VIDEO CAMERA 1995

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INTRO

Thinking of buying a television? Before you do take a look at Video Camera’s definitive guide to TV

 

COPY

Last year we in the UK purchased almost 3 million televisions, spending the best part of £1 billion in the process. That’s an increase of 6% from the previous year, sales figures in 1995 are expected to be even higher! That’s in spite of the recession, various other feel-bad factors, and the hole in the ozone layer. It seems we just can’t get enough of them!

 

Our appetite for television is not altogether surprising. The role of the domestic TV set has changed out of all recognition in the past twenty years. They have evolved from passive receivers of a handful of terrestrial television channels to multi-purpose displays for a vast array of audio-visual gadgetry. Today’s TVs have to be able to interface with a variety of devices, including VCRs, satellite tuners, laserdisc players, cable tuners, video game consoles, CD-i players and of course camcorders. A year from now you can add digital video disc (DVD) players, digital set-top converters, possibly even telephone modems, to the list, it just keeps on growing.

 

That’s only part of the story though. TV are getting cheaper. Prices have tumbled in the past ten years, thanks mainly to the ubiquitous microchip and intense competition. The number of components inside a typical TV has fallen from a couple of thousand in the late seventies, to just a couple of hundred today. In fact small screen colour TVs (14-inch and under) are now so cheap to produce the industry regards them as commodity items, they’re almost an impulse buy, some high-street outlets selling them for as little as £130.

 

Nevertheless, not all new TV purchases are entirely voluntary. Broadcasters and television manufacturers are continually re-inventing the product. Every ten years or so there’s a major technical development, that effectively forces us to replace our TVs on a semi-regular basis. In the 1960’s there was the change from 405-line to 625-line transmissions; colour TV and BBC2 arrived in the 1970s. During the 1980’s we had Channel 4, teletext, video recorders and at then very end of the decade, satellite TV. We’re only halfway through the 1990’s but already we’ve seen the widespread introduction of NICAM stereo, widescreen TVs, PAL Plus, interactive cable services, and soon the big one, digital television.

 

DIGITAL REVOLUTION

Digital television represents one of the most fundamental changes in broadcasting technology but what will it mean for the average viewer? The most obvious benefit -- if you can call it that  --  will be a huge increase in the number of channels. That’s because digital signals make far more efficient use of the broadcasting spectrum. Six or more digital channels can occupy the space needed for one analogue channel, and there’s fewer problems with co-channel interference, from transmitters in adjoining areas.

 

Digital TV makes even more sense for satellite broadcasters. The signals are more robust and there’s even greater pressure on frequency space. Viewers in marginal signal areas should see a dramatic improvement in picture quality and digital TV provides an easy upgrade path to widescreen and high-definition TV. However, the real advantage of digital TV is that it makes it easier for broadcasters to introduce secure conditional access and pay to view systems, in other words, easier ways to make us pay for what we watch.

 

Don’t panic, this is all still a few years off. There a lot of technical and political problems still to be sorted out. Rest assured if you’re in the market for a new TV now, there’s little or no point waiting for digital TV. It will be a while before sensibly-priced products reach the shops, let alone anything new to watch on them, that you won’t be able to see on your existing TV. You can be reasonably sure that any TV you buy now will almost certainly lead a long and useful life. So what should you be looking out for when buying a new TV?

 

DOES SIZE MATTER?

The first thing to decide is what sort of TV you want, and we’re not just talking about screen size. Nowadays the market breaks down into at a dozen or more fairly distinct sectors. At the bottom of the pile there’s basic small-screen mono TVs, only a few manufacturers bother with them these days but there’s still a small demand for them as budget-priced second TVs. Then there are the speciality and novelty sets, including the miniature pocket LCD models, plus various gadgets and gizmos that have built-in TV screens.

