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NAME Stan
KIT power amplifier vs integrated amplifier
PROBLEM
Stan is about to buy a new amplifier, but has just realised that there are many different types and is quite confused. He bought a DVD player a few months ago and wants to enjoy all of its features, such as 5.1 channel sound. He asks if it is better to get a power amplifier or an integrated amplifier? Is a power amp "more" for music listeners and "less" for people who want to see a great DVD film with all the features mentioned above? Since he lives in Stockholm, he also asks where he should buy the system.

REPLY

Stan is right to say that there are many different types of amplifier on the market but in the end they all do basically the same job, which is to turn a small electrical audio signal into a big one, attempting not to alter its character by adding or taking anything away. The differences, such as they are, tend to be more noticeable on top-end products, especially when used in conjunction with high performance speakers and source components. The sonic differences between a power amplifier and an integrated amplifier from the same manufacturer are generally insignificant as the actual amplifier stages are usually identical. These days Dolby Digital and dts decoders add comparatively little (sometimes nothing) to the cost of mid-market AV amplifiers; in some cases they use the same (or very similar chip) sets as DVD players, moreover there tends to be only minor and sometime very subtle differences in decoder performance between the brands. Where integrated amps really score is the simplicity of connections; only one optical or coaxial 'bitstream' cable is required to connect the DVD player to the amplifier whereas five or six phono-to-phono leads will be needed if Stan uses the decoder in his DVD player. Sorry, Stan our knowledge of the Stockholm AV dealer scene is a tad limited…

 


NAME David Keiller
KIT Aiwa 8200 VCR
PROBLEM
David saw that we recommended the Aiwa HV-FX7700 VCR and bought the next model up, the HV-FX8200, after his seven-year old Mitsubishi model died. He thinks the 8200 is just the same as the 7700 (but with front AV inputs) and was amazed at how poor the quality or video playback, from both original tapes or from recordings made on it. He reckons his Mitsubishi was actually better even after seven years. He can't return the VCR and asks if VCRs settle down after a bit. If he decides to replace the Aiwa, would our best buy VCR, the Hitachi VT-FX980 give a good picture?

REPLY

This is a slightly curious tale. Samples we have seen of the Aiwa models David mentioned performed reasonably well in our tests. Picture quality wasn't spectacular, but they were up to the kind of standard we would expect from a mid-market machine. It is true that the heads on some VCRs need a few hours to 'bed in' after which there may be some improvement in picture quality but it is usually so small as to be insignificant. If, as David seems to suggest, picture quality is well below average then it seems likely that there is a fault with the VCR and it should be returned to wherever it came from to be checked over; the question is, why is this not possible? If he bought it new from a normal retail or mail-order outlet the dealer is obliged by law to repair, replace or refund, if there's a fault. Even if they've gone bust it will still be covered by the manufacturer's own warranty. If on the other hand it was bought second hand, or from a bloke down the pub then he has no way of knowing its recent history and may well have been sold a pup. The Hitachi VT-FX980 is a fine machine, but David should make sure he buys it from a reputable dealer…

 

 

NAME Marcellus Hagen
KIT receivers
PROBLEM
Marcellus wants a new A/V receiver for listening to music and home theatre. In our reviews, he sees the Sony STR-DB840 does well. He has also looked at the Yamaha RX-V800 and has heard good reports of the Denon AVR-3300. All of his units are Sony and also enquires whether we have heard about the Sony STR-V333ES receiver? He asks which of all these receivers would you suit him best

REPLY

Marcellus has put together a somewhat eclectic wish list of products, at least in terms of prices, which makes things rather difficult, even though they all share a similar core specification. The Denon amp sells for around £800, the Yamaha model can be found for £500 or so, the Sony STR-DB480 has a street price of £400 and the STR-V333 we have seen selling on the web for £650. Picking one of them out of the hat is a bit of a tall order since they're all highly rated and the price differentials are mirrored in the number of secondary features. Marcellus hasn't really told us enough about his setup or situation for us to know what he wants or needs from an AV amp, so he's going to have to do a bit of research for himself and work his way through the feature lists of each one in turn. Detailed specifications of all four models can be found on the web – just type the model numbers into any one of the main search engines (Google is particularly good at www.google.com) -- and this should also throw up a few newsgroup postings, with opinions – good and bad – from real world owners who actually use the things.

