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NAME: Smithyzen
KIT: Sony S735D DVD player, JVC J246EK VCR
PROBLEM: Smithyzen wants to tape all of his children's' Region Two DVDs so they can watch them in their bedrooms on VCRs. The problem is that he cannot tape any of them without the colour fading or the picture going dark and then light. He asks if this is copyright protection, and if it can be avoided. He has connected the video to the DVD player by SCART and has tried altering the output of the DVD to normal video out, but nothing works. Any ideas?

What Smithyzen is seeing is the handiwork of the Macrovision anti-copying system, fitted as standard to all DVD players. Unlike previous systems, used to protect video recordings against piracy, which added spoiler signals or messed around with the actual recording, DVDs are 'clean'. Macrovision's job is to stop DVDs being used as high quality 'masters' for VHS recordings, and it works by adding the spoiler signals retrospectively to the video output. There are several elements to it but the upshot of it is that on a VHS recording of a DVD the brightness will pulsate and the picture may be unstable. It's clever because it only affects VCRs; TVs show a clean stable picture.


On some DVD players --- mainly models where you can change the Region code via the remote handset -- it is sometimes possible to 'hack' into the machines firmware and disable the Macrovision circuitry. However, all Sony players are locked tight and the only way too overcome it is to have the player modified or 'chipped'. Obviously this is not something we could possibly condone, apart from anything else it would invalidate his player's guarantee. If Smithyzen wants to find out more there's plenty of information in the public domain on the web, and companies like Upgrade Heaven (www.upgradeheaven.co.uk) provide a DVD multi-region modification service – quite legally – that also disables happens to Macrovision.



NAME: Peter Hutchinson
KIT: n/a
PROBLEM: Peter has just had digital cable installed, but has no analogue aerial connection. Can we recommend any VCRs that have satellite or cable receivers built into them, so that he can record one channel whilst watching another? He is sure that he will not be the only one with this problem as more people upgrade to Digital Satellite/Cable. At the moment, he can only record the programme he is watching, or he has to rent an extra box at £10 extra a month.


In a word, no, and Peter is right, he's not the only one to have asked for such a device. The problem is that there are several different cable and satellite transmission and decoding systems, various forms of conditional access, and rights agreements, many of them peculiar to the UK pay TV market. The latter is an awkward one and centres on whether or not you are allowed to watch a pay-to-view movie more than once. In short it’s a technical nightmare and a legal minefield and it would take a very bold and innovative manufacturer to produce a cable/satellite VCR, with sufficient flexibility, or enough model permutations to cover all the possibilities. It could be done, but it's unlikely any manufacturer could make them at a price consumers would be prepared to pay.


One possible solution might have been D-VHS. When the format was announced there was talk of VCRs with built-in decoders being able to record entire digital 'multiplexes' of several channels simultaneously. Needless to say it came to nothing, floundering on the rights and conditional access issues.


There is no simple answer when it comes to taping and watching two different cable/satellite-only channels – apart from a second box -- though Peter can probably still watch cable and tape terrestrial channels (and vice versa), assuming of course he can receive broadcast TV.


NAME: Steve Morris
Kit: Yamaha DSP A5 amp, Eltax HT2 bipole rears
PROBLEM: Steve is very happy with the sound of the system, but intends to buy a gutsier amplifier and better surround speakers. Could we tell him when the likes of Yamaha or Denon are likely to be offering Pro Logic 2 on their amps or receivers? Also, he is looking to replace his Eltax rear speakers, and asks if we know of any good replacements?

Following Dolby Laboratory's announcement of the Pro Logic II standard for analogue surround sound systems last June there was a furry of interest from manufacturers, optimism from the trade and a lot of enthusiastic write-ups in magazines and the specialist press but since then it has gone very quiet. Dolby II sounded like a great idea, a clever way of generating a 5.1 channel type soundfield from conventional 2-channel Dolby Surround soundtracks, but the timing was a bit unfortunate.  By the middle of last year the cost of full-blown Dolby Digital and dts decoder chipsets had fallen through the floor and added little to the price of AV amps and DVD players so part of the rationale behind Pro Logic II -- as an economic alternative to digital surround -- was lost. It hasn't gone away and it may re-surface in high-end and specialist systems market, but we don't anticipate much hardware from the mainstream AV companies anytime soon.


