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MEGA TEST -- SMALL-SCREEN NICAM TVs

 

HEAD

STEREO SPACE-SAVERS

 

INTRO

Stereo televisions are great lumpy, expensive things that sit in the corner of the living room! Not any more, as our mega-test of four of the latest 21-inch NICAM TVs reveals

 

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Stereo sound on TV is a comparatively recent innovation in the UK and the digitally-based NICAM system used by the BBC and ITV companies has only been operating nationally for a little over three years. Nevertheless, we're now well into the second generation of stereo television sets, and slowly but surely the feature is loosing its luxury status. One of the clearest signs of this welcome trend has been the steady reduction in price, and the inclusion of stereo sound systems in smaller-screen TVs, which brings us neatly to the subject of this month's Mega-Test.

 

We've put together a selection of 51cm (approx. 21-inch) NICAM sets costing under 600. NICAM stereo TVs will let you hear terrestrial TV in glorious pin-sharp digital stereo, they're ideal for stereo satellite channels too, though the TV needs to be connected to the satellite receiver's AV output socket, using a suitable lead.

 

Now it has to be said that the reality of true hi-fi sound from stereo TVs rarely lives up to the promises and expectations. Several manufacturers have made brave attempts to deliver something approaching a half-decent sound, using out-board speakers that can be placed a couple of feet either side of the screen,  but fashion, economics and compromise dictates that most stereo TVs have their speakers built into the cabinets. The average TV cabinet is an acoustically hostile environment, and it gets worse as the box gets smaller. In short, if you don't expect too much in the way of stereo imaging, soundstage, bass response and dynamic range you won't be too disappointed. What you do get is a much crisper, cleaner sound, and in some cases, sockets that allow you to connect the TVs audio output to headphones, a hi-fi system, or external speakers, so you can really hear what's going on!

 

FINLUX 21S22

Outwardly the 21S22 looks like any number of trendy monitor-style sets but switch it on an immediately you can see this one is different. This 21S22  has one of the most advanced on-screen display and programming systems around, not to mention one of the best pictures we've seen in quite a while. The multi-lingual on-screen display handles all the usual things, like tuning and picture settings, but it also includes additional facilities, for assigning channel idents to each station preset, and most important of all, individual picture settings for each channel. This is particularly important when the set is connected to a satellite tuner, or even a VCR as the colour, contrast and brightness levels on these devices can vary considerably. By the way, in November this model will be available with an in-built satellite IRD as an option, unfortunately the current chassis is not retrofittable.

 

The downside of such a sophisticated OSD is the relative complexity of the control system, and the opportunity to get in a mess, it really could do with a 'granny' or normal button to return the picture adjustments to a factory or personal preset; this is one TV where it really pays to read the instruction book first, and keep it close at hand. We have two other grumbles, the first is the single SCART AV socket; one just isn't enough these days, especially on an up-market set like this one, and there's no separate line audio output, or headphone socket, so you're pretty much stuck with what comes out of the speakers.

 

The 21S22 like other monitor-style designs has small forward-facing speakers, beneath the screen. Consequently the stereo image is excruciatingly narrow, and bass response is, well, let's just say it's dynamically challenged... In fact actual sound quality, both from the NICAM decoder and an external source is quite reasonable. There is a strange-sounding spatial stereo facility but even after fiddling around with that and all of the tone controls it is still fairly obvious that it lacks guts. 

 

The outstanding picture quality almost makes up for any deficiencies in the audio department and taking into account the uncontroversial price this one is definitely worth considering.

 

Finlux 21S22

499.99

Address: FINLUX LTD Unit 5, Pagoda Park West, Westlea, Swindon, Wilts SN5 7UN

Tel: (0793) 436216

 

Verdict: (out of 5)

Build/styling ****

Sound/picture *****

Ease of use ***

Features ****

Value for money ****

Buying Satellite Rating 85%

 

System: 51cm NICAM TV, optional satellite IRD available November

Features: on-screen displays, Fastext, sleep timer, NTSC display,

Audio:  NICAM, 2 x 10 watts (music power), spatial sound

Sockets: 1 x SCART AV (S-Video & RGB),  aerial input

Dimensions   500(w) x 470(h) x 410(d)mm

 

 

GOLDSTAR CIT-2170F

Goldstar, like their Korean neighbours Samsung have put value for money before the very latest hi-tech innovation and styling on their 51cm NICAM television. The CIT-2170 is a substantial-looking set, with the speakers set into panels either side of the screen.  This might make it look a little bulky, but it does help with stereo sound imaging, which, after all, is one of the main reasons for buying a stereo TV.