 

 

NAME Keni Barwick
KIT n/a
PROBLEM
Keni is looking for a new amplifier and asks if there a good amp, in the same vein as the Sony STR-DE445, that has FireWire inputs and outputs?

REPLY

It appears that Keni may have got his wires crossed because the STR-DE445 doesn’t' have a FireWire connection, nor is there any reason why it, (or any other AV amp), would need one. For the record, FireWire, (also known as IEEE 1394 and iLink), is a high-speed serial data communication system, originally developed by Apple. These days it is mostly to be found on digital camcorders where it is used to copy digital recordings across to a suitably equipped PCs and laptops for editing and post-production.

 

There was talk some time ago about fitting FireWire sockets to digital set-top boxes, TVs and digital video recorders, so they could be connected together, but that hasn't happened. Recordable DVD machines might have them, but it could only be used for copying digital camcorder recordings; anti-copy systems would prevent them being used for duplicating DVDs.

 

The only digital inputs on the Sony amp are the coaxial and optical connections, which carry the 'bitstream' output from a DVD player. This is basically the raw, unprocessed digital audio data as it comes off the disc, which is passed onto the amplifier which has it's own built-in Dolby Digital surround sound decoders.



NAME Jason Hannon
KIT n/a
PROBLEM
Jason is looking to buy a DVD player and has narrowed his selection down to the Panasonic A7, Pioneer 636 and Sony's 536. Which would we recommend for picture and sound quality?

REPLY

Three fine players, but once again, a bit of an odd choice taking into account the difference in prices and specification. The Panasonic machine is a fairly exotic design with DVD Audio replay and built-in 5.1 decoders and it can be bought for £700 or less, if Jason does a bit of shopping around. The Pioneer model also has on-board digital surround decoders and costs £400 whilst the Sony DVP-S535 is a decoderless design, which is reflected in the lower selling price of just under £300. In other words three quite distinct players aimed at different segments of the market. Judging the three on the basis of picture and sound quality isn't going to be much help either. Clearly the Panasonic A7 has the most advanced audio facilities and picture quality on samples we've tested is very good, but we would hesitate to nominate it as the best of the three. The Pioneer player does well for both picture and sound but it's let down by mediocre picture search facilities – should that be included in an overall assessment of picture performance? We haven't tested the Sony 536 yet but we believe it to be based on familiar deck and AV processor components, so it should do well. Sorry to sit on the fence but this is not a decision we can make for Jason; it's between him, his eyes and ears and his credit card.

 


NAME David Yates.
KIT Yamaha DSP E-800 amplifier
PROBLEM
David has just bought the Yamaha DSP E-800 amplifier to go with his older Yamaha S700 DVD player. First of all, he asks whether the optical or coaxial digital connection is better. Also, his TV only has only SCART connector, so he likes to send all video sources to the AV processor and then to the TV. In trying to find the best results for this, he bought an S-Video to SCART cable, but can only get black and white pictures. Is this the best way to connect and, if so, why can't he get colour?

REPLY

After listening to many different types and makes of cable, on a wide range of equipment, the answer to question one is an unequivocal, it depends…Coaxial and optical cables carry digital data, which is a basically a stream of pulses of uniform amplitude. The data either gets through, or it doesn't so unlike analogue signal connections there are no half measures. The construction of the cable has negligible influence on the passage of the data and noise is much less of an issue, providing it remains at a level below which it could be confused as data. Therefore this shifts the emphasis on to the components and processing devices at either end of the cables, and here you will find minor variations. The only way to say which works is best on a particular combination of player and amp is to try them both.

 

David doesn't say much about his TV but the most likely explanation for the black and white picture is that his telly doesn't have an S-Video input on the SCART socket, or if it does, it hasn't been set to S-Video from the TV's setup menu. The reason he's getting a black and white picture is because the 'Y' or luminance (brightness) component of the S-Video signal is connected to the TV's composite video input on the SCART socket.

