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HINTS & TIPS—REPLIES

 

NAME Jon Burgess
KIT Pioneer 626D DVD player, Pioneer 638G A/V Amp (UK equivalent ???) Jon is coming back to the UK from Australia and is looking to buy a new widescreen TV on his return as his current 29" Philips set is not worth the shipping costs. His Pioneer 626D DVD player is an Australian model and does not have a SCART output, only composite, S-Video and component.  Is he right in thinking that the component output would offer the best picture quality from his DVD player? How limited are his options in the UK for a widescreen set with component input? His budget is around £1,400. Can we suggest anything?

EXPERT REPLY
Currently only a very small handful of high-end home cinema TVs sold in the UK are fitted with component video inputs. The closest match is the Toshiba 32ZD08B, which is within a whisker of Jon's budget, in fact he should be able to find one for less than £1400 if he shops around and haggles a bit. Component video, which splits the video signal up into three colour 'difference' signals is undoubtedly the connection system of choice for NTSC DVDs but there's little or no benefit on PAL discs where is it usually better to stick with the good old RGB connection. This would also give Jon a much bigger choice of TVs. However, since Jon's Aussie spec DVD doesn't have any SCART sockets it seems very unlikely that it has an RGB output either, (models we've seen that do usually share the connections with the component video output and are clearly marked). Nevertheless, unless he is an NTSC purist Jon shouldn't dismiss using an S-Video connection, the difference in picture quality between S-Video and RGB/component is actually quite small, mostly concerned with colour purity, and it can be very difficult to spot on a moving picture.

 


NAME Davinder Aujla
KIT n/a
PROBLEM Davinder has been trying to find out which system is best for video quality, as he has heard conflicting answers from various sources. He asks if RGB (SCART or otherwise) is better than S-Video and whether it is possible to have a non-RGB SCART socket?

EXPERT REPLY

The video connection systems used on consumer AV products sold in Europe are ranked (in ascending order of quality) thus: Composite video, S-Video and RGB. Composite video is the basic industry standard format, the main advantage is that the three basic elements of a colour video signal – colour and brightness information and synchronisation pulses – all travel down a single wire together, which makes cabling and connections simple and cheap. The signal is reasonably robust and can travel long distances without serious degradation. The downside is the colour and brightness bits of the signal interact with one another, causing cross colour or 'herringbone' effect in densely patterned areas of the picture.

 

S-Video solves the cross colour problem by separating (that's what the 'S' stands for) the brightness (luminance or Y) and colour (chrominance or C) information. S-Video signals degrade quickly over distances of 100 metres or more but that's unlikely to be a problem on most domestic installations…

 

An RGB connection gives the best results (on PAL equipment) by cutting out several stages of signal processing. This reduces noise levels and gives cleaner purer colours. The trade-off is more complicated cabling, but if you have the chance, use it. SCART connectors on Euro spec players almost always carry RGB; out of the scores of player's we have tested only a couple have had RGB outputs on phono sockets.

 

 

NAME C King
KIT Sony DAV-S300
PROBLEM Mr. King is thinking of upgrading the satellite speakers on his Sony DAV-S300 system. He has a budget of around £300 and is considering the Tannoy centre and front speakers and asks if this would be worth doing. He also asks if he could use the satellite speakers as rears.

EXPERT REPLY
The matchbox sized 'squeakers' on the DAV-S300 were certainly the weakest link when we tested it – see First Test in HE 79 – and almost anything will work better than the speakers it comes with. The Tannoy speakers Mr King mentions should yield a marked improvement in clarity and depth though they are unlikely to overcome the system's other deficiency and that's a lack of power. With only around 30 watts per channel to play with we reckoned the system was best suited to smaller rooms, increasing the size of the speakers isn't going to change that to any meaningful degree. Upgrading just the front speakers will almost certainly throw the system off-balance but moving the front satellites to the rear channels probably won't make a blind bit of difference as the front and rear speakers are essentially the same. The trouble is, spending yet more money on a decent set of rear speakers is going to get Mr King into the situation of chasing diminishing returns. If he is seeking significantly more power he might want to start saving and put his money towards a system with a bit more muscle.

