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HINTS & TIPS 75

 

STAR LETTER

 

JUST KIDDING…

Name                            Jeanette Bau-Mann, via email (J.Baumann@tesco.net)

Kit                                7-week old baby girl

Problem                        Whilst clearly delighted with her new baby daughter Jeanette anticipates problems in the months and years to come. She wants to know how to keep her offspring safe, and at the same time baby-proof the family’s AV system?

 

Expert Reply                 I can speak from personal experience, having extracted several items of Lego Duplo and numerous sticky objects from VCR cassette slots, inserted by my own little treasures. My solution, after much trial and error, pleading, threats and shouting, was to admit defeat, gather all of my AV components together into a single stack and construct a simple wooden fence-like structure around it. It wasn’t very elegant but it worked and remained in place for a couple of years without any further unfortunate incidents. If anyone has any alternative solutions (preferably humane ones…) we will be happy to pass them on.

 

TV/VCR AND SATELLITE QUERIES

 

BRAND LOYALTY

Name                            Edward Bowden, via email               

Kit                                Philips Design Line 32-inch TV, Aiwa VCR

Problem                        The Aiwa VCR is on the blink and Edward is thinking of replacing it, he’s tempted by a couple of Hitachi and Philips models reviewed recently in HE. Edward says he suspects it makes sense to stick with a single brand and is minded to buy the Philips machine, to match his TV, however it has received indifferent reviews, what do we think? His supplementary question is regarding the meaning of the word ‘time shifting’ which we seem to bandy about a lot, what does it mean, and for a P.S. he asks about multi-brand remotes, do they have to be taught TV operating codes, or do they come with them all built in?

 

Expert Reply                 As far as the mainstream AV equipment manufacturers are concerned there are no compelling technical reasons for you to stick to a single brand. The main reason to do so would be on cosmetic grounds – matching components from a particular range. The old argument about using a single remote control to operate everything rarely holds true these days since the handset for a TV, say, will only operate the basic functions on a VCR, and not cover important things like the timer or any special replay functions. Similarly, VCR handsets that control TVs usually only control on/off, volume and channel change and lack teletext buttons or any picture adjustments. The bottom line is that Edward should buy a VCR that gives the performance and has the features that he wants. The multi-brand remotes supplied with TVs and VCRs generally have pre-programmed code-libraries that only work with a limited number of other makers products so always check the handbooks first. Third-party ‘universal’ remotes can be pre-programmed, learning (you need the original remote to ‘teach’ the commands) or both, check out the remote control group test in the December 1999 edition of HE for a more thorough explanation.  Time shifting is just good old-fashioned techno speak for VCR timer recording.

 

PENSIONABLE PIONEER

Name                            Sidney Coad, via email             

Kit                                Pioneer rear projection TV

Problem                        After about an hour or so the screen on Sidney’s Pioneer TV goes blank though the sound continues, then it switches itself off, and moments later, switches back on again. He says he’s had no other problems with it since it was purchased back in 1992.

 

Expert Reply                 It’s a fault, probably thermal in nature but it’s one that can only be sorted out by a service engineer. Bear in mind is that this TV is getting on a bit now – 8 years and counting – which is a good age for any TV and it’s now getting to the point when things will start going wrong with increasing regularity. Spares and repairs on such an old set can be expensive and whilst this one should be relatively easy to sort out, Sidney should start preparing for the day when it will be uneconomic to fix and it will have to be replaced.

 

FLAT SPIN

Name                            Simon Letts, via email                         

Kit                                LG D10-28Z12 Sky Digital TV

Problem                        Simon is thinking of taking out a Sky Digital subscription and he’s considering the LG D10-28Z12 integrated digital TV. He went along to his local showroom to see it and this raised a question or two on the merits of flat screen displays. He looked at several other TVs in the shop with ‘flat screens’ and decided that the picture was indeed better, compared with other models with FST picture tubes. He wants to know if we reckon it’s worth paying the extra for a flat screen TV, and whether there’s any advantage in having the digital decoder built in to the TV, as opposed to getting a separate set-top box. He also asks if modern TVs are like PCs, and can be easily upgraded by adding components, so they don’t become obsolete.