 

 

NAME David van Herck
KIT n/a
PROBLEM
David wants to buy new speakers for his JVC RX-418 Pro Logic amplifier. Is it a good idea to combine speakers from different manufacturers (B&W and Boston, specifically), or should he buy all his speakers from the same manufacturer?

REPLY

It's impossible to say whether unspecified Boston and B&W speakers will work well together. There are no hard and fast rules about mixing and matching speakers, sometimes it sounds great, and sometimes it doesn't. Of course there is a good argument for sticking with a single make or brand when the speakers concerned are specialist AV or surround types, that are part of a system or designed from the ground up to work with one another. The benefits of matched speaker system packages shows up most clearly on surround soundtracks with a lot of movement, especially across the front soundstage. Matched front and centre speakers, with complimentary acoustic characteristics and radiation patterns should give a smooth transition when a sound moves across the picture. If the speakers are mismatched or the channel outputs are unbalanced the sound will appear unfocused or the soundstage will seem to have holes or gaps in it and the sound will 'jump' from one speaker to the next. The same sort of effect can occur when a sound moves to or from the front speakers to the rears. Classic sequences in movies like Top Gun, where fighter aircraft scream overhead, demonstrate the effect superbly well.

 


NAME Jason Payne
KIT Sky
PROBLEM
Jason has been advised by Sky that, at the end of June 2001, all subscribed channels will be removed from the old satellite system and closed down. He is annoyed by this, but asks if he now has to replace his large dish with the new small digital dish, or can he just plug the new Digibox into my existing socket and pick up digital signals?

REPLY

Jason's old dish can stay but it will definitely have to be realigned so that it points at the digital satellites. For the record the analogue broadcasts come from a group of four Astra satellites, 'parked' in geostationary orbit at 19.2 degrees East of due south. The digital channels come from two Astra satellites a little way over at 28.2 degrees East of South. However, there are other considerations. If Jason's system is getting on a bit the LNB (low noise block converter) --- the widget stuck out in front of the dish – may not be capable of picking up the digital channels, which are broadcast on a slightly different band of frequencies to the analogue channels. If the dish is more than four or five years old it should be replaced in any case as it's probably starting to rust. Most digibox packages, especially the one's being offered to existing Sky subscribers include the cost of dish installation, or it's a relatively nominal sum (the going rate is usually £20 to £40), so Jason might as well have the new smaller dish, unless he has some sentimental attachment to the old one, or wants to go on using it to view other channels, though he might find local planning regulations prohibit having two dishes.

 


NAME Nick Peat
KIT n/a
PROBLEM
Nick is thinking of buying a DVD player but doesn't know which to get.He has a budget of around £200-£350 and asks if all DVD players have special codes allows the viewing of region one DVDs. If we do recommend a R1 capable deck, can we also tell him the codes, or where he can get it chipped?

REPLY

Nick's budget puts him slap bang in the middle of the market and at a rough guess he has a choice of between thirty and forty players. There's no way we can recommend a specific model but we can give Nick some general advice on the subject of regional coding. Most players made by the big names 'A' brand companies (Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba et al) are 'hard coded' and the only way to get them to play discs from a different region is to have them 'chipped' which usually means opening them up and adding or replacing microchips. Needless to say this voids the makers guarantee and it can be a risky business as you have little or no comeback if it goes belly-up. The safer alternative is players with 'hackable' firmware, where the region coding lock can be switched off, or set to another region. These machines are mostly made in China and mostly marketed by the 'B' brands. Some players are set for all-region playback but this can run foul of a growing number of US (Region 1) discs with Regional Code Enhancement (RCE) coding. Thus far the only machines that can play these are hackable or chipped players that can be switched to play a specific region. Hack codes are widely publicised on the Internet, all Nick has to do is enter the make and model number, followed by the word 'hack' into his favourite search engine.

