HINTS & TIPS
NAME David Hines
KIT Toshiba 32W8DB TV, Pioneer DVD-626D, Pioneer VSX-609RDS amp, two GLL IMAGIO
IC120i speakers for the front, two IMAGIO IC100i speakers for the rear, one GLL
ARENA Centre, one GLL LE BASS Active Subwoofer
PROBLEM Despite having two NHS hearing aids, David is a huge fan of surround sound. (in fact they give him an excuse to turn the system up and enjoy the film a little bit more.) To further enhance the experience, he wants to know whether to use a phono lead or speaker cables connected to the terminal clips on the sub (or both).
Whilst we haven’t actually tried out this particular combination of
components, as a very general rule a line-level phono connection, between the
subwoofer output on the DVD player, and an active sub gives the best results.
The reason for that is simple, the low frequency content of the soundtrack is
split off immediately after the final stage of digital to analogue processing,
inside the player, so it should be in pristine condition. On the other hand the
speaker connection is several stages downstream from the source component. By
the time the bass information has reached that point is will have been through
a number of additional processes, any of which can reduce the bass content. In
the end though, David has the equipment there in front of him and he can try it
out for himself, however, it’s probably not a good idea to connect both types
of input at the same time. Incidentally, in view of his hearing impairment
David might also want to investigate surround sound through headphones; AKG,
Sony and Sennheiser have launched products in the past couple of years.
NAME Matt Ryde
KIT 20-year old Akai receiver, Goodmans speakers
PROBLEM Matt wants to get a 28" widescreen TV, but doesn't know what kind of amp to go for as he wants to retain good quality music sound from both vinyl records and CDs. He has heard of people running multiple amps for surround sound and asks if this is worth considering. urrently runs another set of speakers into the dining room and asks if there is an amp that allows me to direct different inputs to different sets of speakers ? i.e. can one amp handle sending a signal from the DVD to the surround sound system whilst taking a signal from his CD player and directing it to the dining room? Finally, with the advent of DVD+RW, Matt asks if it is worth buying a high-end DVD player now, or is it better to buy a budget DVD now and upgrade to DVD+RW later.
If Matt is really serious about getting the absolute best AV and hi-fi
sound quality, and he’s got a budget to match his aspirations, then separate
systems are the way to go; at the very least the types of speakers and their
placement are usually quite different for the two applications. However, a lot
of top end AV amps are more than capable hi-fi performers and many of them have
provision for two sets of speakers, so he can put them where they do most good.
As far as multi-room systems are concerned anything is possible. There
are configurable multi-channel amplifiers on the market and we can think of
ways of splitting the channel allocation of an AV amplifier between two rooms
but the cost and complexity of such a project is rarely worth the bother since
you also have to include some way of controlling the amplifier and source
components remotely. Quite honestly, it’s cheaper and simpler to buy a separate
mini hi-fi system for the other room.
Recordable DVD at sensible prices is still some way down the line and
until the compatibility issues have been settled, and the inevitable
first-generation bugs have been ironed out, there’s little point in worrying
about it. Matt should buy the DVD player that best suits his needs now, and as
our group tests reveal, there are some very respectable players on the market
for less than £250.
KIT Panasonic DVD-350 DVD player
PROBLEM P has got a Panasonic DVD 350 and had it modified to play all
regions about two years ago. It has started playing up as the picture
freezes and then the deck turns itself off. This happens on all region
discs and P has tried cleaning the lens with a DVD laser lens solution
to no avail. What more can he do?
We must assume that P is not a regular reader because this is precisely the
situation we’ve been warning about. We have no idea what’s wrong with P’s
player; it could be one of a number of things. DVD players are actually very
reliable, there are very few moving parts to go wrong and cleaning the pickup
lens – with a good quality cleaning kit, is about the only thing the user can
do, in the way of routine maintenance. Assuming the lens has been effectively
cleaned then the fault almost certainly lies somewhere in the processing
circuitry, and in the normal course of events it would be a simple problem for
a Panasonic service agent to fix. However, since the machine has been chipped,
Panasonic engineers are unlikely to want to have anything to do with it, even
if the all-region mod isn’t responsible. We suspect that any engineer willing
to look at the player probably won’t be prepared to guarantee the repair since
the machine has been modified. If the fault is serious, requiring a main
processor board swap the all-region mod will be lost, unless P has exceptional
powers of persuasion and can get the engineer to re-install it. The only
suggestion we have is to return it to the company who carried out the mod in
the first place.
