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Q. How can I get stereo sound from my TV?

A. You canít unless itís a stereo, model fitted with a NICAM decoder, but that doesnít mean you have to rush out and buy a new television. A lot of VCRs have stereo sound decoders these days, which will enable you to watch and record stereo TV programmes, and if youíve got a stereo satellite receiver, you can record satellite channels in stereo as well.


Q. NICAM, whatís that?

NICAM or Near Instantaneously Companded Audio Multiplexing is a digital stereo transmission system developed in the 1980ís and used by the BBC and ITV, itís now available to around 95% of the UK population. Sound quality is very good, almost as good as CD, and most TV programmes have stereo soundtracks these days; even the oneís that donít sound better in NICAM. The satellite channels use a different stereo system, called Wegner Panda 1, itís not quite as pin-sharp as NICAM but it still sounds a whole lot better than boring old mono.


Q. But how do I hear stereo sound, do stereo VCRs come with speakers?

 A. No, they have stereo outputs and quite a few of them have headphone sockets as well, which would be the simplest and cheapest way to hear the stereo sound, but thatís not much use for family viewing. There are two alternatives, most people connect the stereo output from their VCR to their stereo system. If you havenít got a hi-fi, or itís not convenient you could get a pair of Ďactiveí loudspeakers which have  their own internal amplifiers, these cost around £50.


Q. What do I need to connect a stereo VCR to my hi-fi?

A. Normally all you need is a stereo phono-to-phono lead -- they only cost a couple of pounds --  it links the stereo line output sockets on the back of the VCR to the Ďauxí input on the hi-fiís stereo amplifier. You will also need to move the loudspeakers, so theyíre either side of the TV screen, otherwise the sound will appear displaced. Not all stereo VCRs have line outputs though, in which case you will need a SCART to-phono lead, theyíre available from most audio and video dealers for around £10.


Q. Which is best, a stereo TV or connecting a stereo VCR to my hi-fi?

A. NICAM TVs are definitely the easiest way to get stereo television sound but the sound quality, especially on the cheaper setís, or those with smaller screens (21-inches or less)  isnít always very good. There are two problems; firstly most TVs have quite small speakers, and set designers donít like large grilles on the front, so more often than not the sound is heard through narrow slits down the edges of the screen. Stereo TVs with speakers on the side, preferably in detachable pods, sound a little better and a few have extra low-frequency speakers of Ďsub-woofersí built into the back but theyíre still no substitute for separate speakers. In general you will get much a better sound, with a more realistic stereo image using hi-fi speakers, moreover, having the NICAM decoder inside the VCR means you can easily record programmes in stereo. It is possible to record stereo programmes from some NICAM TVs, but thereís little point in that, unless youíre stuck with an older pre-NICAM stereo VCR. 


Q. How about surround sound, is that possible on a stereo TV or VCR?

A. Thereís two types of surround sound at the moment. Some stereo TVs have a facility to create a spatial effect, usually called Ďpseudo surroundí from any source, however, this is most often used to liven up mono material. Proper surround sound, though, uses the Dolby Stereo system, this was originally designed as a multi-channel surround system for cinemas in the mid 1970ís, with extra sound channels hidden away inside movie stereo soundtracks. The surround sound signals are carried over when the film is transferred to tape or laserdisc, or shown on TV (terrestrial and satellite) channels with stereo sound. More recently a number of TV programmes have been made with Dolby Surround soundtracks. The signals can be unscrambled using a Dolby decoder, nowadays most are ĎPro-Logicí types which provide right and left stereo channels, a centre-front channels for dialogue, and a rear effects channel, (normally heard through a pair of speakers placed behind the viewing position).


Q. How do I go about getting a Dolby Surround decoder?

Dolby Pro-Logic decoders can be brought separately and integrated in with a stereo VCR and hi-fi system, prices start at around £150; you will usually require an extra set of speakers, two for the rear channels and one for the centre channel, so reckon on spending at other £100 or so. Alternatively you could get one of the latest Surround Sound TVs. These have built-in Pro-Logic decoders and they come with all the necessary speakers and cables; the cheapest ones cost around £650. However, the best solution is to upgrade your present hi-fi with an Pro-Logic AV amplifier, (£250 plus) or start from scratch with a complete AV system, designed from the ground up for home cinema use. These cost from around £750 and in general provide the best sound; most of them come with a full surround sound speaker package as well. Moreover theyíre fully integrated and everything can be controlled form just one remote handset.


Q. Iíve also heard about something called THX, whatís that?

A. TXH is Dolby Surround with knobs on! Itís actually a very precise specification drawn up by Lucasfilm, that dictates precisely how the speakers, amplifiers and decoder work and are configured, giving a far more accurate representation of the original cinema sound. Needless to say itís also very expensive, several thousand pounds for a basic system, but itís getting cheaper. However, for the moment at least normal Dolby Surround is more than adequate for most people and it can add a exciting new dimension to almost any movie, especially action blockbusters!



R. Maybury 1994 1810







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