 

 

NAME Steve Hobden
KIT n/a
PROBLEM
Steve is after a large (preferably widescreen) screen TV, greater than 36inches. He knows that this rules out Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) sets, but he is also limited by the fact that he has a full AV rack, so doesn't have space for a base unit? He just requires the TV to sit on top, and he sees that most rear projection units have to use their stand. His
budget does not stretch to a plasma screen. Any ideas?

REPLY

Since Steve has ruled out CRT, plasma and rear projection that only leave front projection and one or two exotic flat panel technologies that he almost certainly couldn't afford. Video projectors used to be big, ugly noisy brutes but with the development of LCD and more recently DLP (digital light processing) systems, there are lots of compact and lightweight models to choose from many of them suitable for discrete ceiling mounting. A lot of models now have light outputs of 800 lumens or more, which translates as being sufficient to throw up a big bright image in a moderately well lit room. DLP types also produce a much smoother image (compared with most LCD models) and suffer far less from 'pixellation' and image lag or smear, though not all DLP models are equal in that respect. The only downside is that DLP models can still be quite pricey and the ballpark for models that are suitable for home cinema applications is still around £2500 to £4500, which puts the dearest models in spitting distance of the cheapest plasma screens. LCD projectors of similar performance tend to be around 40 to 50% cheaper; in both cases Steve should check on the cost of replacement bulbs, they can be horrifically expensive!

 


NAME Raoul Patel
KIT Pioneer VSX-709RDS
PROBLEM
Raoul asks if the Pioneer VSX-709RDS has outputs for all channels (including subwoofer) and outputs for speaker connections. He also asks if we know of any places where he can get hold of one for under £300?

REPLY

The Pioneer VCX-709, which we reviewed in HE 84/December 2000 issue (not a regular reader eh Raoul?) is a fairly conventional design with just five amplified channels, each rated at 80 watts RMS per channel. The sub-woofer output is not amplified, which is not at all unusual on budget and mid-range AV amps; instead it is at line level and output on a single phono socket, which means it is designed to work in conjunction with an amplified or 'active' sub. Raoul also asks about the speaker connections, according to our records the front speakers use screw terminals/binding posts whilst the centre and rears use those nasty (but perfectly adequate) spring clip jobbies.

 

It shouldn't be a problem to find one, it took us about five minutes. First stop was the Pioneer web site (http://www.pioneer.co.uk), the dealer list has yet to be put on the site but there was a number for the Pioneer dealer hotline on 01753 789500. The helpline person gave us the phone numbers for three dealers within a couple of miles of our location (Raoul didn't say where he lived). Only one had it in stock, the other two reckoned they could get hold of one in 24 hours. The cheapest price we were quoted was £280, by Sevenoaks Hi Fi, the other two were asking the £300 'list' price

 


NAME Ant Draper
KIT Sony connections
PROBLEM
Ant has a Sony DAV-S300 DVD package, and a Sony KV28FX20 Wide screen telly and a NICAM video arriving soon. He would like to connect his Play Station to the system as well, but doesn't seem to have enough SCART sockets for the job. What can he do?

REPLY

Ant shouldn't have a problem connecting his equipment to his TV though being a slightly older model it hasn't got all of the sockets combinations we prefer. This set has two SCART sockets on the back, which takes care of the NICAM VCR and the Sony DAV-S300, though he will need a phono to SCART lead for the composite video connection. Ideally Ant would use an S-Video connection between the DVD player and the TV but unfortunately it doesn't have one on the back panel, there is one on the front that he can use but it looks a bit ungainly to have it plugged in all of the time. If Ant later decides to add a digi box to his system this can be daisy-chained with the VCR using a second SCART to SCART cable. That just leaves the Playstation, and for that Sony has thoughtfully provided a set of front mounted AV sockets (they're also handy for camcorder hook-ups). Ant will need to buy a suitable lead (Playstation to phono AV adaptor)) but they are widely available from games shops, usually for less than a fiver. The only small disadvantage to this set up is that he'll probably want to remove the Playstation lead when he's finished playing, unless he can find a way to tuck them out of sight.

