Comparing native RGB video quality of different models of Mega Drive and Sega Genesis [English version]

[Versão em português aqui]
First of all, I wanted to say that I’ve been a Sega fan since I was a kid, and Mega Drive/Genesis being the company’s biggest star, it always occupied a big place in my heart, by far my favorite console.

About 5 or 6 years ago, I started collecting some games, which sparked the interest of playing again on the original consoles, and eventually I began researching the best way to play these consoles on modern TVs. Today, I’m looking forward to getting my OSSC, and meanwhile I use a SCART RGB to Component video converter, as a lot of people out there do. The result is so much better than connecting the console directly to the TV’s AV input, but it’s still far from ideal for those who are looking to get the most out of our old friends.

One thing that bothers me a lot here in my setup are the jail bars, which are especially visible on the Mega Drive/Genesis when there are certain solid colors on the screen. For those who do not know, jail bars are stripes, like a grid on the screen, and especially in the Mega Drive/Genesis they are pretty noticeable, caused by interference that occurs in the console board itself. In my setup, since the converter board from RGB to component does not have the perfect grounding, the problem is more visible, and it bothers me.

Another known fact: jail bars are more prominent in some models of Mega Drive/Genesis — there are board revisions that slightly attenuate the effect, making the image more pleasant. In search of the Mega Drive/Genesis with the best possible RGB output, I gathered several models of the console and took them to Master Fabio Santana’s house for tests in his Master Race setup!

In the tests we used:
- Japanese Mega Drive 1
- Japanese Mega Drive 2
- Genesis USA Model 1 High-Definition Graphics
- Genesis USA Model 1, later revision without the High-Definition Graphics logo
- Genesis USA Model 1 with mod that turns off video encoder pin 6
- Brazilian Mega Drive III from Tec Toy (which is based on the Genesis 2 revision)
- Brazilian CDX from Tec Toy
- Sega 32X USA
- Japanese Mega Jet
- X’Eye from JVC (rare console manufactured by JVC, the American version of the Japanese WonderMega — although the Japanese does not output RGB natively, while the X’Eye does)

Video equipment:
- XRGB-mini Framemeister upscaler (throughout all the tests we used the Mega Drive/Genesis profile created by FirebrandX, which upscales the console’s image by an integer scale of 4x with pixel-perfect proportion and outputs with 1080p resolution)
- Elgato Game Capture HD60 capture card
- Games used in the tests: Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Castlevania Bloodlines, Rocket Knight Adventures
- Calibration tool: 240p Test Suite
- All consoles were using RGB SCART cables with CSYNC from RetroGamingCables.co.uk plugged directly to the upscaler to avoid any interference from other devices in the middle
- Screens were captured in PNG, with no compression. Further below in the article we embedded YouTube videos, but even in 1080p60 resolution, the service applies a lot of compression, compromising the results a little. At the end of the article there are links to download the screens in PNG and the raw video files as they were captured.

Results

Japanese Mega Drive 1

Notably, the Japanese consoles have the most explicit problem with jail bars when compared to the US consoles, and this particular model made that clear. The Japanese model 1 proved to be the worst of all tested in terms of RGB output quality, thus taking the throne of interference, the king of jail bars. Now, in the sound (following the pattern of the first models), it is a great option.

Screenshots in PNG using Japanese Mega Drive 1. Very noticeable jail bars, especially in the blue tones (click on the images to enlarge)
Sonic the Hedgehog 1 running on Japanese Mega Drive 1 (watch in 1080p60 in full screen)

Japanese Mega Drive 2

As we mentioned, Japanese models are the ones that have the biggest issues with jail bars. This Japanese model 2 also showed visible jail bars, and, in addition, strong noise on the colors, which was very visible in the 240p Test Suite patterns. Aside from that, this unit has the bonus of having the worst sound quality of the consoles that we tested.

