Not all retro gaming AV cables are created equal, despite what you may have read or heard. Unlike HDMI – which is a digital signal – the analogue realm is subject to wild variances when it comes to quality, and the pursuit of the perfect audio visual setup has become the lifelong objective of many a retro gamer. Some will spend a small fortune on what were top-of-the-line professional video monitors back in the day, while others are happier to settle on upscalers like the Open Source Scan Converter, but there is a more reasonable option in the form of really good RGB SCART cables.
Now, SCART may not be a format you're familiar with if you happen to live outside of Europe, but it is generally accepted to be the best option when it comes to getting a good image out of your vintage gaming tech. RGB SCART provides a sharp, colourful image on the right display, making older games look simply stunning. A sizeable market has grown as a result of the demand for good quality cables, and UK-based Retro Gaming Cables has been satisfying this demand for a good few years now.
The company prides itself on crafting excellent leads and cables for a dazzling array of classic systems, but its flagship range – dubbed "Packapunch" – takes things to the next level. These thick cables are constructed from the best components to protect against external magnetic interference and "crosstalk" between individual signals within the cable. The end result is picture and audio quality the likes of which we've personally not seen before, and believe us, we've spent a lot of cash on RGB SCART leads over the decades.
Even if you simply use the Packapunch cable on its own, you'll unquestionably notice a big difference on your flatscreen TV. Colours look sharper, but the contrast is also vastly improved; the image may appear darker initially but soon you'll be able to pick out fine pixel detail that simply wasn't there before. A good example is the clouds in Sonic the Hedgehog on the Mega Drive; they looked white previously but, using one of these cables, it's possible to see that they are made up of more than one colour. Combine the Packapunch cables with the aforementioned OSSC and you've basically got the ultimate setup, short of buying an expensive (and bulky) professional-grade CRT video monitor; the OSSC loves it when you fed in a really good RGB signal.
Packapunch cables are available for a wide range of systems, including the SNES, Mega Drive, Neo Geo, PC Engine, Dreamcast, Master System, Wii, PlayStation and GameCube – basically any console which is capable of outputting an RGB single. When the range was launched a few years back the prices were sky-high compared to bog-standard SCART leads, but more recently they've settled down slightly, with a typical cable costing around £30 including shipping. It should be noted that due to the highly specialised nature of these leads, they are often made to order.
While many people will be content to simply use whatever cables they have to hand in order to get their vintage systems up and running on modern TVs, it's only when you see the massive gulf in quality between cheaper leads and premium products like the Packapunch that you realise how much visual fidelity you're missing out on by pinching those pennies; sure, there are viable ways of getting retro games onto your television via HDMI (clone systems and the SNES Classic Mini, for starters) which provide excellent image quality for a reasonable price, but if you're the kind if gamer who simply has to use the original hardware, you need these cables in your life.