 

 

NAME Amr Adel
KIT n/a
PROBLEM Amr lives in Cairo and wants to buy an A/V reciever and speakersystem. He asks which online shopping site we recommend that doesinternational shipping.

EXPERT REPLY

To be perfectly honest we haven't the foggiest idea about the intricacies of shipping goods to Egypt, which also means we cannot recommend any specific companies so we'll confine ourselves to some general advice for reader's living overseas, buying goods from UK on-line retailers. The good news is that UK companies are mostly very reliable and we've been told that problems – as and when they occur – are usually at the other end (i.e. outside the UK), when the consignment is in the hands of local couriers. For that reason it's a good idea to shortlist companies that use the major International courier firms (FedEx, UPS etc), which normally have a better track record of delivering goods quickly and safely, and have sophisticated tracking systems, that monitors the progress of the shipment. Whilst these companies are usually a bit more expensive it's usually worth the extra for the peace of mind, reliability and speed. When shopping around UK web sites Amr shouldn't be entirely led by prices. It's difficult to tell from a web page but larger and longer established companies usually have more experience with overseas sales and are better equipped to handle enquiries and deal with problems; true, they may sometimes be a little dearer but it's usually worth it.

 

 

NAME Mark Osborne
KIT Lecson DVD player
PROBLEM Mark has just bought the Lecson DVD player and wondered if we knew of any codes so he can play American discs. He has tried playing
them without codes and with the 0,1,2,3 code that someone suggested but
with no luck .Do we have any ideas?

EXPERT REPLY

Samples of the Lecson DVD-900 we've seen have had the region lock disabled and were able to play R1 discs straight out of the box but it seems that some batches may have been shipped with the lock set to Region 2. Fortunately very it's easy to change in 'firmware'. Step one is to switch the machine on, open the disc tray, you can pop in a Region 1 disc if you like, but do not close the drawer at this stage. Next on the remote handset press 1, 1, 1, 1, followed the region number you wish to change it to, (1 in the case of discs from the US). Press Open/Close and the machine should start playing. To get it back to Region 2 follow the same procedure but put a 2 at the end (i.e. 1,1,1,1,2). If you prefer you can switch this machine to all region playback or region-free. Switch on and open the tray as before and this time press Zoom, A/B, Up and Left, Down and Right and close the tray. BY the way, changing to all-region playback may cause problems when replaying Region 1 discs carrying RCE (Region Code Enhancement) data, in which case change to Region 1 only replay.

 

 

NAME Dan Hughes
KIT Sky digibox
PROBLEM Following the complaint from Gideon Eames (issue 85), Dan is
also experiencing a drop out of sound on Sky Digital. Varying in frequency, it chops out a complete word of dialogue on each occasion and is a random, but constant irritant. Because of the free installation, Dan is committed to keeping the box hooked up to his phone line for 12 months so can't try another make of decoder. He feels that none of the obvious and mundane faults mentioned before are the culprit and reckons that the Sky Engineers guess that there was a 'problem in a satellite downfeed station' is nearest the mark. Are other readers experiencing this problem?

EXPERT REPLY

On our growing list of naff excuses 'problems at satellite downfeed stations' is one of the best – what the hell is a downfeed station? Suggestions invited. The prime suspect in Dan's case has to be the digibox but there's an outside chance it could be something to do with signal strength, though that would usually cause problems with the picture, and affect more than one channel. One easy way to find out is to use the sat box's own diagnostic utilities, on the remote handset press the Services button, select System Setup from the menu, then Signal Test. At the top of the page there are two signal strength bar graphs, one for signal strength the other for quality, both should be at least 75% full, preferably more. It's worth monitoring them for a few minutes, especially if it's a bit windy outside, if they waver it might be that the dish isn't securely anchored, or maybe there's an obstruction interfering with the signal (the branches on a tree, etc). In any case, any fluctuations in signal strength, or a weak signal, indicate that there's a problem with the dish and Dan should call the installation company to come and check it out.

 

 

NAME S Fewlass
KIT n/a
PROBLEM Mr Fewlass is looking to get a big image to complement his sound system. He likes the Sony KL-50W2 but our test report was not that
complimentary regarding picture clarity. How would he connect the
digital satellite to the Sony KL-50W2 without any SCART sockets? He asks
if he could buy a TV without a sound system, but that only leaves
plasma, which he thinks is overpriced and overrated. He is also
considering a projector but needs to hook up his surround system, DVD,
VCR and digital satellite. Can this be done?