 

However, we’re mostly interested in the mainstream colour TV market, which  is heavily segmented by price and features. It starts with small-screen models, those with 14 to 20-inch screens. In recent years 14-inch TVs have become very popular, research shows that most of them end up in bedrooms and kitchens, or increasingly as second sets for the kids, used with VCRs, computers or video games. Models with 21 to 26-inch screens are the most popular for living room use. Within that size range sets are further sub divided by price-points and key features, such as mono or stereo sound systems and teletext. Large-screen TVs, in the range 27 to 33-inches now have an 11 percent share of the market, and it’s growing. Most of them are stereo sets with NICAM sound systems. Within this sector are a growing number home-cinema TVs, with Dolby Pro-Logic surround-sound processors.  

 

Widescreen TVs are a comparatively recent innovation, and form another small but distinct part of the home cinema TV market. The picture tubes on these sets mirror the shape, or ‘aspect ratio’ of a cinema screen, though at the moment there’s precious little widescreen material available to watch on them. A couple of TV companies have been experimenting with PALplus widescreen broadcasts, but it has not been a great success, and the BBC say they have no intention of using the system.

 

PROJECTION TVS

Once you get above 33 inches you’re into specialist territory. The largest volume-produced CRT picture tubes measure 37-inches across, they’re very expensive to make, and all that glass is very heavy, needles to say there’s only a few TVs with screens that large, and they all cost a small fortune.  Above 37-inches and the display technology changes, from picture tubes to projection. Rear or back-projection televisions look like giant TVs with screens measuring from 40 to 60-inches across. Inside there’s normally a set of three high-intensity CRTs (red, green and blue) in the base of the box, bouncing images off a series of mirrors onto the inside of a large translucent screen. A couple of back projection models announced recently have LCD display systems, where a beam of light is shone through a small LCD panel, via a series of mirrors onto the screen. It’s likely this technology will eventually replace CRT projection tubes, which have a relatively short life.  Most back projectors have built in tuners, stereo or surround sound audio systems and function more or less like an ordinary TV.

 

Front projectors work like slide or movie projectors, throwing an image onto a large screen. The most powerful domestic projectors can create an image up to 200-inches across. Nowadays most models modes use LCD elements, the cheaper ones (£700 to £2000) have a single element and although they’re getting better all the time, the picture does tend to look a little grainy. High-performance LCD projectors have three LCD panels, one for each primary colour, and under the right conditions picture quality can be excellent. However, virtually all domestic video projects -- front and rear types --  work best in semi darkness, some of the cheaper models need almost complete darkness. 

 

KEY FEATURES

Whatever sort of TV you’re interested in, there are number of features that you should be looking out for. The first is one, and preferably two SCART AV input/output sockets on the back panel. They’re essential if you want to connect the TV to peripheral devices like VCRs and satellite tuners. You can ‘daisy-chain’ AV components using the aerial sockets but this results in a significant reduction in picture quality, and where applicable, loss of stereo sound. It’s also a very good idea to have an AV terminal on the front, especially if you’ve got a camcorder or video games console. They make life so much easier, particularly for temporary hook-ups, so you won’t have buy special cables or go rooting around the back of the sets.  If you’ve got a high-band camcorder (S-VHS-C or Hi8) them make sure the front AV terminal has an S-Video socket as well, if it hasn’t then ensure that there’s one on the back panel, or that one of the SCART sockets can be configured for an S-Video input.

 

It goes without saying that you need remote control. Teletext is well worth having as well, and it adds little to the overall cost of a TV these days. Stereo sound is a must, unless you’re unlucky enough to live in an area where you cannot receive NICAM broadcasts from the BBC or IBA companies. A few isolated areas may not be upgraded until at least the turn of the century, if at all! Even so, you can still use a NICAM TVs stereo sound system with a hi-fi VCR.

 

PICTURE QUALITY

To be honest there’s not a huge amount of difference in picture quality between top-brand TVs within a particular size or price category. There are a number of reasons for this, the first one being that TV picture tubes are made by only a handful of factories world-wide. The same applies to tuner components and picture processing microchips, the same one’s turn up over and again, irrespective of the badge on the front. Lastly advanced automatic picture correction circuitry and fewer overall components in TVs means there are only a small number of manual adjustments on the circuit boards, and that means less chance of human error or mis-alignment in the factory. There are differences, but they’re mostly subjective. When your shopping for a TV try to see as many sets as you can within your price range, here’s a few that have caught our eye.