Screenshots in PNG using Japanese Mega Drive 2. Jail bars also quite apparent in blue tones (click on the images to enlarge)
Sonic the Hedgehog 1 running on Japanese Mega Drive 2 (watch in 1080p60 in full screen)
Japanese Mega Drive 1 X Japanese Mega Drive 2 (move the slider to compare)

Genesis USA Model 1 High-Definition Graphics

A model known to have the best sound! In the tests, it was quite capable: the jail bars are visible, but not at all like with the Japanese Mega Drive 1 and 2, and the color noise is present, but it is barely visible. The sound is great, placing it among the best in this round of testing.

Screenshots in PNG using the Genesis 1 High-Definition Graphics model. Vivid and clean colors with subtle jail bars (click on the images to enlarge)
Sonic the Hedgehog 1 running on Genesis 1 High-Definition Graphics with stereo audio output from headphone jack (watch in 1080p60 in full screen)
Japanese Mega Drive 1 X Genesis 1 High-Definition Graphics (move the slider to compare)

Genesis USA Model 1 (later revision without the High-Definition Graphics logo)

It was the first surprise in our tests. As it was a model I used as my main console in my setup, I had the impression that the jail bars were more visible, but in tests the difference in comparison with the High-Definition Graphics model was almost indistinguishable! The sound, strange as it sounds, showed almost no difference either!

Screenshots in PNG using the Genesis 1 later revision without High-Definition Graphics written on the console. Almost no difference in comparison with the High-Definition Graphics model (click on the images to enlarge)
Sonic the Hedgehog 1 running on Genesis 1 without High-Definition Graphics with stereo audio from the headphone output (watch in 1080p60 in full screen)
Genesis 1 High-Definition Graphics X Genesis 1 without High-Definition Graphics (move the slider to compare)

Genesis model 1 with mod on the video encoder

We took the previous console and made a mod that we saw on the internet where you cut the leg of the composite video signal from the chip. There was an improvement in the RGB signal, and the sound also got cleaner without the hissing on bright screens that the same console had before the mod. In my opinion, a valid option for anyone who does not mind losing composite connection.

Screenshots in PNG using Genesis 1 with mod to minimize interference of composite video in the RGB signal. The modification reduced the jail bars (click on the images to enlarge)
Sonic the Hedgehog 1 running on the Genesis 1 with mod on the video encoder and with stereo audio from the headphone output (watch in 1080p60 in full screen)
Genesis 1 without High-Definition Graphics X Same Genesis 1 with mod on the video encoder (move the slider to compare)

Brazilian Mega Drive III from Tec Toy (same as a Genesis 2, but this one in particular has a Fujitsu video encoder)

Another surprise in the tests! The console blew us away! The image is super clean, with no jail bars whatsoever, with well-defined colors — it’s crispy to the bones! Pretty much the same level we saw with the X’Eye (further below), but using a console that costs a fraction of the price. Unfortunately, the sound is awful, right within the standard we already expected, but the image is so good that we decided it’s worth trying a mod for this model that consists in building a sound circuit, and then we will see how it turns out.

Screenshots in PNG using Tec Toy’s Mega Drive III. RGB signal is super clean, with bright colors and no jail bars (click on the images to enlarge)
Sonic the Hedgehog 1 running on Tec Toy’s Mega Drive III (watch in 1080p60 in full screen)
Genesis 1 High-Definition Graphics X Mega Drive III (move the slider to compare)

Brazilian CDX from Tec Toy

Another pleasant surprise! We were expecting results almost identical to a Japanese Mega Drive 2 with this console, but … what an image! Almost no jail bars and minimal noticeable interference (the model we tested didn’t have the copper shielding that was originally on the PCB to isolate any interference, so the little interference in the images we got with this CDX may not even appear on a console with the proper shielding). Image quality was ridiculous, placing it among the top contenders in our tests, losing by a little margin in terms of color reproduction and crispness (sharpness). Unfortunately, the sound is the third worst we’ve tested, ranking better only to Japan’s Mega Drive 2 and Tec Toy’s Mega Drive III.