NAME Greg Holman
PROBLEM Greg is looking to buy a 32" widescreen television and after
much research he has pretty much decided on either the Panasonic Tau
TX32PK20 or the Sony Wega KV32FX60, leaning more towards the Panasonic.
However, he is worried by the 100Hz only option and asks about the
advantages or disadvantages of 100Hz.
Will he regret buying a 50Hz and should he worry about rumours that he
has heard about Panasonic bringing out progressive scan TVs early next
100Hz displays are very much a matter of personal choice, and the type of
material you are viewing, so Greg should get his head out of the brochures,
spec sheets and magazine reviews for and get along to a friendly dealer and see
these TVs in action for himself.
Broadly speaking flicker free displays are a good thing and they’ve
become more important as TV screens have become bigger and wider. For some
people, aware and annoyed by 50Hz screen flicker they’re a godsend. However,
the heavyweight digital processing involved in generating a 100Hz picture does
have a number of side effects, including blurring of fast moving objects and texturing
of backgrounds or static areas of the image. These ‘artefacts’ vary from make
to make and as the technology has developed they’re becoming less intrusive.
Nevertheless, like 50Hz flicker, some people are sensitive to digital
processing picture defects, and once you are aware of them, they can be
difficult to ignore. On most 100Hz TVs they and tend to be most noticeable on
live outside broadcast material, like footy, so Greg should try and see his
short listed TVs when there’s a match on. Without wishing to prejudice Greg’s
decision, sets with switchable flicker-free processing have a distinct
advantage. Progressive scan TVs are a real possibility from several
manufacturers in the next year or two but the benefits, bearing in mind the
cost and hardware requirements, are likely to be small, Greg should not put off
buying the TV he wants now on the strength of speculation and conjecture.
NAME Rupert Bastin
PROBLEM Rupert is thinking of upgrading his old but trusty Kenwood 6060
receiver to buy into Dolby Digital, but has funds limited to £350, which
cuts his options. He is looking at the Yamaha DSP A5 or the Denon
AVR1801 and asks if they will be good enough as his core amp to run his
Without knowing a lot more about the speakers concerned it’s hard to tell
what sort of noise they will make when used with the Yam or Denon amps. Rupert
should go ahead and buy the amp he wants. When he gets it home he can try them
out. Providing he takes care not to
wind up the volume or conduct his experiment with any heavyweight Drum and Bass
then no harm will come of it. However, since most amplifiers are optimised to
drive an 8-ohm load there is a fair chance they’ll sound a bit rough around the
edges and he will probably want to replace them eventually. In any case he will
need some new surrounds and a centre dialogue speaker. Another point to bear in
mind is that it’s unlikely his present speakers are magnetically shielded so
they can’t be used close to the screen. Since Rupert’s budget is limited the
sensible option would be to upgrade as he goes. If he spreads his speaker
purchases over a few months or a year the expense should be bearable.
NAME Ray Pepper
KIT Sony DA50ES amp, Sony DVP- S7700, JVC HR-S7500 S-VHS video, Sony
VPL-W400 QM Projector
PROBLEM Ray is hoping to upgrade his projector to the Sony VPL-VW10HT or
one of the new DLPs from Seleco and asks if there are different types of
screens for different projectors. Also, he wonders how to tell a good
screen from a bad one.
The main criteria for a projection screen is that it should be flat, white, not
too shiny and preferably clean… An awful lot of technical guff was spouted
about screens in the early days of video projectors but this had more to do
with the fact that first generation models usually had relatively low light
outputs, and were often used in unsuitable or over-lit rooms, in which case
screen reflectivity was an issue.
