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HIGH END HYPE?

Iíve just decided to join the DVD revolution and plan to spend some of my hard earned cash on a new machine. My budget is around £250 to £300 and I was looking at a multi-region Panasonic DVD-RV20 or maybe a Sony DVP-S325. I read your feature and reviews of budget players in the October issue and wondered what are the advantages of spending the extra money? I am very keen to buy Region 1 movies but am not sure what other features I should look for?

Alan Wells, via email

 

Good move Ė the decision to get into DVD that is Ė and your budget puts you slap bang into the busy mid-market so youíve got plenty of really great top name players to choose from. In general they are built by companies with a history in home video and audio equipment, you tend to get slightly better AV performance, build quality and layout, slicker design and cosmetics, plus well-established service and repair facilities.

 

There are a few things to think about concerning Region 1 playback. First, are you sure you really need it? There are well over 2000 movies on DVD available now with dozens of new ones launched every month and the gap between US and UK release dates is getting smaller all the time. Second, Iím wary about recommending Ďchippedí players since once the box has been opened and bits added the makerís warranty is worthless. Players with disabled region locks from new, or ones that can be hacked from the remote control are a much safer bet since it is a built-in feature. Third, whilst a lot of players can replay, or be persuaded to play many current R1 titles it an unsupported facility and thereís no guarantee these decks will play all discs R1, now, or in the future. One more thought. Just suppose the Hollywood studios came up with fancy disc coding system that blocked R1 playback on R2 machines; itís not impossible, so-called Ďsmart discsí can refuse to play on some hacked or multi-region decks. Equally Hollywood could close the current multi-region loophole on DVD recorder decks, (which you will want to own), what happens then to your collection of R1discs?

 

If Region 1 playback is really that important then you would be better off going for one of the many budget machines with disabled or software switchable region locks. As far as features are concerned, only you can decide whatís important. Personally, after AV performance, I look for easily accessible multi-speed replay, controls and menu displays I donít have to learn how to use and more sockets and connector options than Iíll ever need. 

 

QUERIES

 

DODGY DRAGON?

I have just purchased an uncut copy of Bruce Leeís Way of the Dragon on a Japanese import, which I picked up at a local car boot sale. It is on a format called Video CD, which does play on my machine, apart from some dodgy sound. What I would like to know is will it damage my player, which is a Wharfedale 750?

Ken Pitney, Portsmouth, Hants

 

Itís not in the spec but many DVD players happily play Video CDs; although the format is defunct in Europe it is still very popular in the Far East. Playing a Video CD cannot harm your player, unless the disc is damaged, but that applies to any type of disc. The iffy sound might be due to the way some Asian discs are configured. To get dual language soundtracks one language is on the right channel, the other is on the left channel, so theyíre mixed together when played through a normal stereo TV or AV system. The trick is to shift the TV or AV ampís balance control to one channel or disconnect one of the audio channels.

 

PLUG AND PLAY

Will I be able to connect a DVD player with a Dolby Digital decoder to a Toshiba 2545DB NICAM stereo TV? Iíve also got a Sanyo VHR-7984 VCR and a Goodmans Dolby Pro Logic home cinema system. How do I link them all together?

M.D.Woodward, Southampton

 

No problem, but your DVDís Dolby Digital decoder will be superfluous, unless you upgrade to a TV or AV system with 5.1 channel sound. You will need a couple of SCART to SCART leads to connect the TV and VCR to the TV. Your Tosh telly has SCART two sockets on the back, use them both, donít try routing the DVD through the VCR or you may run into problems with Macrovision anti-copy signals generated by the player mucking up DVD playback. Use a stereo phono to phono lead to connect the analogue mixed stereo output on the DVD player to one of the audio inputs on the back of the Goodmans unit.

 

SPEAKERS CORNER

I have a cheap Ďn cheerful Proline 1000 player and a Sony 28FX20 widescreen TV. I want to get some decent-ish speakers for them but I cannot afford to spend a lot of money since Iíve just lashed out on a house, to keep the TV inÖ I have absolutely no idea what to get Ė 2 speakers, 5-speakers, a set, tall ones, short onesÖ so I was hoping you could offer me some advice. I need to get the absolute cheapest half decent speakers, my budget is £500, or less!

Tony Page, via email

 

Speakers on their own wonít do you much good; youíre going to need an AV amp/decoder and as youíve probably figured by now, £500 is not going to get you much in the way of serious or high-end AV kit. Nevertheless, there are some very decent Ďone boxí package systems around at the moment comprising a full set of speakers Ė including a sub-woofer Ė Dolby Digital decoder and amplifier. The two Iíd suggest you take a close look at is the dts equipped Videologic Digitheatre, now selling for £350 or thereabouts, and the JBL Simply Cinema ESC333 which is just a whisker above your budget at £550.