 

THE ROUNDUP -- TEN OF THE BEST

 

REAR PROJECTION  

 

Sony KP-S4112U

Most back projection TV are ugly great things but Sony at least, have tried hard to make their look less intrusive. The KP-S4112U is reasonably well specified, without being overloaded with gadgets. It has a useful picture-in-picture (PIP) facility, NICAM sound, fastext, on-screen display, 100-channel tuner, 3 SCART sockets and nifty double-sided remote. In spite of the 41-inch screen it’s actually no deeper, and the overall footprint is no larger than most normal 21-inch tube TVs. Picture performance is generally good, though it works best in dim light, and the viewing angle is quite narrow. Colours are bright and once correctly adjusted, natural looking. The sound is even better though the special effects ‘spatial’ mode is a bit over the top. It looks good, it’s easy to use and the price is fair.

 

Screen size                  104 cm (41-inches)

Typical price                £2500

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATINGS

Value for money ****

Ease of use                  ****

Picture performance            ***

Audio performance            ****      

 

Philips 46P912A

The 46P912A looks and feels like a very refined product. It has a normal 4:3 screen, but clever styling makes it look more like a widescreen model. It’s very well featured, with a double tuner and PIP facility, so you can watch two channels at once. There’s NICAM stereo, fastext, picture freeze, on-screen displays plus a host of picture noise cancellation and enhancement systems. It also has 100Hz flicker-free display, this has a small impact on the image, producing a slight blurring at the edges of moving objects. The sound system is okay, though you might be excused for expecting something a little more exciting from such a large set. Nevertheless, a big, bold and bright picture that would suit any home cinema set-up, and considering the specification, not a bad deal.

 

Screen size                  114cm (46-inches)

Typical price                £2700

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATINGS

Value for money ***

Ease of use                  ****

Picture performance            ****

Audio performance            ***

 

WIDESCREEN              

 

Philips 28W632

The 28W632 is one of the few 16:9 TVs to sell for less than £1000. Part of the reason it is so reasonably priced is that it doesn’t have a fancy 100Hz ‘Digiscan’ picture display like it’s similarly-sized stablemates. There’s a range of display modes, including normal 4:3 with fairly discrete black bars at the side of the picture. The picture can be enlarged to fill the screen, size is variable and the position can be altered to avoid chopping off the tops of people heads. It has a ‘panorama’ mode, that stretches the edges of 4:3 pictures, this can look rather odd at times. It works best with 16:9 material (letterboxed or anamorphically compressed), the picture is bright and clear and the sound is quite punchy. Good picture and value for money.

 

Screen size                  72cm (28-inches)                  

Typical price                £1000

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATINGS

Value for money ****

Ease of use                  ***

Picture performance            ****

Audio performance            ***

 

Nokia SFN7294

It’s been around for a while, and due for replacement soon, so look out for bargains. Display options are fairly limited, it has the usual 4:3 inflate mode, which puffs up the picture to fill the screen, cropping the top and bottom of the picture. There’s also a 16:9 stretch, for viewing compressed widescreen material but it doesn’t have more up to date zoom or panorama facilities. It has a picture in picture (PIP) and neat picture out of picture (POP) feature, whereby sub-screens can be inserted into the black borders at the sides of 4:3 pictures. Overall picture quality is very pleasing, it has a good dynamic range and colours are pin-sharp. NICAM stereo audio is impressive, separation is fine and the speakers produce a well-rounded sound, though bass is a bit lightweight.