Today’s high-output video projectors (1000 plus Lumens), known
affectionately in the trade as ‘paint burners’ can produce a reasonable picture
in a undarkened room, though a lot depends on viewing distance or course, and
the position of the screen. Since the projectors on Ray’s shortlist are high
output types he doesn’t need to worry about the composition of the screen and
he can concentrate his energies on more important matters, like where he’s
going to put it, or which wall to paint; he could go for a fixed type or splash
out on a manual or motorised drop-down screen, and whether or not it will be
hidden or on show.
NAME Jonathon Wray
PROBLEM Is there any difference between Region 1 and Region 2 DVDs in
terms of performance (i.e. picture quality and sound)?
Regional Coding has no direct bearing on picture or sound quality, it’s
merely a segment of digital code on a DVD that tells the player whether or not
it’s allowed to play the disc. However, Region 1 is the USA, which uses the
525-line NTSC colour TV system, and the UK is a Region 2 ‘locale’, which uses
the 625-line PAL system. (Japan is also Region 2, and it uses the NTSC system
like the USA). If we rephrase Jonathon’s question and ask if there are
differences between NTSC and PAL DVDs then the answer is yes, but only in terms
of picture quality, there should be no perceptible differences in the
On a system showing a R1 NTSC disc on an NTSC player and TV alongside an
R2 PAL version of the same disc on a PAL DVD player and TV you would probably
be able to spot a small reduction in fine detail because a PAL image has almost
20% more picture lines. PAL colour also tends to be sharper and more natural
looking (NTSC used to be jokingly referred to as Never Twice the Same Colour,
it actually stands for National Television Standards Committee); however NTSC
is a lot better these days. Those differences become even more noticeable on a
‘chipped’ or hacked R2 player connected to a PAL TV.
NAME Griff Codner
KIT Five year old Philips 32 PW 962 B TV
PROBLEM Griff's TV has malfunctioned and the problem was highlighted as
the ''focus module'' 482210121262 part No. However, the dealer then
stated that his TV was now defunct as the part is no longer available.
Griff refused to believe this, but was quickly told by Philips Consumer
department that, after five years, the parts for TVs are discontinued.
Griff cannot accept that a top of the range set is now defunct and asks
if there are currently TVs on the shelves that are also unrepairable. He
is scouring the world for the replacement part and also asks whether he
could try using components not made by Philips to repair it.
The length of time companies keep spares varies, some like Sony claim to
keep parts for products for up to ten years after production ceased. However,
five years is a not uncommon and, from the manufacturer’s point of view, it is
simply not economical to maintaining large spare parts inventories. The problem
is compounded by the fact that manufacturers change model ranges more
frequently these days. On the other hand modern TVs are mostly very reliable
and typically have a life expectancy of between 8 to 10 years. The irony is
that the high price of spares, due in part to storage costs, often makes
repairs uneconomic on products more than five years old.
It is possible that Griff’s TV can be fixed for a reasonable sum but he
may get a better response from an independent local TV service engineer. These
guys are often a lot more resourceful than the white coats working for
authorised service centres. Frequently they usually have access to parts outside
of the traditional manufacturer supply chains, they’re more likely to know
about backdoor fixes or have old TVs they can cannibalise for spares.
NAME Yohan Goh
KIT Technics SUA900MKII amplifier, Mission 733 & 732 speakers, REL
Strata III sub, QED Qudos Silver speaker cable.
PROBLEM Yohan is looking to upgrade to a home cinema system, and is
interested in either the Pioneer DV-636D or the Sony DVP-735D as the DVD
player. As an AV amplifier, he doesn't know whether to go for the Denon
AVC-A10SE, or simply add on the Yamaha DSP-E800 processor and spend the
money on DVDs since there is not much DTS-EX disc on the market at the
moment, before investing in a much more expensive Denon amp later.
Yohan would indeed be able to buy a lot of DVDs for the price of a Denon A10SE!