 

Expert Reply                  TVs with very flat faceplates often do look better in showrooms this is because the flatter screens suffer much less from reflections from lights. This really shows up in a brightly lit showroom or if the TV is positioned close to a window or display lighting. It’s much less of a problem in the domestic environment, unless you have a lot of bright lights in your living room. TVs with FST (flatter squarer tube), displays are usually quite good in this respect. Other things to bear in mind is that super flat screens require more sophisticated display circuitry, to ensure that the picture stays focussed right up to the edges of the screen – more to go wrong – and the flatter they are the more they cost, though prices are coming down.

 

One day all TVs will have built-in digital decoders but at the moment you have to pay for the privilege since they are not subsidised, like the free set-top box deals currently on offer. Simon’s point about upgradability is an important one, especially at the moment because digital TV technology is still evolving, new features are being added and the issue of interoperability – one box for satellite and terrestrial services -- still has to be satisfactorily resolved. Some changes can be made by the broadcasters downloading new software but the simplest, cheapest and most flexible solution at the moment is to get the widescreen TV you want now, sign up for a free set-top box and wait for the dust to settle. 

 

BUYER BEWARE

Name                D. G. Wells, Crowborough, East Sussex                            

Kit                    Sony KV32FX60U      

Problem            Mr Wells purchased the above TV from a well-known dealer just before Christmas, and he’s not a happy man. He says that after it was installed he found out that it wouldn’t handle an NTSC input via the SCART sockets or front S-Video input. The retailer acknowledged the ‘fault’ and confirmed that two other models in stock were the same. He goes on to say that his son’s 11-month old set, a 28-inch version of the same model does not exhibit the fault.

 

Expert Reply             According to Sony spec sheets and brochures this model (and the 28-inch version) are both plainly described as PAL I only TVs, neither set is listed as having an NTSC input facility, so it can hardly be called as a fault if they do not work with NTSC signals. Why his son’s TV should work with an NTSC input is a complete mystery. From the tone of his letters to us and to Sony, Mr Wells is obviously aggravated and wants his money back but we suspect his chances are not good, unless he specifically indicated to the dealer that he required this facility and was told by the salesperson that the TV had it, in which case it wouldn’t be ‘fit for purpose’ under the Sales of Good Act.

 

IN THE FRAME

Name                Spencer Grogan, via email                           

Kit                    Hitachi 28-inch widescreen TV, Panasonic A160 DVD player, Sony SLV-615 VCR    

Problem            A few weeks ago, and after much careful consideration, Spencer brought a Panasonic A160 DVD player. He says picture and sound quality are superb, buy he has a couple of niggling queries…He wants to know if there are two different scales of widescreen? None of the technical experts he has asked has been able to give him a definitive answer. When movies are shown on terrestrial TV they fill the screen perfectly but when he watches widescreen films on video or DVD they still have black bars at the top and bottom of the picture. The engineer who installed the TV said his VCR was unable to play widescreen and advised him to buy a new one.

 

Expert Reply                 In fact there are more than a dozen different film aspect ratios in regular use. When a movie is shown on TV the broadcaster usually takes the decision to crop or pan & scan the image so that it slots neatly into a 4:3 or increasingly, a 16:9 screen display. So one way or another it will usually fit neatly into the contours of a widescreen TV. When movies are released on DVD and to a lesser extent video, the widescreen version is usually in its ‘native’ format, i.e. the shape it was made in, which usually means it will be wider and thinner that a 16:9 display, hence the black bars. Some 16:9 TVs have a range of display modes that can electronically alter the shape of the picture to fill the screen, on others you just have put up with it.