 

Screen size                  72cm (28-inches)

Typical price                £1100

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATINGS

Value for money ***

Ease of use                  ***

Picture performance            ***

Audio performance            ****

 

DOLBY PRO LOGIC

 

Philips 29828C

The 2928 is one of the few DPL sets on the market to have a built-in centre-front speaker. It also comes with a pair of rather good Arena rear effects speakers, (do check though, we have heard of cheaper substitutes. The built-in stereo speakers are a bit weedy though, and you’re stuck with the on-board centre speaker as there’s no option to add one of your own. There’s plenty of convenience features, including an advanced fastext decoder, NICAM, auto-tuning and multi-standard display. Picture quality is excellent, it has a 100Hz flicker free display, which in this case does a really good job. Surround-sound performance is fine though the back channel could do with a little more power. A touch pricey and the remote’s a stinker but a top-grade performer.

 

Screen size                  73cm (29-inches)

Typical price                £1000

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATINGS

Value for money ***

Ease of use                  ***

Picture performance            ****

Audio performance            ****

                                   

JVC AV-29SX1EK

The trouble with surround sound is all the extra speakers and wiring, so JVC set about designing a system that uses only two built-in speakers. The result is the 3D Symphonix TV which has a built in DPL processor and decoder that simulates the effect of a rear channel, by piping rear channel information the main stereo speakers. It’s not a patch on a proper multi-speaker set-up, rear-channel info is negligible. It is possible to upgrade the set to full Dolby Pro Logic operation, though  this would entail extra amplifiers and speakers, which rather takes the shine off the price. What it lacks in sonic drama it makes up for with a stunning picture; it’s crisp, colours look brilliant and there’s a real sense of depth. Great picture but surround sound is disappointing.

 

Screen size                  73cm (29-inches)

Typical price                £900

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATINGS

Value for money ***

Ease of use                  ****

Picture performance            ****      

Audio performance            ***

 

NICAM 25-inch

 

Panasonic TX25X1

Panasonic have perfected the art of understatement; the TX-25X1 is just a plain charcoal-black box with a screen in the middle. Inside there’s a lot of sophisticated technology, and for once they haven’t ignored the sound side of things. This set has a ‘Dome’ speaker system, which basically means a big sound from surprisingly small slots either side of the screen. It has the usual assortment of convenience features, including fastext, twin SCART sockets and on-screen displays, plus useful extras, like a front AV terminal with S-Video input, and headphone socket. On-screen performance is outstanding, a brilliant picture, sharp with bags of detail. The sound compliments the picture, with well-defined treble and better than average bass content, though the stereo soundstage is fairly narrow.

 

Screen size                  63cm (25-inch)

Typical price                £550

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATINGS

Value for money ****

Ease of use                  ****

Picture performance            ****      

Audio performance            ****

 

 

Grundig ST63-755

Grundig equipment tends to be fairly expensive, so the ST63 comes as something of a surprise. It’s no dearer than most of its rivals, yet the feature list includes several luxury items, like multi-standard operation. It can handle all three TV standards (PAL, SECAM and NTSC), handy if you have a multi-standard VCR or laserdisc machine, and the tuner operates in any European country. Even if you never get around to fully exploiting all of its talents it still gives a very good account of itself as a stay-at-home NICAM TV. It has fastext, twin SCARTs and a front AV terminal (but no S-Video socket, tut-tut...) and a multi-lingual (11 languages) on-screen display.  A good picture, solid sound, plus a lot of enthusiast features, all at a very reasonable price.

 

Screen size                  63cm (25-inch)                      

Typical price                £550

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATINGS

Value for money ****

Ease of use                  ***

Picture performance            ****      

Audio performance            ****

 

 

NICAM 21-inch

 

Hitachi C2146TN

Simple and to the point, that’s the C2146, which looks and sounds like a proper stereo TV. It has few pretensions, and even fewer gadgets, though the on/off timer could come in handy in the bedroom, and the semi-automatic tuner makes the initial set-up a real doddle. It has a full set of AV sockets, including a front mounted terminal with S-Video socket, and the remote handset will control Hitachi VCRs. Channel change is a bit slow, and the on-screen display is slightly unusual, and may take some getting used to, but apart from that it works very well indeed. Picture quality is fine, and for a 21-inch set, it has a beefy sound, with good stereo imaging. Well worth considering if you’re after a smaller set with big sound.

