We recently tested the Marseille mCable HDMI cable with integrated processor, designed to automatically enhance and upscale HD video signals to 4K Ultra HD. Less expensive than many passive HDMI cables, this model benefits from Technicolor certification. Gadget or revolution?
Marseille mCable: presentation
There is no shortage of image enhancement technologies on the market, and aside from a few high-end Blu-ray players, it has to be said that these technologies too often tend toward caricature or, at least, don’t offer satisfactory results from one film to the next. In short, image processing technologies are a mixed bag, although their prices may lead you to think they’re all worth their weight in gold.
The Marseille, Inc. brand, contrary to what its name suggests, isn’t French but American. The company currently proposes a single product: the Marseille mCable active HDMI cable, which is designed to improve the image produced by any HDMI source: Blu-ray player, DVD, set-top box, multimedia player, etc. A second model dedicated to video game consoles has been announced and should be available soon.
Marseille mCable: Do HD images need to be enhanced?
When it comes down to it, why would it be considered necessary to enhance the images produced by a Blu-ray or DVD player, or a DSL or fiber set-top box? The answer is simple: the video compression algorithms used for Blu-ray discs and DVDs, as well as for TV set-top boxes, are particularly lossy. In order to reduce the amount of data to be stored (disc) or streamed (TV by DSL, VOD) as much as possible, the images are significantly compressed, resulting in a drastically reduced color gamut and, thus, a loss in definition. As such, despite its 2.1 million pixels, an HD 1080p image can have a dramatically reduced subjective definition, quite simply because too many pixels are assigned the same color and light values. The higher the compression ratio, the less precise the outline around each image will be.
The video processors integrated into most Blu-ray players are simply designed to decode images and don’t seek to restore the information lost when the original image is compressed. And rightly so, as such restoration would require a second video processor which would need to be programmed or even developed from A to Z. Certain manufacturers have fitted their players with such processors, with often disappointing results.
With this in mind, the American brand Marseille, Inc. has developed a specialized video processor, the Marseille VTV-1223, which has received the prestigious Technicolor certification. As a reminder, this American company is responsible for the eponymous color processing technology developed in the 1930s. The exceptional colors of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, as well as Gone With the Wind, Moulin Rouge, Rear Window and Ben Hur are the fruit of Technicolor’s famous expertise.
Marseille mCable: video processing technologies
The Marseille cable handles HDMI video signals in the following resolutions: 480p/i, 576p/i, 720p/i and 1080p/i, and each signal is processed differently depending on the frame rate. For 480/576/720/1080 at 24, 25 and 30 FPS (frames per second), upscaling to 4K format occurs automatically, on the condition that the associated TV handles this resolution. Should this not be the case, the output resolution will be the highest which the TV does handle (1080p, for example). Above 30 FPS, no upscaling is applied as the Marseille cable handles 4K resolution up to 30 FPS maximum (30 Hz).
3D programs (Frame Packing, Side by Side and Top Bottom) at resolutions of 720p and 1080p up to 120 Hz are handled but not upscaled.
4K Ultra HD video signals are transmitted unmodified up to 2160p at 60 FPS.
The Marseille mCable’s particularity lies in its analysis of absolutely all pixels to be processed in each image. Such a task – unthinkable a few years ago – is made possible by the power of the Marseille VTV-1222 processor. Each pixel is thus processed according to its context and, as such, does not receive the same enhancement.
As we mentioned earlier, the compression ratio used for video diffusion is lossy and generates artifacts (blockiness, ringing) not only in the color gradient, but also along outlines where contrast is greatest. The Marseille mCable automatically eliminates these artifacts.
Colorimetry and contrast are automatically enhanced according to the coding of colors handled by the associated television or video projector.
Marseille mCable: and the sound?
The Marseille mCable does not process audio streams, which are therefore transmitted without modification for all formats (Dolby Digital, DTS, PCM, etc.).
Marseille mCable: testing conditions and impressions
The Marseille mCable has a wiring direction which is indicated on its connectors. The Marseille VTV-1222 video processor is embedded in the HDMI connector and requires an external power supply, which is assured by a Type A USB connector inserted into any powered USB port (5V/1A). We ran a Marseille mCable (the 1.5-meter-long version) between a 4K Ultra HD TV and a Blu-ray player, and then from a Raspberry Pi2 (1080p) to a Plex server. Over the course of several weeks, we watched dozens of films and TV series.
As soon as its power supply is assured, the Marseille VTV-1222 processor functions automatically. The user doesn’t need to configure anything. We might as well say it right away, the image delivered by the Marseille mCable is very impressive. Although this cable has been showered with numerous prizes since its presentation at the CES 2016, we remained skeptical and expected an overly sharp and artificial image. Much to the contrary, the image delivered is stunningly natural. The color gamut is decisively enhanced, although mostly in terms of nuance and density. Fate would have it that we began our tests with the collector’s edition of Tom & Jerry (1080p Blu-ray), films dating back to the 1940s we thought unlikely to truly benefit from the Marseille mCable’s processing technologies. We were wrong. The cable completely eliminated the noise present in the flat areas, without blurring the processed zones. The colors were fuller, and certain objects in the background captured more of our attention. Surprisingly, the composition of each scene was more evident.
Even if we must admit that the adventures of Tom & Jerry kept us glued to our sofa for a while, we also tested the Marseille mCable with more demanding content. To begin with, Muse’s live concert at Olympic Stadium (2013), completely dazzling in the these new viewing conditions. The backgrounds were much more intelligible, and the contrast was pushed to new levels. This concert, in addition to being phenomenal for testing audio equipment, is a demonstration of high-quality video.
The NetFlix series The Crown, launched in November (MKV 1080p, about 4 GB/hour) was filmed in natural light, or the perfect conditions to generate noise and dark, blocked zones in the image. With the Marseille mCable, not a hint of ringing in Buckingham Palace and backgrounds as textured as we could possibly wish for, with increased field depth to boot. Simply magnificent.
The Marseille mCable considerably improved the smoothness of action scenes, most notably eliminating jerky movements during traveling shots to contribute once again to overall image clarity.
Marseille mCable: conclusions
What we liked: the spectacular and delicate approach to image processing, the widened color gamut, the improved smoothness, the ease of use
What we would have liked: for it to make us popcorn
With the Marseille mCable, Marseille, Inc. proposes an active HDMI cable whose added value is absolutely undeniable and infinitely superior to the most advanced passive HDMI cables available. The images produced by all 1080p sources are magnified, from 1080p HD TVs to 4K Ultra HD TVs. This cable is a total success and a long-lasting investment. For this we say: bravo!This post is also available in: French