Steve doesn't say why he wants to replace his Eltax speakers, and without knowing what amp he is going to end up with it is impossible to make any specific recommendations. However, he should certainly try his existing speakers with his new amp before making any decisions, who knows, they may sound great and not need replacing…



NAME: John Kennedy
KIT: Hitachi C28WF523N TV, Hitachi P305E DVD player, Pace Sky Digibox, Ferguson VCR, Technics SA -DX930 AV Receiver
PROBLEM: John asks how to connect up his TV, DVD player, digibox and VCR to his Technics receiver. He has tried a few combinations, but askswhich are the best cables or leads to use? At the moment, he has the TV/ VCR/ DVD and Sky connected with SCART to SCART cables.

John's system is blessed with a surfeit of socketry and there is no need for him to make any compromises on picture or sound quality. Starting with the video connections and the DVD player, the best option is to use an RGB connection to AV1 on the TV and for that he will need a good quality (no stinting now – spend at least £25) fully-wired or type 'U' (for universal) SCART-to-SCART cable. He should remember to check that both the TV and DVD's video input and outputs on the respective configuration menus are set for RGB.  The VCR and Pace Skybox can be daisy-chained – with the Sky box in the middle – to the AV2 socket on the TV using two type 'V' (for video) SCART-to-SCART cables. Once again, it's worth paying a bit extra for decent quality cables. That takes care of the video and by default stereo audio will be piped to the TV, and he will also be able to make recordings from the Skybox. Now for the audio, the Pace box and VCR (assuming it is a stereo model) should have their analogue stereo outputs connected to the appropriate inputs on the AV amp, using high grade (i.e. at least a tenner's worth) of phono to phono cables. The DVD player should be connected to the using either an optical or coaxial bitstream cable. It doesn't usually seem to make much difference, but if John prides himself on having an educated ear he should try both types.


KIT: Sky digital
PROBLEM: Jas has recently subscribed to Sky Digital but is having a problem in trying to get the signal in stereo. He is currently only getting mono. At the moment, Sky is connected to his VCR via a RF lead and output to the TV via a SCART lead. He understands that an RF lead can only carry mono but, for terrestrial channels, the TV display indicates that the sound is outputted in NICAM stereo. Could he solve the problem by hooking up a SCART lead from the digibox to the VCR, or
is Sky not being output in stereo? Any suggestions are welcome.

Stereo sound reaches a (stereo) TV in two separate ways. The first is via the aerial socket; terrestrial TV channels use a digitally based system called NICAM (near instantaneously companded audio matrix, in case you were wondering), which is basically a separate signal, sent alongside the conventional picture and mono sound signals. The other route is via the TV's line-level audio inputs, which are on the SCART socket, and some models may also have a set of phono sockets as well.


The only way Jas's current setup could receive stereo sound from the satellite channels would be if his satellite receiver somehow generated a NICAM stereo signal that could be picked up by his TV. Needless to say it doesn't; it is technically possible but it would add to the cost and the extra stages of processing would degrade the quality of the sound. The best way to connect a satellite receiver to a TV is via a SCART socket, which carries unadulterated picture and sound signals. You can 'daisy chain' a VCR in with the satellite receiver to the TV using two SCART leads, it doesn’t matter which way around they go, unless one or the other device has only one SCART socket.


NAME: Darrell Pearson
KIT: Samsung DVD-511 DVD player, Philips 32PW9616 TV
PROBLEM: Darrell has recently bought a Samsung DVD-511 player and has connected it to his Philips 32PW9616 widescreen TV via a SCART lead (which seems to work OK). However, the Philips handbook also recommends that the DVD player be hooked up with a digital coaxial cable to enjoy multi-channel surround sound from the digital multi-channel decoder. As a
home cinema novice, Darrell has taken advice from friends, who have told him that this connection is a waste of time because the TV does not have an amplifier built-in. Is this correct and will it make a difference to your surround sound?


Darrell's friends are sort of right but for the wrong reasons. Using a SCART connection to the TV Darrell will be getting 4-channel analogue Dolby Pro Logic surround, which is okay – especially if you've never heard surround sound before – but he is missing out on an even better surround sound experience. That's 6-channel Dolby Digital sound, the domestic version of full-blown cinema surround sound. Dolby Digital information is output from the player as stream of digital data, called a 'bitstream', and this is carried on the 'coaxial' digital connection (most DVD players also have an 'optical' bitstream output), and this is processed by the TV's built-in Dolby Digital decoder, amplified and fed to its speakers. The TV's amplifier and speakers are quite modestly specified and cannot do real justice to Dolby Digital, which should be heard through a powerful amplifier, high performance speakers and preferably a beefy sub-woofer as well. Philips acknowledges this and has fitted a set of six channel outputs to the TV, for connection to an external amplifier and speakers. Using the digital connection will almost certainly make the system sound a bit better, but to get the full impact an external amplifier and speakers are called for, and since most AV amps have built-in Dolby Digital and dts (an even higher quality digital surround sound system) decoders these days he might as well bypass the TV altogether and connect the bitstream output form the DVD player directly to the amplifier.


