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DR DVD -- FEBRUARY

 

COPY

 

AILMENT OF THE MONTH

 

THE END IS NIGH...

I have a Sony DVP-S325, which I had modified six months ago to allow me to purchase and view region 1 discs. I have never had any problems with it, until now. I purchased a R1 copy of The Patriot and on inserting the disc and pressing play I get an on screen message that reads: "Suitable only for non-modified Region 1 players". Is this some kind of new protection system and should other potential R1 buyers be advised?

Patrick Barrett, via email

 

The news is bad I'm afraid. Your player is suffering from a relatively new and rapidly developing condition called RCE Syndrome. RCE or Region Coding Enhancement is a clever tweak of the Regional Coding system that stops Region 1 discs playing on machines that have been hacked for multi-region replay. It appears to work on both common types of hack namely 'chipping' where internal components have been added or replaced, and 'firmware switching', which involves entering codes or pressing a sequence of buttons on the player's remote handset. Owners of chipped players - which includes you -- are likely to be hardest hit, as most hardware hacks are not RCE-proof so your days of watching R1 discs may be coming to an end as more discs are released with RCE. However, there is some hope for owners of firmware switched players, RCE coded discs won't play if the machine is set to multi-region, but they should be okay if the player is set to Region 1 only.

 

TOUCHY TOSH

I am having a problem with my multi region Toshiba SD100E player. Watching Region 2 discs on my Toshiba 2835DB TV, at random points I get a rolling black and white picture that will only return to normal when I switch the player on and off again. Occasionally I have had just a black screen with no sound. I have had it happen on a number of discs and have been in touch with the retailer, and even returned the player for testing for which it was on its best behaviour and apparently did not play up at all. The engineer suggested an incompatibility with the TV, does that sound possible? I have no problems with my video or ONdigital box. I have tried any number of settings (PAL/Auto select, RGB output, video output) and from SCART and phono connectors all to no avail. I am well and truly stumped, not to mention depressed, out of pocket for postage, and fed up at the prospect of my shiny new toy not working, along with the fact that I finally found out that the multi region mod is an NTSC output only, so black and white (at least stable) Region 1 pictures for me. Any ideas? What would be the best hammer to take to it?

Anthony Calvert, via email

 

My favourite is a 3lb lump hammer, maximum damage for minimum effort... I particularly like the bit about your Toshiba DVD player and Toshiba TV being incompatible... Incompetent service engineers are famous for their creative excuses but that one is going to take some beating. There is clearly a fault on the player though I'm unable to say for certain whether it's native to the machine or a consequence of the all-region mod. If I were a betting man I'd put ten bob on a sloppy mod job since Tosh players have a generally good reputation for reliability and your player's apparently intermittent symptoms do not resemble any common faults on that machine. Have it looked at by the people who sold it to you or carried out the mod.

 

SOCKET SHORTAGE

I'm considering buying a Wharfedale 750-S DVD player and wondered how I will be able to connect it up, given I have only 1 SCART socket on my TV, that is currently occupied by the output from a VHS player. Can a DVD be connected to a SCART socket in a VHS player and then on to the TV (my VHS has two SCART sockets)? Failing this, is it possible to buy "double adapter" SCARTs, and if so do you know who sells them?

Andrew Snowball, via email

 

Don't bother connecting your DVD player to the TV through the VCR, the picture will almost certainly pulsate in brightness and possibly become unstable. That's because all DVD players have an anti-piracy feature called Macrovision, to prevent tape copying. Assuming the TV has no other AV input sockets a SCART switch box is the only solution. Various types are available, including multi-way adaptors and models with auto-switching, so the TV is connected to the 'active' device. They're not expensive either; Maplin Electronics has a good selection, starting with a 2-way auto-switcher for around £11 (order code BM86T). You can contact Maplin on 0780 264 6000 or order on-line at: www.maplin.co.uk

 

ABLE AIWA?