 

The 2170 is surprisingly well-equipped, in addition to NICAM it has a Fastext decoder, a full set of on-screen displays, sleep timer, personal preference control (granny button), headphone socket, separate composite video and stereo audio inputs, and a respectable 10 watts per channel of audio amplification;. these are proper RMS watts, not the namby-pamby music power variety. The chunky remote handset which controls all of the set's day to day functions will also operate Goldstar VCRs. On the debit side it has only one SCART socket, and it is the only set not to have any kind of  S-Video input.

 

Compared with some of the most recent European and Japanese sets the styling is quite conservative, maybe even a little dated but that's an advantage in some respects, including sound quality, thanks to the larger cabinet and wider-spaced speakers.

 

On-screen performance is good, with a clean, stable picture and accurate, well-defined colours. Noise levels are low and tuner sensitivity is very good, always an important consideration on a teletext TV. A lot of set for your money, and good sound too, though maybe not the last word in elegance.

 

Goldstar CIT-2170

399.99

Address: GOLDSTAR Goldstar House,  264 Bath Road, Slough, Berkshire SL1 4DT. 

Tel:(0753) 691888

 

Verdict: (out of 5)

Build/styling **

Sound/picture ****

Ease of use ****

Features ****

Value for money ****

Buying Satellite Rating 80%

 

System: 51cm NICAM TV

Features: on-screen displays, Fastext, unified remote control (Goldstar VCRs), sleep timer,

Audio: NICAM, 2 x 10 watts (RMS)

Sockets: 1 x SCART AV, composite video and stereo line audio input, headphone output, antenna input

Dimensions   607(w) x 473(h) x 476(d)mm

 

 

SAMSUNG CI5330AN

The Korean company Samsung are beginning to make a name for themselves in the UK TV and video market, and their eye-catching 'Passino' television certainly raised a few eyebrows when it was launched last year. The 5330 is an altogether more restrained design, and a pretty solid one at that, weighing in at a hefty 25kgs; this is not the sort of set you would want to move around too often.

 

Far from being a disadvantage its size has given the designers freedom to use larger speakers, in more generous enclosures, which means this set sounds halfway decent, with better than average bass response. The side-mounted  speakers radiate from the edges of the screen, rather than from below, and produce a creditable stereo soundstage, with left and right channels still clearly discernible a couple of metres from the screen.  

 

Operationally the 5330 is a little dated, and this is evident from the large number of buttons on the remote handset, most of which Samsung have hidden away behind a sliding hatch. The on-screen display in this instance simply shows what the set is up to, with a large and well-ordered set of graphics. There are no menus or options, just a lot of buttons to play around with; fortunately there is a personal-preference control, to return the picture adjustments to a pre-set norm, this is a global setting which affects all channels, and is set by the user.

 

Although this set has only one SCART AV socket and no headphone output, it makes up for it by having separate S-Video and line audio inputs, and most impressive of all, a set of speaker terminals, so it can drive a set of external speakers directly. Sound quality from the internal speakers is much better than average, heard through a pair of decent bookshelf enclosures, a foot or two either side of the screen, NICAM and off-tape sound comes alive with deep, roomy bass and a vivid stereo image.

 

After that the picture comes as something of an anticlimax, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with it, it's just not as crisp or clean as some we've seen. Average is about the best you can say about it. The price is far from average, though, and at less than 400 this is one of the best stereo TV deals around at the moment. If sound quality and value for money are high on your list of priorities make sure you hear and see this one first.

 

Samsung CI5330AN

399.99

Address:  SAMSUNG UK LTD Unit 1, Hook Rise Business Centre, 225 Hook Rise South,

Surbiton, Surrey, KT6 7LD.