EXPERT REPLY
The KL-50W2 does have SCART sockets; three of them in fact, so there shouldn't be any connection problems with other AV components, including digital satellite receivers. Mr Fewlass is right, we did comment on the picture quality of this LCD back projector but it really wasn't that disparaging and he should see one for himself, before making up his mind, it is a great TV, in all senses of the word! TV's without fancy sound systems are available, they're called monitors, and very good they are too, but professional video monitors are available in the same range of screen sizes as domestic TVs, so that won't help in Mr Fewlass's search for a big screen. A plasma screen would seem to be the obvious answer, but we have to agree with him that at the moment they are horrendously expensive, which brings us to video projectors. Connections shouldn't be a problem; most models have at least two video inputs (composite and S-Video) and sometimes a third (RGB). The VCR and satellite receiver can be daisy-chained together by SCART cable and share one composite video input whilst the DVD player should go to an S-Video or RGB input. All Mr Fewlass has to do is avoid models with only one input.

 

 

NAME Mark Haywood
KIT Toshiba 40WH08B
PROBLEM Having returned nine Toshiba TVs in four months, Mark recently purchased Toshiba's 40WH08B, but noticed that, when he chose a digital radio channels on his ntl/Pace digital set top box, there were a number
of three/four inch bands of flickering images crossing the screen
vertically and horizontally. There was also vertical bands approx. one
inch wide down the left side of the screen. He is now aware of these
during any dark scenes on DVD movies. Two Toshiba authorised technicians
have looked at the set, but neither could shed any light. Do we have any
ideas as Mark believes the set has a problem, but doesn't know what to
do now?

EXPERT REPLY
Nine in four months that must be a record! Unfortunately Mark didn't say whether the problems were related, or connected with this one, so we'll have to assume that this is an entirely new malady. Without seeing the offending bands it's difficult to be certain but from Mark's description they could be either 'hum bars' or some sort of 'spook', generated inside the TV. Hum bars are often caused by the close proximity of components or cables to the TV, Mark should try moving the cable box away form the TV, it's also worth separating mains cables and making sure they are nowhere near any signal carrying leads, paying particular attention to speaker and aerial leads. He should use separate socket outlets for the mains cables and if that doesn't work, try completely disconnecting one component at a time. Spooks are not easy to track down or cure but Mark should be able to confirm whether or not that is the problem by seeing if the bands are still there when all external connections to the TV have been removed, setting the TV to an AV input should provide him with a dark blank screen.

 

NAME Mark Cross
KIT n/a
PROBLEM Writing from New Zealand, Mark has recently bought a Philips TV and is very happy with the automatic picture format which stretches the
picture to fill as much of the screen as possible on ordinary broadcasts. However, he is confused about which picture format to use when watching DVDs or widescreen movies on Sky as he can choose Zoom, 14:9 movie, 16:9 movie and widescreen. His dealer says it is all down to personal preference and he has been using the widescreen option and asks if this is correct.

EXPERT REPLY
Essentially the dealer Mark spoke to is quite right and in the end the choice of picture shape is down to the user. The trouble begins with the original material and at the moment there are at least half a dozen different widescreen movie and TV formats in widespread and regular use. That's bad enough on its own but there is more opportunity to change picture shape and aspect ratio when a movie is transferred to video or DVD, and it's quite common for the same movie to be available in several different versions. When it comes to showing a movie on TV broadcasters are a law unto themselves, and once again they can fiddle with the shape, not to mention the fact that aspect ratios frequently chop and change during ad breaks. In other words there are almost limitless possibilities for getting it wrong, and they do, frequently! It's a bit optimistic to expect the TV to sort it all out, though to be fair most tellies we've seen with auto format switching actually do quite a good job, nevertheless, when it comes down to it the best judge of picture shape your own eyes and if the picture looks wrong, it usually is. 

