POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 19
bettercables.com and avic cables
two S-video cables
as reviewed by Francisco Duran
Why should a true blue two-channel-audio buff be cheated when he wants to watch a movie? I love music, but movies are also appreciated around here. With all the care, thought, and expense that I put into the audio portion of my system, you'd think I would do the same when it comes to video, but the first weakness of my video system is that it is two-channel-only, and does double duty as an audio and a video system. Since my dedicated CD player, a Norh CD-1, now resides in Terry Cain's system (yes, that Terry Cain), I use my modified DVD player for both music and movies. The second obvious weakness is the S-video cable that is hooked up to my TV (which doesn't have "Component Out"). My S-video cable was cheap, and it works. On the outer sleeve, it says the following: ACOUSTIC RESEARCH PERFORMANCE SERIES HIGH DEFINITION S-VIDEO CABLE, in capital letters. I think it cost all of $19 for 6 feet!
The S-video cables under consideration here are said to give very good performance for a reasonable price. One of the cables in question is BetterCables' Silver Serpent Svideo (their spelling) Cable. At $69.95 per meter, this cable features twin 99.9999%-pure-silver-coated copper conductors, hard-shell high-density foam PE dielectric, and dual shielding. According to the BetterCables.com website, their video cables are built to extremely tight impedance tolerances. The nominal impedance of the Silver Serpent is 75 ohms, and its capacitance is low at 17.3pF per foot. BetterCables makes much mention of the fact that a large part of the performance of this cable is due to its silver content.
BetterCables.com was one of the first online-direct manufacturers of video, audio, and digital cables, and their website claims that they are the most popular online source for high-performance cables. They list many awards to back up that claim, from many online and print magazines, including BizRate.com and ConsumerReview.com. BetterCables is not a fly-by-night outfit. On their site, they list "The top 10 reasons to stick with BetterCables." This, along with their product information, makes for some interesting reading.
AViC Cables' website is not as extensive as BetterCables.com, but it is equally informative. According to AViC, what sets them apart from other cable manufacturers is their exclusive technology, combined with "only the highest quality materials and precision engineering." The company features what they call GoldFinger OHFC copper conductors, which are made from a special grade of 99.99999%-pure copper. To prevent the copper from oxidizing, each conductor is fused with a solid 24-karat gold finger. Other features include AViC Involution shielding, which, they say, blocks 99.99999% of all external interference. This is accomplished using high-density copper braids and Mylar foil.
AViC uses what they call OhmniMatch connectors, which are impedance-matched to the cable. The Aegis EX outer jacket, made of shiny, high-tech Mylar, protects the cable from heat, abrasion, low frequency interference, and pets. AViC's PNx2 dielectric is a polyethylene-foam material that is infused with nitrogen gas, then precision-extruded to tolerances of a fraction of a meter. The connectors are low capacitance and low inductance, and are immune to any external interface. These materials are said to improve soundstage and imaging, and are near phase-perfect across the full spectrum, without any coloration. One meter of their S-video cable costs $49.95 plus $10 per additional meter.
I know some of you are thinking, "Why is a dyed-in-the-wool two channel audio guy doing a review of video cables? He doesn't have a video projector, a line doubler, or even HDTV." Correct, but I bet neither of these companies sells their wares only to video professionals. What about the average audio/video person, like me, who just wants to improve the picture on his TV? Let's have a go at it.
I don't have the luxury of having a DVD player with multiple S-video inputs (or a TV with multiple S-video outputs) that would enable me to switch inputs at the flick of a button on the remote. That would be cool, but I had to do it the old-fashioned way, by hand. Actually, I got my son to do the switching. Child remote control, but he's getting expensive. Yes, one cable was put in, some movies were watched, or at least snippets of movies, and he did the switch over and over ‘til I got a handle on these snakes! For the most part, I used test DVDs that have parallels in the audio world. Instead of Diana Krall and Patricia Barber, it was The Fifth Element and Lost in Space. (Okay, I did throw in From Dusk Till Dawn and Scary Movie 3 for kicks.)
Another S-video cable that I had on hand was an Audioquest S-3, loaned to me by Dave Clark. The build quality of the BetterCable and AViC cables was impressive, but the Audioquest is built like a garden hose. Not only that, but the connectors are soldered on in the same direction, so when you hook one side to the TV and the other side to the DVD player, one connector isn't upside down, and you don't have to twist it to connect it. With both the BetterCable and AViC, one is upside down, so you have to twist it 180 degrees to fit it into the female S-video connector. This twisting always made me nervous. Although both cables are well built, how will they hold up in the long run with the twist stressing them?
These cables performed as I expected them to—preconceived notions or not, that is how it worked out. With the Better cable, the test DVDs looked very clear and clean. Grain was diminished as much as my system could allow. Colors looked slightly richer than with the AViC or Acoustic Research cables. Colors were well behaved—there was no blurring of one into the next when looking at the reds and oranges in The Fifth Element. With this cable, colors looked rich but not overdone. This seemed to bring an improvement in dimensionality. For instance, when Milla Jovovich is in the flying taxi behind Bruce Willis, her cute little shape looked a tad more dimensional and, shall we say, fleshed out with the Better cable than it did with my own S-video cable.
Switching to the AViC cable, the most noticeable difference was that the picture looked slightly brighter. It had that same grain-free presentation, but this time the action took place at high noon on a clear day instead of in the later part of the day. The difference wasn't dramatic, but it was noticeable. Colors, especially reds and blues, looked natural, but in daylight scenes, the sun seemed to shine a little bit brighter than with the Better cable. In From Dusk Till Dawn, when George Clooney and Juliette Lewis finally emerge from the Titty Twister Bar after an all-night fight for their lives, it was as if a weight had been taken off the audience's shoulders. Which cable was right? Both looked good. The strength of the AViC cable was its clarity. Colors never seemed saturated or too rich. That is not to say that they were less than natural. The AViC cable kept a tight reign on the visuals, and never let any aspect of the picture get out of control.
The Audioquest cable exhibited yet another difference in performance. With the Better cable and the AViC, I always had the performance in mind. It was like listening to a good solid-state audio system and mentally taking note of the soundstage, the sharpness of the images, and how extended the speakers sounded. Watching TV with the Audioquest cable was like sitting in front of a great-sounding tube system and basking in the musical performance. (You didn't know tubes could do that? They do!) With the Audioquest cable, the picture was more natural looking. My eyes weren't immediately drawn to the sharpness of images, edge definition, or lack of grain, but to the movie. I don't know the price of the Audioquest cable, but it looks substantially more expensive than either the Better cable or the AViC. Nevertheless, after a few weeks of watching movies with the Audioquest cable, I returned to the Better cable, and the picture was excellent—sharp, clean, and clear. This was also true with the AViC cable. The Audioquest cable seemed very slightly diffused by comparison. Needless to say, we watched a lot of movies around here for a while!
When you get right down to it, the differences between these cables were slight, but they were more than slight compared to the el cheapo cable I use on a daily basis. I was surprised by how grainy my cable made the picture look in comparison. To be fair, the Acoustic Research cable does not have the build quality and materials of either the BetterCable or the AViC, not to mention the Audioquest. What have we learned here? That cables really do make a difference? We already know that! Either of these video cables would make a positive difference in your system. The claims made by both companies are backed up by their performance, which was consistently excellent. If you need a video cable, buy one of these. The price is right, and they will probably last longer than your TV! Francisco Duran