NAME: Gary and Carol.
KIT: Sony KV32FX60U TV, Pioneer 626 DVD player
PROBLEM: Gary and Carol have just bought a new Sony TV, but can't play DVDs without the picture flicking over from one screen setting to another? This means that the picture goes black every now and then, ruining every film they watch! Occasionally, this also occurs on videos. They have tried turning all modes off, and even tried out another TV (a portable set), which worked fine. The DVD also worked fine with their last TV (a Toshiba). Sony has recommended doing everything he had tried already, and he has even exchanged the set once. Is it that the DVD is not compatible with a Sony TV?

Compatibility problems between TVs and DVD players are very rare indeed. Generally speaking DVD players are no different to VCRs, satellite tuners, digi-boxes, video games consoles or any other item of video equipment and they output standard analogue video signals. If a DVD player won't work properly with a TV, that is otherwise behaving itself with other pieces of AV equipment, then there is something wrong with it.


The only slight difference with DVD is that players add Macrovision spoiler signals to the video output but these are designed not to interfere with the TV picture but to upset a VCR and prevent it from making illegal copies from DVDs. This can cause problems when a DVD player is connected to the TV via a VCR. Composite video signals are processed by the machine (this is what the VCR uses to record), and so the output will be affected by the Macrovision signals. The brightness goes up and down, colours may disappear and the picture may also become unstable. If Gary and Carol have connected to the TV via a VCR then the solution is to separate them, otherwise it may be a fault so they should have DVD player checked.            


NAME: Mark Woolhouse
KIT: n/a
PROBLEM: Mark is after a 36inch screen, but only cares about the picture quality as he will be sending the sound through a separate AV amp speaker system. When in the shops, he was told that Philips make all the tubes for 36inch TVs, so was told to buy one of their sets. Is this rue? He is also after a DVD player to match also to match the TV. Finally, he asks if Dolby Pro Logic II will give his VHS tapes a surround sound feeling and, if so, should he wait for a Pro Logic II amplifier?

Philips is indeed one of the world's leading tube manufacturers but it is certainly not the only one making 36-inch displays, Sony, Panasonic and several others would probably have something to say on that score… Whilst the picture tube is a vitally important component in determining picture quality it's not the be-all and end-all, indeed it is perfectly possible to have a top quality picture tube connected to a second rate chassis and get an inferior picture. Whilst picture quality should always be at the top of the agenda when buying a TV, it's important to get the model that best suits your needs in terms of secondary facilities, price and yes, even looks. We're not quite sure what Mark means when he says he wants a DVD player to match the TV. Apart from concentrating his search on mid-market and top-end players from the major manufacturer's it's important to make sure the DVD player can hook up to the TV using the best possible signal connection scheme, which is RGB (via fully-wired SCART). The more exotic YUV or 'Component' system is really only of benefit to those intending to watch predominantly Region 1 (US) discs on one of a handful of high-end home cinema TVs or a video projector. Otherwise should shortlist the players that best suit his needs as far as the bells and whistles are concerned. Dolby Pro Logic II may indeed make VHS tapes sound a bit better but Mark shouldn't hold his breath, or put off getting the equipment he wants now.


NAME: Mark Slattery
KIT: Hitachi-28W1TN TV, KEF CODA 7S front speakers, Wharfedale Valdus centre, Wharfedale Topaz SW-10 sub, Mission 70DS rears PROBLEM: Mark has built up his system over time, and is now looking to upgrade his speakers with a budget of around £600. He is happy with the Missions at the rear, but asks whether he should upgrade his sub and centre or his front and sub. Finally, he wonders why he has no problems watching Region One DVDs or playing imported PlayStation games from the US or Japan, when his Hitachi TV claims not to be NTSC compatible. How
can this be?


Unfortunately Mark has omitted to tell us what amplifier he's using so we can't really say too much about the speakers he has, or plans to buy, however we can make some general observations. Such a mish-mash of makes and styles is not usually a good idea, mixing speakers that work well in isolation is no guarantee they will work together well in combination with others. It usually pays to adopt a one-make approach with the front speakers (right, left and centre) as these will (or should) be designed to coordinate, generating a smooth and seamless soundfield so that sound effects traversing the screen, and dialogue, doesn't appear to 'jump' from one speaker to the other. The same applies, but to a lesser extent, with front-rear speaker combinations. Only Mark can decide if the sub needs upgrading, but if big bass effects are not making the hairs on the back of his neck tingle, then it's probably time…


Mark shouldn't be too surprised that his TV copes with R1 DVDs and imported Playstation games because according to the Hitachi spec sheet the 28W1TN is NTSC compatible, though it is possible his player and games console are actually outputting a PAL 60 signal, which his TV is also compatible with.