 

 

NAME Vince Codd
KIT Pioneer DV-626D DVD, Dolby Digital amp
PROBLEM Vince has had a Pioneer DV-626D DVD player for six months and has had it working with an ageing JVC Pro-Logic amp. He figures it's
about time he bought a Dolby Digital amp but his problem is that the 626
has an onboard decoder and so many outputs that he's not sure which amps
to be looking at. Ideally, he wouldn't want to spend over £400, but has
had the Sony DB940 recommended. However he already has a tuner but
wonders if it might be too much for his needs.

EXPERT REPLY
Vince could certainly do a lot worse than the Sony DB940 and it would probably be our first choice but a couple of other models he might like to consider would be the old NAD-T750 and the Pioneer VSX-709RDS, which are in the same price bracket and have both been HE Best Buys in the past. Whilst it's a pain to double up on features it's an inevitable consequence of the way home cinema technology is going. It has always been that way, with more functions being integrated, and usually it's a good thing.  Having the tuner built into the AV amp can very convenient, for example, it cuts down on the number of boxes, simplifies connections and reduces the number of remote controls. Vince should look upon having two Dolby Digital decoders as an opportunity, not a problem. We can't say for certain if he should use the decoder in the player or in the amp, but it's a simple enough matter to try both and decide for himself. Connections are very straightforward; if he wants to use the decoder in the DVD player then he'll have to connect the individual analogue channel outputs to the corresponding analogue inputs on the AV amp. Using the decoder in the amp is even easier with a coaxial or optical digital bitstream connection between the player and the amp, he should listen to both, and see if he can spot any difference.

 

 

NAME Charlie T
KIT Toshiba rear projection sets
PROBLEM Charlie can't decide between a Toshiba 40PW03B and a 40WH08B. He knows that the 40WH08B has Dolby Digital and Pro-Logic, but he is buying a Dolby Digital system anyway, so that doesn't bother him. What he wants to know is whether the Black Stripe screen, Digital 100 DFS and 100Hz of the 40WH08B makes the picture quality better. If not, he'll opt for the cheaper 40PW03B.

EXPERT REPLY
Whether or not these features improve picture quality is open to debate, but they will certainly make a difference in the texture and how the picture looks when showing different types of material. Ultimately picture quality, whatever that might be, is very much a matter of personal taste. If you were to go into ten homes and compare the picture settings on the TVs therein it's very unlikely you would find two the same, and here's something else to think about. It would very easy for television manufacturers to factory set the colour saturation control on a TV, there is a correct setting, around which only very minor adjustments need be made – automatically if necessary -- to suit ambient lighting conditions. A few years ago one manufacturer did just that only to receive a stack of complaints from dissatisfied customers, claiming that the colour couldn't be turned up high enough! The implication being that they'd paid £100 for a colour TV licence and they wanted their money's worth. All this is a long-winded way of saying to Charlie that he should prise his eyes away from the spec sheets and magazine reviews, see both TVs with his own eyes and judge for himself.

 

 

NAME Steve
KIT DVD players
PROBLEM Steven is having trouble deciding on a DVD player. He would like a DVD recordable player but worries they are too expensive. His budget
was but he has recently been tempted by Arcam's DV88 for £900 and has
heard that it is upgradeable to DVD-Audio. Is it possible that players
can be upgraded to be recordable or is that a step too far? He is
worried about spending £900 and seeing it overtaken. He also asks how
good DVD-R will be anyway.

EXPERT REPLY
Steve should forget recordable DVD for the foreseeable, it will happen and machines are already trickling into the shops but until the fundamental matter of formats has been fixed in stone it would be madness to lash out a thousand pounds or more on a product that may or may not be obsolete in a year or two. Recordable DVD demos we've seen look very good indeed – you probably won't be able to see any differences between recorded and off-air material – and it will be worth waiting for, but don't junk the VCR just yet!

 

It unwise to believe anything manufacturers says about upgradability, even one's as respectable as Arcam. Basically that means that it is technically feasible for a feature to be incorporated into a product but they have not as yet got around to doing it or worse still, may not bother at all and just bring out a MkII version or a new model, with the feature built-in, and tough titties to everyone waiting around for a non-existent upgrade. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but that's the way it usually goes in consumer electronics. If Steve wants a particular feature he should the product that has it fitted, and not gamble on a promise.