 

 

NAME Chris Rice
KIT Bush DVD102
PROBLEM
Chris has had problems with playback on his Bush DVD 102. On Final Destination, the player crashes every time he tries to access the menus. He can only get the film to play by skipping the chapter. This also happens with the Rambo Trilogy box set and reckons that it's as if the DVD 102 software cannot handle the technology on these DVD's as they
work fine on my PS2.  Do we have any ideas, or can we give him a contact address at Bush?

REPLY

Chris probably isn't going to like this, but after an extensive trawl through the usual web sites and newsgroups the Bush DVD-102 gets a reasonably clean bill of health. Likewise, our sister magazine What DVD and our Internet sources hasn't yet reported any similar problems with Final Destination and as far as we know Rambo is okay too. The only unknown in this equation is the Region code of Chris's discs, though even if they are R1 copies it is rare for that to cause playback problems. That leaves us with two other possibilities, there could be a problem with these two discs, Chris should check them carefully for scratches – most likely – or they are faulty pressings – unusual but still possible. The only other thing we can think of is that this is one of those very rare cases where the disc and player are at the limits of their respective tolerances and for some reason they just don't get on with each other. The only thing that he can do is to take the disc and or player back and try to convince the dealer there's something wring with it, or learn to live with it.

 

 

NAME Neil McBain
KIT n/a
PROBLEM
Neil is looking to build an extension to his house, part of which he wants to use as a cinema room. He asks for some advice about the best room size and ratio. He has a blank sheet of paper at the moment, but is looking at something approximately 5m by 4m. He asks if this is enough, and whether both LCD and plasma would be good in this space?

REPLY

Neil is extremely fortunate being able to start from scratch, so it's worth him taking a bit of trouble over his project. As far as we know there are no set formulas for designing a home theatre. Obviously some factors are connected, such as the relationship between screen size and seating position but that's as far as our expertise goes and on such matters it is wise to consult the experts. There are plenty of companies working in this field, who are only too willing to undertake as much (or as little) of the building work and installation as Neil's budget allows. Several firms advertise in HE and he should have a word with his local hi-fi/video dealer who will almost certainly have some useful contacts. If Neil intends to go down the DIY route then the best advice we can give him is to have a look at what others have done, and learn from their successes, and mistakes. He should get in contact with some of them for an exchange of ideas.

 

Using the keywords building and home cinemas we came up with a good selection of web sites created by people who have built their own home theatres, here's a small selection, and several of them contain useful links to other home builders and companies.


www.homecinemaguide.com/hc/english/build_home_theatre.asp

 

www.wiseacres.com/02.htm

 

http://home.att.net/~rfowkes1/HT.html

 

www.thumbs.org/ht.html

 

www.technosound.demon.co.uk/Install/Installs.htm

 

 

 

NAME Glenn Miles
KIT KEF speakers
PROBLEM
Glenn wants to upgrade his system with an AV receiver and speaker system. He is considering the Denon AVR-3801 and has been recommended the KEF Q55.2 front speakers, Q95c.2 centre, Q85s rears, and 30B active subwoofer. However, he has seen that the KEFs only received four stars in our reviews and worries that the area in which they fell down was action movies. As he loves action movies, should he still be considering these speakers? He has a budget of approximately £2500 and asks if we have any other suggestions?

REPLY
Four stars is actually a very good score, especially when you take into account the price of this particular package. If Glenn reads our review in HE 87 again he will see that the criticisms about the package's performance with action movies were relatively minor in nature and the fact that it did so well in almost all other areas earned it a coveted 'Editor's Choice' tag. He should still keep it on his shortlist; however, since Glen has a very generous budget to play with there are several other highly rated speaker packages that deserve his very serious attention. The one that springs immediately to mind was also featured in the HE87 speaker package system Mega Test. It's the very impressive Mordaunt Short 500 THX, which was awarded a full five stars and earned much praise for its home cinema performance, including a special mention for its handling of action sequences.  'A real thoroughbred' was how we described it, and with a street price of £1600 or so Glen still has enough left over to indulge himself in the amplifier department, not that there's anything wrong with the Denon model he mentioned, which is also a former HE five star Best Buy.

 

---end---

 

Ó R. Maybury 2001, 2004

 

 

 

 

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