I have recently purchased a Sony multi region DVD player and am very happy with it.  Upon seeing my player, my brother has decided he wants one too. Unfortunately, having a wife and two kids, he is on a much tighter budget than me, so he is looking for a cheaper model. We both agree that R1 replay is essential so the machine has to be a multi region model.  He has narrowed the selection down to the following two machines: Aiwa XR-DV370 or LG DVD-3200E, both under £200.  As I understand, certain multi region models "lock" after 25 plays, does this affect either of the above models?

Colin Roberts, via email

 

As far as I'm aware there is no firmware hack for the LG player, there have been rumours of one, but I’ve yet to hear of one actually working. This machine can be hardware 'chipped' but I doubt whether any of the companies offering these mods will be willing to give you an assurance that they'll be able to play 'RCE' (Region Code Enhancement) discs. There is a simple firmware hack for the Aiwa XR-DV370, however, that allows it to be set to multi-region or single region playback; the latter option should allow it to play RCE discs, but this, like all region code hacks is by no means guaranteed. For the record the procedure on the DV370 is switch on with no disc loaded then press Enter, 3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9 then 0 for all-region, or 1 to 6 for a fixed region, press Pause, switch off, wait a few moments then switch back on again. Most players with 'firmware' hackable region locks can be switched as many times as you like, there are exceptions but to the best of my knowledge the Aiwa DV370 isn't one of them.

 

THE NEXT STEP

I have a Panasonic DVD A-360 (with built in Dolby Digital and dts decoder) and a Sharp 66FW-54H television.  Whilst the Pro-Logic sound performance from the television is good I know I am not getting the full potential out my system. Should I ignore the decoding function on the DVD player and purchase a separate amp and speakers, or utilise what I have? My budget is approximately £500. 

Ritchie Perfect, via email

 

Adapting the TV’s Pro Logic surround sound system for digital surround is a non-starter, it could be done but it wouldn’t justify the effort and expense. The next logical step is to upgrade to digital surround and you will need to splash out on an AV amp/receiver and speakers. Having the digital surround decoders built into the DVD player is no longer an advantage or a way to save money since so many AV amps have them these days. I know of several Dolby Digital and dts equipped models starting at less than £300 (have a look at the Sony STR-DE445 and Onkyo TX-DS484). In fact you would be hard pressed to find a decoder-less AV amp or receiver these days but there are several very good models with just a Dolby Digital decoder selling for around £200, like Kenwood KRF-V5030 and Sherwood RD-6106R. Home cinema speaker packages can be found for as little as £100 but I would give the ultra cheapie models a wide berth and reckon on spending at least £250 to £300 on a set of front, centre and rear speakers and maybe buy a decent sub woofer as and when you can afford it.

 

Alternatively you can avoid the hassle of buying the amplifier and speakers separately by going for a complete package system, like the very agreeable VideoLogic Digitheatre DTS, which costs just £350. However your £500 budget might have to be stretched somewhat if you want top-class performance.

 

GRUNDIG Vs THE GLADIATOR

I am having problems getting the second disc in the Gladiator set to run on my Grundig DVD player. The movie disc plays fine but when I load the feature disc it plays the logo and then nothing, the machine freezes up. I called the helpline and they said they are aware of the problem but can do nothing because it is a fault in the disc formatting. This annoys me, if it is to do with 'formatting' why does the movie disc play, is it not formatted by the same company? Do you know if anything is being done to fix this, like recent problem with The Matrix and if so would this ruin my machines multi region ability?

Gavin Hartin, via email

 

Disc 2 in the Gladiator set has caused problems on a number of players, most notably the Wharfedale 750, for which I believe there is a firmware update. However, this is the first time I heard of it happening on a Grundig player but I can’t say I’m surprised since this disc has so many special features, including hidden ‘Easter Eggs’ (more about that in a moment). Grundig and Philips are clearly disassociating themselves from problem but even if a firmware upgrade did exist you would still have a tough time convincing a Grundig dealer to carry it out for you if you’ve had your machine chipped. (The firmware hack for Grundig machines only lets you change to another Region a limited number of times).