Screenshots in PNG using Tec Toy’s CDX. Clear and clean image (click on the images to enlarge)
Sonic the Hedgehog 1 running on Tec Toy’s CDX (watch in 1080p60 in full screen)
Mega Drive III from Tec Toy X CDX from Tec Toy (move the slider to compare)

Sega 32X USA

Confirming the rumors, the 32X video converter actually improves the image generated by Mega Drive/Genesis. It has greatly reduced the jail bars, increased the sharpness a bit and improved color separation, however, it increased a bit the interference and noise in some colors, but nothing that diminish its merits and its good placement in our ranking! As for the sound, we did not get a chance to test, but we assume it does not change the quality of the Mega Drive/Genesis that is used as the basis.

Screenshots in PNG using the American Sega 32X. The add-on has its own image processor and gives a clean RGB output (click on the images to enlarge)
CDX from Tec Toy x American 32X (move the slider to compare)

Mega Jet

A console that Sega launched in Japan and sold to airlines, virtually a Nomad without a screen. The version we tested was the one that was commercially released to the general public. The result was very positive: very good image, zero jail bars, great colors and excellent definition, almost at the X’Eye level (below). The sound is also great, at the level of the Model 1 consoles. Unfortunately, as the console is rare and expensive, and because of its pseudo-portable nature means no compatibility with Sega CD and 32X, it makes Mega Jet an impractical option for the daily use.

Screenshots in PNG using the Japanese Mega Jet. Impeccable image quality (click on the images to enlarge)
Sonic the Hedgehog 1 running on the Japanese Mega Jet (watch in 1080p60 in full screen)
CDX from Tec Toy X Mega Jet (move the slider to compare)

X’Eye from JVC

As expected, this was the great champion of our round of tests, showing an outstanding image! ZERO jail bars, well-defined colors, extremely crispy pixels, a great leap in overall image quality. It also has the best sound, more defined and clear tones with great bass.

Screenshots in PNG using X’Eye. The best RGB output quality of all the Mega Drive/Genesis models we tested (click on the images to enlarge)
Sonic the Hedgehog 1 running on X’Eye (watch in 1080p60 in full screen)
Mega Drive III from Tec Toy X JVC’s X’Eye (move the slider to compare)

Bonus: low-pass filter via switcher

We also tested the Japanese Mega Drive 2 connected to Framemeister through the gscartsw switcher in the middle, which applies a low-pass filter to the image. The look is nicer and the jail bars are less visible, but there is a slight loss of sharpness, but in our opinion it is well worth the trade to get a cleaner image. It should works with any console that outputs via RGB SCART, in fact, not only with the Mega Drive/Genesis. There are other SCART switchers that also add a low-pass filter, such as Bandridge’s automatic model, which adds a more aggressive filter, but also makes the image even blurrier.

Screenshots in PNG using the Japanese Mega Drive 2 connected to the gscartsw switcher before reaching Framemeister to receive a serving of low-pass filter. The filter leaves the image a little blurrier, but also softens the jail bars in the process (click on the images to enlarge)
Japanese Mega Drive 2 X Japanese Mega Drive 2 + gscartsw with low-pass filter (move the slider to compare)

Ranking of RGB quality of our tests

1) X’Eye from JVC
2) Mega Jet
3) Mega Drive III from Tec Toy
4) CDX from Tec Toy (we tested the Tec Toy model, but any CDX would apply here)
5) 32X

We hope the information here will help you choose the best Mega Drive/Genesis to use in your setup. Please notice that these results were reached in a top of the line setup, and of course even different units of the same console model can produce different results. In addition, the assessment here was subjective, from observations and comparisons using the TV screen itself and the screens captured. For those who are not demanding enough to seek the most expensive models, you can easily go for the Sega Genesis Model 1 or Mega Drive III and you will have good results too!!!

We would like to thank our friend Pedro Pereira Neto, who gave us access to the rarest models, Mega Jet and X’Eye. Thank you very much!!!

P.S.: Fabio Santana’s note: “I WANT AN X’EYE!!!!!”

Links to download raw screenshots and videos

Screenshots in PNG: Google Drive
Raw zipped videos (without YouTube compression): Google Drive

Further Information

Interested in the subject and want to know more? Join our Facebook group with more information, news and discussions about retro games and how to make them look better with modern equipment: RGB Inside: Retro RGB Club