 

The engineer who suggested Spencer buy a new VCR was talking through his hat. Any VCR of any vintage can play widescreen movies. There are two types, letterboxed in native format, or anamorphically compressed. The latter, which is extremely rare, has the widescreen picture squashed horizontally, so that it fits into the 4:3 picture shape and everything looks tall when play on an ordinary TV. Virtually all widescreen TVs have a display mode, which electronically stretches the squashed picture back to its correct proportions. VCRs with 16:9 replay and record facilities simply recognise a ‘flag’ or signal on the tape, indicating that the recording is anamorphic, and sends a signal to the TV down the SCART lead, telling the TV to switch to stretch mode. However, this is all academic since as far as we know, no anamorphically compressed movies have ever been released in the UK.

 

BOX COPY 1

GETTING STARTED

 

Has the picture on your TV been looking a bit ropey lately? If you’ve noticed an increase in picture noise or ‘snow’ in the picture, buzzing or unstable NICAM sound, ghosting or more mistakes than usual on teletext pages then you could be suffering from signal strength problems. It’s more common at this time of year, especially if you have an outside or rooftop aerial that is more than ten years old. Damp gets into the connections and the cable, the metal elements corrode and strong winds can put the antenna out of alignment. There may have been transmitter changes in your area, new masts come on line and they’re forever fiddling around with Channel 5, so you may not now be getting the best possible signal any longer.

 

Changes caused by deterioration in the aerial or feeder cable can happen very slowly and gradually, so slow in fact that you don’t notice it from one day to the next, but you’ll soon spot it if you compare off-air recordings made a year ago with recent ones (though it could also be the VCR heads needing a clean, but that’s another story). The cure is simple, if your rooftop aerial is more than ten years old have it replaced, and at the same time ask the engineer to check you out for digital reception, assuming it is available in your area.

 

DVD QUERIES

 

STAR LETTER

 

AUDIO ANGST

Name                Kevin Sharpe, via email (kevinsharpe@netscapeonline.co.uk)

Kit                    Panasonic TX-32PF10 TV, JVC HR-S7500 VCR, Denon AVR-2700

Problem            Kevin has two questions (doesn’t everyone…). Number one is should he buy the Sony DVP-S725 DVD player he’s had his eyes on, or should he wait for the arrival of DVD-Audio machines? He’s heard there’s not going to be any regional coding and the spec could mean better sound quality for movies in the future. Second, he read a reply in a recent Hints and Tips concerning AV component hook-ups in which we advised a reader to bypass the AV amp, when it came to the video connections. Kevin is confused; he says if he connects the DVD player directly to the TV via the SCART cable how does he connect the VCR or digibox?            

 

Expert Reply             In this business there’s always some new development just around the corner. It’s pointless hanging on for the latest widget or gizmo, if Kevin wants DVD now he should go get one and enjoy it! DVD-A still has a long way to go, its future is still far from clear and there’s a fair chance of a damaging format war developing with the rival SA-CD system.

 

The shortest and most direct route is always best in any AV connection. Each time a signal has to transit through a plug and socket, no matter how good they are, there’s the potential for noise to creep in. When a video signal is needlessly diverted into a box full of electronics, even if it goes in and comes straight out again, it will be exposed to radiating fields, RF interference and noise, so keep it simple and keep it short. Kevin shouldn’t have too many problems with his AV components, the TX-32PF10 has three SCART sockets, but even if it had only one or two there’s no problem ‘daisy-chaining’ two components together with SCART cables, in fact it’s common practice to connect the VCR to the TV via the sat box, so it can record satellite TV programmes.   

 

AWFUL DVD

Name                John Royle, via email                        

Kit                    Samsung DVD player, JVC 25AVF1 TV, JVC HR-D880 VCR, Sony STR-DB925 AV amplifier           

Problem            ‘Truly awful’    is how John describes the picture from his Samsung DVD-709 DVD player. He says he brought it as a stopgap because he simply couldn’t wait any longer for a DVD machine that can record as well. The player is connected to the TV by S-Video lead and the picture appears to bleed colour, with a ghosting effect. He adds that he gets similar results from his daughter’s Nintendo, also connected by SCART. The picture problem shows up on menu displays as well, which go orange and ghosted to the left. He’s tried turning things on and off with no success. Would I be better off, he asks, making all of the connections via his AV amplifier? He’s tried contacting Samsung but can never get through. He also mentions that he’s had a similar problem with the VCR when connected to the TV via a Nokia satellite receiver. He says DVD was huge disappointment and he’s driven his wife and the kids mad fiddling with the player mid-movie.