 

 

NAME Neel
KIT Sony STR-DB940 amp
PROBLEM Neel has a Nicam TV, but wants to upgrade to Dolby Digital. His
wife has given him a budget of around £500 and he was going to buy the
Sony STR-DB940 amp, which he can get for around £400. He asks if we can
recommend a surround sound speaker package that won't blow him too far
over the limit.

EXPERT REPLY

Sadly no, £100 really isn't going to buy Neel very much in the way of a speaker package, at least not one that will do justice to an amp like the DB940. Neel has three simple choices: he could settle for a cheaper amp and a budget speaker package, (the JVC RX-6001 is very good value and the Yamaha NSP-210 speaker package at £180 is about as cheap as we'd dare go). He could buy the Sony amp and get the front's stereo pair first, (a pair of Acoustic Energy Aegis Compacts or Tannoy MX1s or Mercury M2s are within his price range and should would fit the bill nicely); Neel can use existing speakers for the centre and rears and buy the others as and when he can afford them (is allowed to buy them). However, the sensible option would be for Neel to consult his wife and convince her of the necessity to re-think his budget. He can tell her that it will save them money in the long run as spending at least £350 on a set of speakers is actually an investment in their future happiness, and it's less likely that he will feel the urge to upgrade or replace them anytime soon; add flowers/chocolates/flattery/good meal out as necessary…

 

 

NAME Lindsay Bowen
KIT Sony KV-32FQ75
PROBLEM Lindsay is now on her fourth Sony KV-32FQ75, as they have all
suffered from colour patches, or marks on the screen. When a white or
light blue background is displayed, faint patches of brown/green tints
are visible on the screen. There are no speakers in the area, and the
set is degaussing itself OK. She is very happy with the set otherwise,
but asks what is causing these patches.

EXPERT REPLY
The first question that comes to mind is have all of the sets suffered from 'colour patches'? If so then the problem is almost certainly being caused by something in the room where the set is being used, or possibly at the dealer's or warehouse, where the sets are being stored. Colour patches or staining is a symptom of a build up of magnetism on the metal aperture grille inside the picture tube. All colour TVs have automatic degaussing systems, that operate in the first few seconds after switch on, but they are designed only to remove the kind low level magnetic contamination that can arise from the Earth's own magnetic field, or a brief encounter with an unshielded speaker. More permanent staining can only be removed with a degauss coil, which all TV engineers have access to. The only way to nail this effect once and for all is to have the screen degaussed by an engineer. If the staining reappears then there has to be a hidden magnetic source close to the TV. Metal structures within the building, pipes, electrical conduits and under floor heating ducts are all prime suspects.

 

 

NAME Zeeshan Asghar
KIT Sony STR-DB940 and Tannoy Revolution R2s
PROBLEM Zeeshan has just bought a Sony STR-DB940 receiver and Tannoy Revolution R2's as a surround sound set-up. He asks what speaker cable would be best suited to the amp & speakers. Are £2-3 per meter cables
worth the money or should he be looking at spending around £10 per
metre. Any thing beyond this seems a bit excessive.

EXPERT REPLY
Zeeshan's first instincts are broadly right and spending huge amounts of money on exotic speaker cables won't make a jot of difference to the performance of his system. That's not to say that speaker cable doesn't have an effect on sound – it does – but the differences are usually very subtle and tend to be most noticeable on finely tuned, high-end systems based around source components that cost three figures and eye-wateringly expensive speakers, and then only when playing very high quality musical recordings on top grade audio CDs and vinyl. Zeeshan's system – and it's a good choice of components -- is clearly intended for home cinema use, which means it will be spending most of its time handling movie soundtracks. Whilst the audio quality of DVD (and to a lesser extent VHS Hi-Fi stereo) is potentially very good, this kind of surround material is very heavily engineered, with the emphasis on fast and often loud dynamic effects, which generally speaking, pass cleanly through most types of speaker cable without any let or hindrance. There's nothing to stop Zeeshan spening upwards of £10 a metre on cable (he can spend considerably more if he wants to…), and it might come in handy one day if he upgrades his system, but the bottom line is that the cheaper stuff (not 50 pence a metre bell-wire though…) will sound just as good!

 

---end---

 

Ó R. Maybury 2001, 1201

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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