 

Screen size                  53cm (21-inches)      

Typical price                £380

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATINGS

Value for money ****

Ease of use                  ****

Picture performance            ***       

Audio performance            ****

 

Toshiba 2145DB

Sound quality figures prominently on the 2145. It has Toshiba’s Quadryl system; a slightly delayed signal fed to a pair of additional speakers on top of the TV create a much fuller, more dynamic sound. The extra speakers give the TV a slightly lumpy appearance, though it’s by no means an ugly-looking set. In addition to a pair of SCART sockets on the back there’s a fully featured AV terminal on the front, it has a sleep timer and auto-off switch (useful if you doze off in front of the TV), on-screen display and fastext. The picture looks good, bright, well defined colours and lots of detail. However, it’s the sound that sets this one apart from the crowd, there’s a large and lively stereo soundstage with a real feeling of depth. Expensive but it does sound good.

 

Screen size                  53cm (21-inches)

Typical price                £450

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATINGS

Value for money ***

Ease of use                  ***

Picture performance            ***       

Audio performance            ****

 

 

BOX COPY 1

BUYING TIPS

* Get a stereo TV, unless you’re one of the unfortunate 5% of the population who cannot receive NICAM broadcasts.

 

* Make sure any set you buy has at least two SCART AV sockets

 

* TVs are pretty reliable nowadays so generally speaking extended warranties and service contracts are an unnecessary expense, unless you’re a terminal pessimist, or unlucky with domestic appliances...

 

* Get the biggest TV your budget and living space permits

 

* If your TV aerial is more than 10 years old get a new one, and don’t even think about a set-top aerial unless you’re living within a mile or so of your local TV transmitter

 

BOX COPY 2

JARGON BUSTER

 

ANAMORPHIC COMPRESSION

Used on widescreen broadcast and recordings, where the picture is compressed sideways, so everything looks tall and thin. Widescreen TVs stretch the picture, so that it fills the entire width of the screen

 

ASPECT RATIO (4:3 or 16:9)

The shape of a TV screen. The faceplate on a normal TV picture tube is 4 units wide, by three units wide (normally referred to as 4:3), widescreen sets are 16 units wide by 9 units deep or 16:9, the same basic shape as a cinema screen.

 

AV TERMINAL

Set of concealed sockets on the front of a TV, for making temporary audio and video connections with camcorders or video games console

 

CRT

Cathode ray tube -- picture display device used on most TVs

 

DOLBY PRO LOGIC (DPL)

Type of surround sound decoder used to unscramble 4 audio channels contained within the stereo soundtracks of many movies and a growing number of TV programmes made within the past 15 years, shown on terrestrial and satellite TV. The four channels comprise the normal right and left stereo tracks, a centre-front channel (used for dialogue), and a rear effects channel

 

FST

Flatter, squarer tube. Picture tube with near flat faceplate and squared corners, developed for modern ‘monitor’ style TV cabinets

 

INVAR MASK

Inside a colour picture tube there’s a thin perforated sheet of metal -- called a shadow mask -- through which the electron beam passes, before striking the phosphor coating on the screen to produce the image. The shadowmask gets very hot and if it changes shape it can affect the colour purity of the picture; thermally stable alloys, such as invar, minimise heat distortion

 

LCD

Liquid crystal display -- optoelectronic display device used in pocket TV and video projectors

 

NICAM

Near instantaneously companded audio multiplexing -- digital stereo sound system for TV, developed in the UK by the IBA and BBC; coverage now extends to around 95% of the UK population.

 

NTSC

National Television Standards Committee -- 525-line/60Hz colour TV system used throughout North America, Japan and parts of the Far East

 

PAL

Phase Alternate Line -- 625-line/50Hz colour TV system used in the UK, most of Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Australasia

 

SCART

Syndicat des Constructeurs d'Appareils Radio Recepteurs et Televiseurs -- 21-pin plug and socket system used on TVs and VCRs sold within the EC, for carrying audio, video and control signals

 

SECAM

Sequential Coleur a'Memoire -- 625-line/50Hz colour TV system used in France, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries

 

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1995 2709

 


 

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