 

Now for that Easter Egg, which I’m sure you know are extra undocumented features on DVDs. The one in Gladiator is on disc 2; in fact there are two of them. From the main menu go to Storyboards, go to page 2 and select the Rhino Fight. When it appears hit the Up Arrow cursor key to highlight the Rhino in the middle, press Enter and you’ll see a hidden menu containing information and some extra footage.  The other one can be found in ‘Cast & Crew’, on page two select Ridley Scott and look for the extra credits page.

 

TECH TIPS

It's coming up to my 21st Birthday and I was planning on getting a good stereo system to plug my Proline DVD 1000 into. I was looking at the Technics SC-EH760, which comes with 5 speakers for surround sound and it seems like a quality set-up. However, my Proline has been playing up recently and is currently being serviced. A thought occurred to me. You can buy the Technics system I've mentioned with a DVD changer instead of CD player, plus a Dolby Digital decoder and all the features the CD version. I was wondering, have you looked at this system and what is the DVD playback quality like?

Matthew Marr, via email

 

I haven’t had a chance to play with it myself but our sister magazine Home Entertainment featured the product you’re talking about – known as the SC-DV170 -- back in the December 2000 issue as part of a group test of DVD mini hi-fi systems. I have seen it though and I must say that the styling is a bit brash for my tastes but it’s been a good while since I was last 21 and you may well like the bold in your face cosmetics. DVD picture performance is fine but as with most all-in-on system, trying to be Jacks-of-all-trades, inevitably there are compromises and in this case it’s the sound that suffers.  The bottom line is that the sound on both DVDs and CDs was, in the opinion of the reviewer, less than wonderful.

 

BAFFLING BEAUTY

On Monday I purchased a region two copy of American Beauty. I got the disc home only to find that whilst the film played perfectly on my Matsui DVD110, the audio commentary refuses to play. I wondered if anyone else has contacted you concerning this?

Richard Clarke,  Birmingham

 

Not yet and a fairly extensive trawl of web sites devoted to disc and hardware problems failed to turn up any other sufferers, so on the evidence so far I’m inclined to think you might have a dodgy disc. We’ll keep an eye on this one but in the meantime I suggest you take the disc back and ask for a replacement. Let us know how you get on.

 

BOX COPY

All DVD players can play audio CDs, they have to, it’s part of the spec, but what sort of sound quality can you expect? The good news is that no DVD player I’ve tested does a bad job of playing audio discs and the ‘worst’ one was at least as good as the deck in a budget hi-fi system. Potentially they can be very good, bit it’s all down to cost. Part of the problem is the laser pickups in DVD players are optimised for the much finer data ‘pits’ – microscopic mirror-like structures – and the multi-layer construction of the disc. The audio processing circuitry is also designed to handle DVD soundtrack data. Manufacturers, especially those producing budget players, make the minimum provision to comply with the specification and that’s fair enough because DVD players are sold as AV products first with CD compatibility an added bonus.

 

However, there are ways to improve or upgrade audio CD performance and manufacturers have come up with some elaborate solutions. The most successful ones include the use of twin-laser pickups, a system favoured by the likes of Philips and Sony, whilst Panasonic has developed sophisticated laser optics based around a ‘holographic’ lens system. Other manufacturers have gone down the processor route, mirroring developments at the top-end of the CD player market with one or many bit digital-to-analogue converters (DACs) and fancy filters to clean up the sound. Split or separate audio and video circuits and heavy duty power supplies are popular methods, and various mechanical enhancements have come and gone including advanced vibration damping techniques, heavyweight chassis designs – also meant to reduce vibration – airtight disc compartments and gold plated contacts. However, the point to remember is that virtually all mid-market players do a pretty good job of playing audio CDs and the amplifier and speakers you listen to are likely to have a much bigger impact on sound quality, nevertheless the option to spend some serious money, chasing relatively minor improvements is there, if you want it. 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2000, 1112

 

 


 

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