When it's time to hook up an external device to your TV, you're often drowning in options – not to mention jargon. Got a Blu-ray player or Nintendo Switch? You'll be using HDMI. How about a fancy new sound bar? Mostly likely an optical audio cable or 3.5mm cable. Going with a retro gaming system or reliving your VHS glory days? That'll be a set of composite RCA cables, an S-video cable or even the old-school, screw-on coaxial cable. And the list, of course, goes on. But, one cable you don't hear too much about in the U.S. is the RGB (red, green, blue) cable. Though mostly relegated to European TVs, this type of cable has found a modern home in some enthusiast communities.
RGB Cable Basics
One end of an RGB cable plugs in to the 15-pin VGA (video graphics array) port, often found on computers, laptops and even some HD televisions. In Europe, this type of port was also commonly found on standard-definition, tube TVs before the advent of flat-panel high-definition screens. The other end of an RGB cable usually consists of a SCART – a flat, rectangular connector that plugs into the external device you're hooking up to your TV or monitor.
RGB Cable Functions
Stateside, our devices use the NTSC (National Television System Committee) display standard while European devices use the PAL (Phase Alternation Line) standard. This is why you can't typically play an American-bought Blu-ray in a standard European player. In America, professional-grade NTSC workstation video monitors often had VGA inputs and were compatible with RGB cables, but in Europe, this type of cable connected everything from DVD players to gaming consoles to common consumer TVs.
While other audio-visual cables used during the heyday of RGB delivered image data over a single wire connector, RGB cables separate each signal into its own channel. Moreover, each signal is shielded from electromagnetic interference. Because of this, RGB generally produces better image quality than coaxial or RCA cables (the red and white cables typically used by American TVs at the time), coaxial (also known as "RF") cables or s-video cables.
The RGB Cable Today
Because RGB offers an uncompressed image with increased color depth compared to the other popular connections available during its era, many retro gaming enthusiasts and vintage video game collectors prefer to use this type of connection for gaming consoles that predate the high-definition era. These European consoles include the Sega Mega Drive, Super Nintendo, PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Xbox and even the Wii, among others.
In addition to better colors and clarity, RGB cables may produce less on-screen flickering, especially for retro games that run at 60 frames per second. For sub-HD consoles like the Nintendo GameCube and earlier, Nintendo UK says that a direct RGB connection "produces the best possible playing picture."