As some of you might know, I am a big fan of Sony televisions. I own a Sony A8F OLED, something I bring up entirely too often, and think they make some amazing products for the price. Part of what makes Sony great is their ability to process an image, something that is now appearing on their phones, and becoming an increasingly important topic in the television world. While a lot of companies are fighting to offer the best picture through whatever means possible, there these components aren’t upgradable and a television is not something you just replace every other year like a phone or computer. This is what makes mCable and to a greater extent mClassic, so fascinating.
The whole idea behind this product is improving the gameplay experience through processing. This means you can theoretically get a better picture from your PlayStation 4, Switch, Dreamcast or whatever by simply plugging it in. The nice thing is, over time, you can replace something like mClassic and see further improvements without actually replacing your television, gaming system or whatever you choose to attach it to. It makes for some bold claims, which means people are naturally apprehensive, but manages to deliver as long as you have the right expectations.
If there is one thing I can respect about Marseille and their products is the way they showcase them. Regardless of how I feel about the verbiage, you can go to the Indiegogo page or their website and see images of what mClassic supposedly does. Just looking at some of the images, you see a difference, it just isn’t astronomical like you might think. A lot of people hear processing or see the claims and expect Final Fantasy VII on the PlayStation One to look like Final Fantasy VII Remake through elaborate processing, which is simply not going to happen.
What mClassic largely does is look at the source image, figure out what it can do and tries to resolve it. The actual impact it will have varies, with it being most noticeable on lower quality sources. The lower quality the source, the more I noticed mClassic doing, though testing found hit and miss results.
For a while I was largely convinced mClassic might just be a placebo effect. I took a good 300 screenshots across 12 games and sat there trying to find differences. Sometimes they’d be in favor of mClassic, other times in favor of the original, but they were always small. To give you an idea, here is a random capture from Dragon Quest Builders 2.
I can’t comment on every possible difference, but there are some extremely subtle differences. If you look at any of the white, black and orange circle icons you’ll notice they’re smoother on the image with mClassic enabled. Text like the north, south, east and west icons are a little more defined. The plant to the far right looks smoother with mClassic on, as does the square icon, place text, change text and icon. mClassic also improved my character’s hairline, removed from artifacting from her outfit. Even minor things like the purple plant behind her looks more defined with mClassic, but it isn’t perfect either.
When I used mClassic on a Sony X900F with more realistic images, it created a look that was not well received. I tried to stick to things I’ve seen a bunch, like I’ve seen certain Sony demo videos well over 1,000 times (I could actually spot differences in the Paris demo without trying), and it made the most difference with, again, low quality images. For example, we had a nice outdoor scene where the clouds were not the best looking. What mClassic kept doing was trying to smooth out the details, to the point where the original image was lost. What ended up happening is, instead of showing clouds, five different people I showed the image to saw smoke with mClassic enabled and clouds with it disabled. Another similar scene turned the background from realistic to having a more painted feel. The way it transitioned and was presented was similar to that of a painted image over a realistic image.
The Paris scene had both positive and negative elements. Pointless things like people in the background, a bus to the side, lights and things of the like were vastly improved by mClassic. However, it came at the cost of the focal point in at least one of the scenes. At roughly 1:27you can see what I believe is Clopatra’s Needle, with a vague idea that there are hieroglyphics on it, though mClassic smooths them to the point where it looks like a giant obelisk with some black smudges on it.
Some might argue this isn’t the most fair test of mClassic, after all it’s designed with gaming in mind and Marseille themselves suggest using mCable for something like that, but it’s still interesting to see how it handles a different type of image. When I tried it with some of my older consoles, did an okay job with the picture as long as the content itself wasn’t terribly bad. Something like Burning Rangers on my Sega Saturn looked better with mClassic enabled, but the source was so bad I legitimately wonder how I played it 20 or so years ago. Other games that aged better looked better with mClassic, giving anyone looking to relive the past or stream classic titles a little more to work with, assuming you have something to convert the system to HDMI in the first place.
Where I noticed the most advantage was, quite honestly, my Switch. I don’t know if it was from looking at countless images or just dumb luck, but I notice the most differences there. In fact, I can actually look at my Fire Emblem: Three Houses icon and tell whether mClassic is on or off, but we’re still talking small differences.
For instance, the text is significantly smoother and just the way their hair looks is completely different with mClassic on and off. It reminded me a lot of my testing of mCable, where I noticed the biggest difference with my Apple TV and the way it handles the icons on the home screen.
Using mClassic reminds me of one of the most common concerns I get when showing someone two different televisions. In that setting they can tell the difference, because there is something to compare it to, but in practice I don’t know if you’ll actually see a difference with most things. I actually sent test images to some random people I associate with and when I called attention to something being different they almost always picked the mClassic version, though most admitted to having to spend a fair amount of time looking before choosing the mClassic version. This makes it a little harder to recommend, though at $69 or even the full price of $99, it does enough to see the market for it, you just need the right expectations.
[Editor’s Note: mClassic was provided for review purposes. Also, anyone interested in looking at additional images of games I captured can find a small gallery here.]