 

Expert Reply  A slightly confusing tale of woe this one. John seems to be blaming the DVD player for the poor picture quality when by his own admission he gets similar results from his VCR and his daughter’s Nintendo console. We’ve tested the Samsung DVD-709 on a couple of occasions and picture performance on our samples was quite satisfactory; it definitely shouldn’t be producing the kind of picture defects John describes. Everything points to the TV’s AV input circuitry being the guilty party in this little drama. It’s possible, indeed quite probable that John has been thrown off course by the TV delivering a perfectly reasonable off-air television picture, but something certainly seems amiss in the external input department, one way to find out would be to connect the DVD player to another TV and compare the results. Connecting the DVD player to the TV via an AV amplifier won’t improve matters it could even make them worse.

 

LOGICAL DECISION

Name                Martin Pantling, via email                           

Kit                    buying a DVD player    

Problem            Last July Martin says he took the plunge into digital TV and got a set-top box decoder, which he uses with an old portable TV and NICAM VCR. Now he’s decided to expand his system and in the coming weeks intends buying a widescreen TV and a DVD player. His question is should he get a Dolby Pro Logic TV as he doesn’t have an AV amplifier, or should he get a DVD with a built-in decoder or would he be better off with an older or more basic decoder-less model?

 

Expert Reply             It sounds as though Martin might be getting Dolby Digital mixed up with Pro Logic, so it’s worth having a brief recap. DVD players come in two basic flavours, plain vanilla models with analogue mixed stereo and digital bitstream audio outputs, and players with on-board Dolby Digital decoders. The mixed stereo outputs on the former have to be connected to a TV or AV amp with a Pro-Logic decoder in order to hear four-channel Dolby Surround. It’s an analogue system, and the channels are mixed or ‘matrixed’ together on the DVD’s stereo soundtrack; the quality can be very good but it’s not as good as the Dolby Digital soundtracks, which most DVD’s also carry. This comprises six ‘discrete’ or separate digital channels, five of them are very high quality, comparable with CD, and the sixth is used for low frequency bass sounds. To hear the Dolby Digital soundtrack the player’s bitstream output needs to be connected to a suitable TV or AV amplifier or decoder with a Dolby Digital decoder. The alternative is a DVD player with a built-in Dolby Digital decoder; these have six analogue outputs – one for each channel -- that are connected to a suitable AV amplifier. As to which is best, there’s no easy answer, but as the cost of DVD players with on-board Dolby Digital comes down (the cheapest model – Bush DVD2000 sells for less than £200), and more models have the feature, it’s becoming less of an issue. Similarly the price premium for TVs with Dolby Pro Logic sound is also falling and nowadays they only cost a little more than ordinary NICAM stereo TVs. Martin sounds like a cautious sort of guy so my advice would be to get a Pro-Logic TV and a decent DVD player, he can then easily upgrade to Dolby Digital with the addition of an AV amp and some extra speakers.

 

MACRO AGGRO

Name                            Julian Taylor, via email            

Kit                                Bush DVD2000

Problem                        Would a timebase corrector -- sometimes referred to as video stabilisers -- solve Julian’s problem? He says that the picture flashes when he connects his Bush DVD2000 DVD player to his Aiwa VCR by SCART lead. Is there a site on the Internet that will tell him how to disable the Macrovision on his player he wants to know?