 

SHARK PRACTICE

I am a recent convert to DVD and enjoy the format immensely but what concerns me is the number of cases of compatibility problems arising between players and discs. I was initially impressed with my Wharfedale DVD-750, but then some discs started causing problems. Deep Blue Sea and The Matrix both suffered menu page difficulties, which I could put up with. But then I tried my brand spanking new copy of Jaws, I found it wouldnít even load past the Universal logo, and this happened with two copies, which both worked on my friends LG player.

 

After a trip to Tescos I once again have £180 back in my pocket, but no machine to play my films on. So which player should I spend my hard earned money on now? It seems more like a lottery when buying a DVD player. The manufacturers should seriously address this issue before the format looses its credibility and sinks faster than you can say Video CDÖ

David Watson, Nottingham.

 

Youíre right, it is a real pain but itís possibly a little unfair to heap all of the blame on the hardware manufacturers, in fact a lot of the time itís down to the software companies producing discs with faults, errors and sloppy or non-standard coding. Itís also worth saying that we cause a fair number of problems ourselves by not looking after discs properly or returning them to their cases after use. Dirt, greasy finger marks and scratches can all cause problems, though some players are more tolerant of careless handling than others. If your player is used in a smoky or dusty atmosphere then this can affect playback so before you blame the disc or player itís worth running a good quality disc cleaner through your machine.

 

Unfortunately I canít tell you that thereís a single easily fixable cause or that the problem is going to go away. The industry is slowly getting the message only a relatively small number of the thousands of discs are affected and incidents are getting fewer every years, or are mostly confined to older machines. Moreover player manufacturers are building in systems that make it easier to update their products when problems arise. It a good idea to keep an eye on web sites, which lists known problem discs and players and if you suffer from a confirmed disc or player glitch complain loudly to the hardware or software company concerned.

 

I would love to be able to recommend a player thatís immune to compatibility problems but thereís no such thing, not for £180 or any price come to that. DVD is a new and evolving technology, the odd rogue disc or wonky player is the price we pay to have it now, at an affordable price and annoying as it is it tends only to affects a relatively small number of users and DVDís long term credibility is very unlikely to suffer.  

 

WARRANTY WANGLE

I thought you might like to know about latest scam by the high street multiples, eager to get you to pay out for their insurance. I went to buy a Hitachi DV-305E from a well-known store in Sunderland and the chaps tried to sell me an extended warranty. This time they came up with a new spin on why I needed it. According to them Star wars Episode 1 was released and then immediately withdrawn as it was produced on a non-standard DVD format, incompatible with current DVD players. At some point in the future (unspecified) Uncle George Lucas will re-release this disc in the new format and we will all need to upgrade our players. Hitachi will do this free of charge, but I will have to send the unit to them, Alternatively, I could take out the extended warranty, and should the upgrade become necessary the store will dispatch a service engineer to my home to perform it.

 

Having already heard via the Star wars newsletter that no DVD is even being thought about for any Episode, I was just a little sceptical about this reason. I didn't tell the sales person, but I thought you and your readers ought to know.

Christopher Train, South Shields, Tyne and Wear

 

Thanks for the warning. We hadnít heard that one before itís quite imaginative and might even catch a few loyal Star Wars fans, (see below for my thoughts on extended warranties for DVD). Incidentally, the latest information I have is that following a concerted Internet campaign by Star Wars fans George Lucas is reported to have relented and Lucasfilm is now working on a DVD of Episode 1, though it seems unlikely that it will be released this year.

 

BOX COPY

EXTENDED WARRANTIES

Iím all for extended warranties on thing like washing machines. I am utterly convinced all models contain secret timing mechanisms or parts programmed to self-destruct a week after the guarantee runs out. Even if thatís not the case common sense says that a complicated machine full of motors and moving parts with hot and cold water and dirty underwear sloshing around inside is bound to go wrong, and sooner rather than later.

 

DVD players on the other hand have very few moving parts and (usually) no water inside. Moreover most models contain only a handful of electronic components and microchips with MTBF (mean time between failure) ratings measured in thousands of hours. Sure, they go wrong but like most electronic devices it usually happens within the first few hours or days of use.

 

Even if you are really unlucky and your player packs up a year and a day after youíve brought it, how much does it cost to have it fixed? Thereís not a lot inside most players and the dearest bit is usually the deck mechanism. On a typical player costing £250, say, with parts and labour it shouldnít cost more than £50 to £80 to fix, or about the same as an extended warranty. In fact the chances are nothing will go wrong and on the subject of firmware upgrades and fixes, so far the manufacturers have a pretty good track record of putting things right at no cost to the owner. Hereís something else to consider, the price of DVD players is plummeting, you can already buy budget models for less than £150 and mid-range players are now selling for a lot less than £300, but the price of extended warranties from the chain stores hasnít budged.

 

If you are jinxed and everything you touch seems to go wrong pay the man otherwise take a chance or put the money an extended warranty would cost you into the building society.

 

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R. Maybury 2000, 1809

 

 


 

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