Dolby Digital EX and dts ES are interesting enhancements but in all of the
tests that we have conducted the improvements have turned out to be relatively
small. Doubtless the situation will improve with time and the number of discs
supporting the feature should increase, which will also make it more
worthwhile, but for the moment at least we’ll advise the cautionary approach.
Unless Yohan has other compelling reasons to go for the Denon amp then he might
want to hang on for a little while and see how he gets on with his new DVD
player. The Yamaha DSP-800 would be quick and simple way of upgrading, assuming
that he doesn’t want to part with his existing main amp. Inevitably that will
involve a certain amount of duplication, as far as 5.1 Channel decoding is
concerned, though that’s true of most AV amplifiers and amplifier-receivers
nowadays. Alternatively, for not much more money than he cost of the Yamaha
processor Yohan could get a 5.1 amp/receiver, which would be easier to install,
setup and use.
NAME Chris Walter
PROBLEM With a PlayStation2 on order, Chris would like to purchase a TV
and surround sound system (Reciever and speaker set) to complete his set
up. He is confused about which type of TV would suit him for playing
games and watching DVDs. He would like something at least 36in and
doesn't know whether to go for CRT, rear projection or any other type.
There are no hard and fast rules about which type of display device is
best suited to a particular source component. The deciding factors are mostly
environmental – i.e. the size of the room, lighting conditions and viewing
distance – and personal, which includes things like feature preferences and of
course Chris’s available budget. In fact most video games consoles are not very
demanding of a video display, however, Playstation 2 is a notable exception,
not because of the sophistication of its graphics processors, but because it
can also play DVDs.
The best advice we can give Chris is to work out his priorities first. If
he’s mainly interested in playing games then a mega large screen and short
viewing distance can be counter productive and make gameplay difficult. On the
other hand if he wants to use it mainly for watching TV and movies then a huge
eyeball-filling display is much closer to the cinema experience. One
possibility might be to go for a front projection system, if he’s got the room,
and a top grade video projector with a variable zoom lens, then he will be able
to vary the size of the picture to suit the source material.
KIT Mission 77DS surround speakers
PROBLEM Vince would like to know how best to position the Mission 77DS
surround bipolar speaker for movies. Should he place them upside down
near the ceiling or somewhat lower than the ceiling? He also asks
whether placement near or far from the ceiling will have an effect on
I suspect this one is for Alvin!!
NAME Tracey Brown
KIT Sony STR-DB925 receiver, Panasonic DVD A100, Grundig Digibox,
Philips VR 860 VCR, old Philips Nicam TV with two Scarts & one S Video
PROBLEM Tracey has connected the speakers with no problems, but would
like to know how best to connect the other components to the receiver
and to use the TV as monitor.
The VCR and the digibox can be conveniently ‘daisy chained’ and connected to
the TV using a pair of good quality SCART leads (Tracy can use either Type V –
video fully wired type U – universal cables). In practice it doesn’t matter
which way around they go but it’s customary to have the digibox ‘downstream’ of
the VCR. In other words the TV connects to the VCR’s AV1 socket (output only),
and the AV2 socket (input and output) goes to the sat box. By connecting these
devices together in this manner Tracey will also be able to make recordings
from the satellite receiver. The stereo audio outputs from both devices should
go to the appropriate line inputs on the back of the Sony AV amp. That leaves
the Panasonic DVD player. The DVD-A100 was one of the very first machines to go
on sale. Ideally it would have been connected to the TV by S-Video cable but if
memory serves this player doesn’t have one, or switchable S-Video on the SCART
connector, so Tracey will have to use another SCART lead to connect it to the
TV’s second SCART socket. Once again the audio output can be routed to a spare
input on the back of the Sony AV amp.
NAME Rob Cameron
KIT Pioneer 717 DVD player
PROBLEM Rob has a Pioneer 717 (multi-region) player and is unable to
play the recently purchased MI:2 Region1 disc. The deck has no problem
playing other R1 DVDs but Rob has noticed that MI:2 does have quite a
few extra features and wonders if this could be the problem. He also
wonders if R1 DVDs are being made differently so they stop spinning on
Rob was obviously very quick off the mark obtaining his copy of Mission
Impossible 2 and at the time of writing we are not aware of any specific
problems with this disc and Pioneer players. Chipped versions of that machine
have a bit of a history so we’re not discounting a compatibility problem but if
the player works properly on R2 discs Rob has no real comebacks since the mod
invalidates the guarantee.