 

Expert Reply                 Tut tut! As Julian well knows the flashing picture he’s seeing is caused by the VCR reacting to the Macrovision anti-piracy signals embedded in the video data on many DVDs. They are there to stop people making illicit copies on their VCRs. Macrovision spoiler signals work on a number of levels and some types of ‘stabiliser’ might well be able to negate one or more of the Macrovision effects but none of the ones we’re aware of cannot get around them all, or cope with the extra refinements that are added from time to time. A few ancient VCRs (models over ten years old) are immune to Macrovision signals, but that’s not exactly a secret. As to disabling Macrovision, all we can say is that tinkering around with DVD players often ends in tears – as the many letters we receive from readers with ‘chipped’ players proves -- especially when the machine goes wrong whilst still under guarantee.  

 

REGIONAL POLICY

Name                Dave Tebbit, via email                                                

Kit                    ‘chipped’ Toshiba 2109 DVD, Panasonic 29AD2D TV      

Problem            A few months ago Dave brought a Toshiba 2109 DVD player, modified to allow Region 1 and 2 playback. At first, whilst watching R2 discs he says the picture was brilliant, but once he started to get his hands on R1 discs he began to notice a problem. The main effect was lines on the picture, the only thing he can think of is that the TV is having problems with the NTSC signal.  

Expert Reply             Each month we receive lots of letters and emails like this one. The makes and models vary, and the symptoms change, but the message is the same; a reader has brought a modified player, or paid to have their machine ‘chipped’ and is disappointed when the results do not live up to their expectations. Sorry to sound preachy but really people, what can you expect? Whatever the rights and wrongs of regional coding – and no one would be happier to see it disappear than us -- when a piece of equipment is hacked or modified to do something it wasn’t meant to do, or used in a way it was never designed for, then things can and will go wrong. Even if we were disposed to help troubleshoot wonky region mods we couldn’t since we have no way of knowing how the modification was carried out what methods were used and how well it was done. Dave’s case is typical and we’ve heard of several similar cases involving this machine (but with other TVs), so there does seem to be a problem with the hacks for this model (or the company doing it), all he can do is take it back to where he got it from and explain the problem to them. Clearly neither Toshiba nor Panasonic will want to have anything to do with it. We’re very happy to help with any problems relating to off the shelf products but when it comes to botched or unsatisfactory mod-jobs you are on your own.

 

BOX COPY 1

GETTING STARTED

 

BOX COPY 2

One of the many sources of confusion surrounding DVD is the issue of PAL and NTSC replay. This often gets tangled up with regional coding, so let’s try and straighten things out. First the basics, PAL and NTSC are colour television systems, not to be confused with broadcasting standards, which relate to the line and frame structure of the signal, and the frequencies and modulation methods used to transmit the information. As you know the PAL colour TV system is used in the UK and much of Europe, the NTSC system is used in North America and Japan, so far so good.

 

Now this is where it starts to get a bit complicated, most DVD decks can play both PAL and NTSC discs, in other words if you put a PAL disc in you get a PAL TV signal out, if you play an NTSC disc you get an NTSC signal out. Regional coding is a separate consideration; this refers to data recorded on the disc that tells the player whether or not it is allowed to play the disc. In other words a Region 1 NTSC disc from the US will not work on a Region 2 player sold in the UK, but an NTSC disc from Japan, which is also Region 2, will play.

 

Many recent TVs sold in this country; especially up-market home cinema models can work with ‘raw’ NTSC signals, fed in through the AV input. This is not to be confused with so-called ‘NTSC replay’, which is a facility on a lot of PAL VCRs. What happens here is that the VCR plays an NTSC tape but the signal that comes out of the aerial or AV socket is not pure NTSC but ‘modified’ PAL. The VCR partially decodes the NTSC colour information and relies on the TV to do the rest. The upshot of that is that a Region 2 DVD deck playing a ‘Region Free’ NTSC disc (i.e. without regional coding) or Region 2 NTSC disc (from Japan, say), will only work with a TV that can handle raw NTSC video signals. Clear as mud eh!   

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2000  1401

 

 

 

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