Yes, Virginia, smart cables can improve quality

Sticking a chip in a product and calling it “smart” is all the rage these days. So much so that a speaker at the Hardware Heroes conference last month gave a speech called “Internet of Stupid Things.” This trend has finally made its way to the lowly cable, and the results are actually surprising.

Claims of cables significantly improving quality have been suspect since the early days of HDMI adoption when some companies like Monster made a killing selling higher priced cables that they said improved video quality. There was no evidence they worked, though. Now, the company Marseille claims to achieve the same thing with its mCable HDMI products. This time, though, the cable actually works thanks to embedded processing.

Linus Tech Tips took a look at the mCable in a YouTube video and concluded that it does improve image quality with anti-aliasing and improved visual fidelity. Linus ultimately recommends the cable for people who stream a lot of web content and play console games, but the $119 starting price still seems like a lot to ask of consumers. The price will no doubt fall in time as these smart cables become more popular.

Marseille is not in a league of its own, either. Others are already hard at work developing their own smart cables for other operations. The Xround Xpump improves audio quality, a claim they were able to prove through demonstrations at the Startup Launchpad show this year.

The Xpump has two modes. One turns on “surround sound,” which enhances the audio detail and makes the audio coming from stereo speakers sound fuller. Another press of the Xpump button also boosts the bass.

Like the mCable, the Xround dongle starts at $119. This might say something about demand in the smart cable market. Some consumers will no doubt be left to choose whether improving the quality of video or audio is more important.

Why hardware?

One thing that probably sticks out about these products is that similar effects can be achieved through software. There’s an advantage in having a dedicated chip to handle the processing of video or audio enhancement. This keeps it from draining resources from a computer, console or another system.

There are business reasons for going the hardware route, as well. Many companies are moving into hardware to promote software enhancements. Hardware is harder to copy and counterfeit. It also allows companies to better control the experience.

This is why Google has exclusive features in its Pixel phones that could theoretically be put on any Android phone with similar hardware. Giving the Pixel a unique software experience that only Google can provide makes sure consumers have to buy from Google to get that experience.

Whatever the reasons Marseille and Xround decided on putting out hardware products, it appears to be working for them.

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