September 29, 2017 | 01:21 PM - Posted by fdskaldfasçdlfkjd (not verified)

So, you get a monitor that has 35ms of input lag and a cable that has image processing in it, and magically now the monitor has 26ms of input lag?
Also, where's the input lag measurement with a normal HDMI cable?
Your input lag metodology is wrong and renders your test as invalid.

September 29, 2017 | 03:54 PM - Posted by mammlouk (not verified)

Very interesting. reminds me of how Microsoft made the smart decision to include a dedicated Anti Aliasing chip in the Xbox 360. I found that, to my eyes, it made most games feel significantly better on my Xbox 360 than on my PS3. I know there are other factors, but even on really great looking games the aliasing present with PS3 always put me off a bit.

October 2, 2017 | 11:41 AM - Posted by docace911

Super interested to see this on a Nintendo Switch (docked).

Those games are all high contrast and some like Mario Kart at 1080p, Zelda 900p have no AA in them and its really distracting.

For $129 a slightly more gorgeous switch sounds like a steal. Will report back once Amazon gets back in stock so I can return if bad

(oh, if you have a receiver with multiple HDMI out this can solve the problem too -> Program your remote to use HDMI out 2 vs 1 if on SWITCH)

October 3, 2017 | 08:15 AM - Posted by Alexander L. (not verified)

I bought one of these after reading about it here and from LTT and it definitely works wonders for some console games like Bloodborne and Nioh; however, the upscaling feature for last gen platforms (360, PS3 @720p), while it does work and provides substantial anti-aliasing, is awfully blurry. You wouldn't happen to have two of them in series to test for upscaling would you? One for the upscaling and the second to clean up and apply additional sharpening, since it does have a sharpening filter included.

October 3, 2017 | 11:48 AM - Posted by docace911

So you are finding at 720p its not helping or too blurry?
Have you tried any high contrast games?

Really want to try Mario kart. Its sold out everywhere.

Switch + AA would be magic.

October 3, 2017 | 11:27 PM - Posted by Alexander L. (not verified)

It is definitely helping at upscaling older games which are typically 720p or less, some going as low as 500p or so, but the scaling algorithm it uses, even with the added anti aliasing and sharping filter, is quite blurry. Not unusable by any means, but I was interested in using one cable to do the upscaling then a second cable to apply additional sharpening and image cleaning. Spending 250$ on two cables is not that unreasonable if it actually makes last gen titles playable on a 1080p or higher display and it seems like an interesting testing scenario.

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