Xbox 360 Through an LCD: Cable Comparison

Over the past couple months, I’ve had a number of people ask how my 21″ widescreen LCD performs with the Xbox 360. To be honest, I haven’t really been using my monitor for gaming much since one my primary reasons for getting a 360 was to get myself away from this chair once in a while. I’m currently using my 27″ Sony Trinitron television with the S-Video cable. It’s the best resolution I can get on my standard definition television and it’ll hold me over until I can drop the cash for an HDTV. Since I’ve already got 2 cables in my position, I went out and picked up the VGA cable for the 360 to do a little comparison. The results blew me away!

On a standard definition television, S-Video and even Composite looks pretty good. When you use these cables on an LCD it’s just plain ugly. Composite especially, is blurry and blocky around the edges. Just gross! I tried playing Burnout Revenge with the composite cable for a quick race and I had a headache before I was done my second lap. The Xbox 360 Guide looks exceptionally awful and is quite hard to read, where as the same cable on a SDTV looks just fine – nice and crisp. S-Video is a noticeable step up in quality. Especially on text. Things are much easier to read and you don’t feel the strain in your eyes from trying to focus on the blurred edges. Even still, I wouldn’t recommend it. You’re still better off using a SDTV, believe it or not.

One thing to keep in mind when using a widescreen 16:10 LCD is that the Xbox 360 was not designed to be displayed on a screen with this aspect ratio. Widescreen televisions are 16:9 and SDTVs are 4:3 – I guess Microsoft didn’t count on people using widescreen LCD monitors with their 360s. A shame, really since it’s a pretty cheap alternative to an HDTV – not to mention, multipurpose. When using the Composite and S-Video inputs, the image is presented at 4:3 aspect ratio and centered on the screen. There are black bars to the left and right to fill the space. This is better than stretching the image, although it still looks like crap. As soon as you plug in the VGA cable you have a bunch of new options in the form of screen resolutions. Just like your desktop computer, you can change the screen resolution of your Xbox 360. For those that are using a 4:3 LCD monitor, you’re in luck here. You can set your 360 to 1280×1024 and it’ll look great! Those of us at 16:10 aren’t so lucky. As I mentioned previously, most widescreen televisions are 16:9 and there’s no 16:10 resolutions present in the 360. The closest being 1280×768 – the 16:10 variant is 1280×800, so you’ll get 32 pixels worth of stretching. Fortunately, this isn’t a lot considering the resolution. But it is slightly noticeable on things that are meant to be round or square. You should notice in the screenshot above, the VGA example looks taller than the rest. I scaled the VGA version of the full screenshot down to match the rest in the image to the right.

So, if the verdict isn’t clear – it would definitely be worth your $25 to pick up the VGA cable for your Xbox 360 if you don’t yet have a HDTV and want to experience the 360 in all it’s next-gen glory. The difference between the 3 cables is huge, especially when comparing the jump from S-Video to VGA. And for those with a 16:10 monitor, I wouldn’t worry too much about the stretching. It’s hardly noticeable, and for the huge increase in visuals, I’d say it’s a sacrifice you should be willing to make.