Tel: 081-391 0168

 

Verdict: (out of 5)

Build/styling ***

Sound/picture ****

Ease of use ***

Features ***

Value for money *****

Buying Satellite Rating 80%

 

System: 51cm NICAM TV

Features: on-screen displays, sleep timer, Fastext, stand provided

Audio: NICAM, 2 x 10 watts (music power)

Sockets: 1 x SCART, aerial input, S-Video and line-audio input, speaker terminals 

Dimensions   560(w) x 450h) x 480(d)mm

 

 

TOSHIBA 2132DB

This is a competent though unexciting TV with a fairly routine set of features. They include Fastext, a sleep timer, automatic switch-off after station shut-down and a full set of on-screen displays. Set-up and operation are quite straightforward, though it doesn't have a granny button for optimising the brightness, contrast and saturation settings if you stray too far from the factory settings. Other, more serious omissions are the lack of a headphone socket and separate line or external speaker audio outputs. On the plus side it does have two SCART AV sockets, one of which is configured for S-Video signals, the remote control handset will also work Toshiba VCRs and it comes fitted with a mains plug that has a neat stowage clip on the back panel.

 

Sound quality, through the front-facing speakers is acceptable, however,  the closeness of the enclosures means the stereo image is extremely narrow, and almost non-existent more than a metre or so from the screen. The 2132 has independent bass and treble controls, but they make only minor differences to the character of the sound output.

 

On-screen performance is very good, though. The picture on our sample was accurately aligned, colours are bright and natural-looking, and noise levels are very low. Tuner sensitivity is above average and it will happily operate from a set-top antenna in areas of good signal strength.

 

Cosmetically the 2132 is bang up to date and should blend in quite happily with most types of decor. Not especially cheap but a solid, reliable performer for those looking for a good picture and a modest improvement in sound quality.

 

Toshiba 2132DB

529.99

Address: TOSHIBA UK LTD, Units 6 & 7 Admiralty Way, Camberley,

Surrey GU15 3DT. 

Tel:(0276) 62222

 

Verdict: (out of 5)

Build/styling ****

Sound/picture ***

Ease of use *****

Features ***

Value for money ***

Buying Satellite Rating 77%

 

System: 51cm NICAM TV

Features: on-screen displays, Fastext, sleep-timer, auto switch-off, unified remote control (Toshiba VCRs), stand included

Audio: NICAM, 2 x 5 watts (RMS) output

Sockets: 2 x SCART AV (S-Video on AV2), antenna in

Dimensions   526(w) x 482(h) x 488(d)mm

 

 

BUILD AND STYLING

There's a clear distinction between the fussy and somewhat lumpy sets from Goldstar and Samsung, and the clean, elegant lines of the Finlux and Toshiba models. These two sets are also smaller and lighter, for a given screen size, suggesting their electronic chassis use more advanced circuitry. However, the pursuit of style over function has its drawbacks, not least in the performance of the sound systems of these last two sets, which produce a narrow stereo image, and lightweight bass, compared with the other two models. Build quality in all cases is adequate, though the panels on the Finlux and Toshiba TVs feel sturdier. The remote handset supplied with the Samsung set gives the impression of being a little flimsy.

 

FEATURES

The Finlux 21S22 is a clear winner, by sheer weight of numbers, though facilities like individual picture presets for each channel and the NTSC display capability deserve another mention. There's not an awful lot to choose between the other three which have a fairly similar line-up of features. Toshiba's 2132 gets a couple of extra Brownie points for its twin SCART sockets; the Samsung 5330 boasts a separate S-Video socket plus those speaker output terminals and Goldstar's 2170 is the only set to have a headphone facility and extra AV input sockets, which could come in handy for camcorder owners.

 

PICTURE AND SOUND

Once again the Finlux 2122 stands out from the crowd with a razor-sharp picture that shows just how good the PAL system can be -- who needs high definition television? The Toshiba 2132 comes a praiseworthy second, and we would rate its picture as well above average. Picture quality on the Goldstar and Samsung TVs is perfectly adequate, they're both  correctly aligned with bright, lively colours, they just lack the extra sparkle and clarity of the other two sets. When it comes to sound quality the positions are reversed with the big boxes from Goldstar and Samsung helping to produce a more fulsome sound with some semblance of a stereo soundstage. Of the two the Samsung 5330 gets top marks, especially when used with external speakers. The Finlux and Toshiba sets sound okay, but you're left wondering sometimes if what you are listening to is actually in stereo.