In fact we are expecting to get a lot of letters like Rob’s because a
number of software houses are now starting to use a new system of Regional
Coding, called RCE (Regional Coding Enhancement). We understand the first discs
to have it are R1 copies of The Patriot and The Perfect Storm, so consider
RCE seems to be most effective on players that have been modified for
all-region playback, in which case the discs will not play. This is clearly
going to be a problem for owners of hardware chipped players. DVD players with
software-hackable region locks – i.e. where the Region setting can be changed
from the remote handset – may also be affected, though there is a suggestion
that if these players are set to single region (Region 1) playback the discs
may play as normal.
NAME Robin Young
KIT Panasonic RV-60 DVD Player (DD5.1 and DTS decoders), Sony Wega28Flat
screen TV, Eltax Centre channel speaker, Gale satellite speakers and JVC Front speakers.
PROBLEM In the shop, Robin was told that he would be able to connect his speakers directly to his multi-region DVD player to enjoy Dolby Digital sound, but he is unsure of which connections he needs. He has set up the player and gets the impression from the manual that he needs an amplifier with a six-channel input. Is this right and, if so, could we
recommend one that is suitable and affordable.
Needless to say the shop assistant was telling Robin porky-pies; the worrying
thing is that this kind of misleading advice is not at all unusual. Fortunately
Robin was not fooled by this complete idiot (who clearly couldn’t be trusted to
sell sink-plugs…) and he figured out that what comes out of the back of a DVD
player with a built-in Dolby Digital decoder are unamplified ‘line-level’
analogue audio signals. He’s also right about needing a six-channel amplifier,
though it is usually referred to as 5.1 channels. That refers to the fact that
DVDs with Dolby Digital and dts soundtracks have five hi-fi quality channels
(front stereo, front-centre dialogue and rear stereo surround), plus one narrow
bandwidth channel, used to carry low frequency bass sounds and effects.
Without knowing quite a lot more about how much Robin wants to spend, the
size of his, cinematic tastes and the proximity of neighbours etc., it’s
impossible for us to make any specific recommendations. For guidance he might
like to have a look at some recent Home Entertainment Group Tests, in
particular the round ups of AV amplifiers in the October and December 2000
issues. These can also be found in the Home Entertainment archive at:
NAME Simon Ecott
KIT Philips 29PT113C 100HZ 29" TV, Pioneer DV606D region one DVD player
PROBLEM Since reading David Sheridan's letter 'Grey Areas' in the
December issue, Simon reports that he too has similar problems with a
Philips TV and DVD player connected via S-video. He gets an
approximately 1in vertical grey stripe on the right hand edge of the
screen top to bottom. Robin finds that the only way to remove the grey
stripe while watching DVD films is to disconnect all SCART cables from
the back. He thinks that there must be some sort of conflict between the
The mystery deepens… We’re still no closer to an explanation for these somewhat
unusual phenomena but at least, thanks to Simon we are starting to get to the
bottom of it. Engineers often call this kind of effect a ‘spook’ because
they’re difficult to trace. Most spooks are generated internally, by the TV and
can be caused by something as innocuous as signal carrying cables running too
close to power or tube driver cables, and can sometimes be simply cured. There
does seem to be a pattern emerging and the common factor so far seems to be
Philips TVs and there’s a possibility – though we’ll have to do a bit more
checking -- that all of the models concerned have 100Hz displays.
Obviously we need more data before we can start pointing fingers. Once
again we invite anyone who has noticed grey bars or patches – usually on the
right side of the TV screen – when replaying a DVD via a SCART connection, to
get in touch. It would also be helpful to know if the bars disappear when using
an S-Video connection. We would be especially interested to hear from anyone
with the affliction on a Philips TV, and don’t forget to include models numbers
Ó R. Maybury 2000 2111