 

EASE OF USE

The Toshiba 2132 is hard to beat. The remote control has no hidden buttons, the on-screen operating system has been very well thought out and the set-up procedures are very easy to follow. The Goldstar and Samsung models have less sophisticated operating systems, which involve a lot more buttons and button pressing, but at least they're fairly easy to follow, and you have to try quite hard to get it wrong; you can always get out of trouble with a single button-push. Finlux have managed to cram a lot of very impressive features into the 21S22, and it shows, but it takes a while to master the intricacies of the multi-layer control system, keep the instruction book handy!

 

VALUE FOR MONEY

We really wouldn't like to choose between the Goldstar and Samsung sets; in the end it comes down to cosmetics, and whether or not you're willing to trade a headphone socket and composite video input for S-Video compatibility and speaker terminals, it's as finely balanced as that. The extra 100 for the Finlux 21S22 is money well-spent, if picture quality and extra features are what you're looking for, though you will have to compromise a little on sound quality, it is simply not as meaty as its Korean rivals. At almost 530 the Toshiba set is out on a limb; there's no doubting the quality of construction, ease of use and picture performance but it is significantly more expensive than its rivals, some of which -- as we have seen -- have more facilities and/or better sound.

 

 

TECHNICAL TIPS -- A brief guide to television terminology

 

AUTO SWITCH-OFF

Facility to automatically switch a TV off, usually a few minutes after a TV station or channel ceases broadcasting.

 

FASTEXT

Enhanced teletext system giving faster access to linked pages, using a colour-coded keys on the remote handset

 

FST

Flatter, Squarer Tube. Generic term used to describe TV screens (with 90 degree deflection yokes) which allow flatter faceplates and squarer corners, widely used in currently fashionable 'monitor-style' cabinets. NB the 'visible' screen dimension of an FST is measured diagonally, in centimetres, i.e. V51cm; this approximates to 21-inches in old money.

 

OSD

On-screen display. Originally intended to show things like channel number and operating modes, more recently used to reduce the number of buttons and knobs on TVs and remote controls by taking over secondary functions. Most OSDs are now used in the initial set-up procedures (tuning etc.) and incorporate menu-driven, cursor-selectable adjustments, with coloured graphics to show relative levels of  volume, brightness, contrast and colour saturation.

 

 

NICAM

Near-Instantaneously Companded Audio Multiplexing. High quality digital encoding systems used to broadcast stereo sound from terrestrial TV transmitters which operates side by side with conventional mono sound. Capable of near CD quality. Future NICAM broadcasts may be bi-lingual, using each of the two stereo channels for a different language; most NICAM sets have this capability built in.

 

NTSC

National Television Standards Committee. Colour TV system used in North America and parts of the Far East. An increasing number of TVs can display NTSC signals, via the set's AV input socket.

 

PAL

Phase Alternate Line, the 625-line/50Hz colour television broadcast system used in the UK, much of Europe, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand.

 

PHONO

Simple push-fit connector system, mainly used to carry line-audio signals, to and from hi-fi systems, VCRs etc.

 

RGB

Red, Green, Blue. Video signal format, mainly used on computers. TVs with RGB-configured SCART sockets can act as displays for some types of computer

 

RMS

Root mean square. A standardised measurement system for determining output power, enabling meaningful comparisons to be made, in this instance between the audio amplifiers built into televisions.

 

SCART

Syndicat  des  Constructeurs  d'Appareils  Radio  Recepteurs et Televiseurs, aka Euroconnector and Peritel connector. Euro-standard 21-pin plug and socket system used to carry audio, video and control information between VCRs, TVs, Satellite tuners and decoders.

 

SLEEP TIMER

Simple electronic timer, designed to switch the TV off after a pre-set interval.

 

S-VIDEO

Connector system designed to carry specially configured video signals to and from TVs, VCR and camcorders using the high-quality  Super VHS and Hi8 recording and playback system.

 

---end ---

R.Maybury 1993 1507

 


 

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