NAME: Joseph Mckenzie
KIT: n/a
PROBLEM: Joe read our projector Megatest in the February issue and has a few questions to ask about projectors. Does he have to purchase a separate screen to display the picture, and, if so, how much does it cost or does it come with the projector? He also asks how far back from the screen do projectors have to be, and how far back do you have to sit. Finally, he wants to know how to install them, and where can he get them?


In the bad old days a powerful torch would put the light output from some video projectors to shame and a specialist high-efficiency screens was often a necessity. Light output is rated in Lumens and in particular ANSI (American National Standards Institute) lumens – no don't ask… -- the point is that most projectors nowadays have an output of between 600 and 1000 ANSI lumens. Of course a lot depends on things like the projectors optics and the distance between the screen and the lens, but in general a 600-lumen projector will produce a watchable image, between 60 to 80 inches across, in semi-dark living room conditions. Projectors with a light output of 1000 or more lumens, known in the trade as 'paint-burners' can produce a similarly sized image in a well lit room without any difficulty, and go on to produce even larger images, in progressively darkened conditions. Basically that's a long winded way of saying you don't need a screen any more, any white painted surface, preferably with a matt or satin finish will do. Thus a screen becomes more of an architectural consideration. In other words, if Joseph hasn't got a white painted wall handy then he will need a screen, and if he doesn't want it to get in the way, then it needs to be a fold-up or roll up type, or if he wants to be really cool, a motorised one that drops down from the ceiling. Joseph will have to figure out the seating position and screen size himself, or get expert advice from a specialist, many of whom advertise in this very magazine. 


NAME: Phil Hibbert
KIT: Toshiba 32ZD98B
PROBLEM: Phil has just bought some additional speaker cable for his Toshiba 32ZD98B television surround speakers and asks if there a special device for connecting the additional cable to the existing cable? He has tried wrapping the ends of the wires round and it actually sounds ok, but he wonders if there is a special gadget he can use. If so, where can he get it?

Hi-fi buffs will no doubt baulk at the prospect of lengthening speaker cables as any join has the potential to introduce noise or become intermittent. We wouldn't recommend it on a high-end system using fancy cable but in this kind of setup there's no technical reason why Phil shouldn't do it. However, that said, twisting wires together and covering them with a bit of tape is a bad idea and eventually the connection will fail. Not maybe, it will, as the tape ages so the adhesive 'soaks' in between the strands of the wire, coating them in an insulating layer. What is needed is a solid electrical connection, and the ultimate join that combines maximum conductivity with mechanical strength and neatness is to solder the wires together and then sheath them in a couple of layers of heat-shrink plastic tubing. The next best option is a mechanical terminal block, the screw type nylon 'chocolate block' connectors works as well as any and if it is sealed inside a layer of electrical tape it should last as long as the wire. We haven't tried it but another type of connector that looks as though it should do the job are car accessory type 'snap-fits'; these provide a good strong connection and they look quite neat.



NAME: Jason Broome
PROBLEM: Jason is looking to buy a front video projector and is
considering the Sony VPL-VW10HT. What he wants to know is if it is possible to use a projector for everyday usage (watching TV, playing games and watching DVDs). He has heard of a device that you can connect all of your components to, which then sends the signal to the projector. Is there such a device, and would it compromise on picture quality? He also asks if we can recommend a screen that costs between £200 and £500?


The VW10HT has a pretty good assortment of video inputs. It has separate composite, S-Video, RGB and component video sockets, plus a Component Video input, in other words it may not be necessary to lay on extra connection or switching hardware. If possible Jason should link the DVD player to the projector using an RGB connection (or Component video, if so equipped). The VCR, unless it is a S-VHS model can use the composite video input, and any other devices, such as a digibox, can connect to the VCR's second SCART socket. Occasional hook-ups, like a games console can go into the digi-box's second SCART (if fitted) or the front AV sockets on the VCR, if it has them. If Jason has a fairly recent camcorder it's likely to be a 'high band' (Hi8 or S-VHS-C) or digital model, which can utilise the S-Video input. It's its an older 'low-band' machine (8mm VHS-C), it can connect via the VCR's second SCART. The advantage of this kind of arrangement is simplicity. External switchers are available, but they tend to geared towards one specific sort of connection, therefore Jason would probably need two or more different switch boxes, or have to compromise on picture quality and convenience in some way


NAME: Alan Harrison
KIT: Yamaha DSP-A2, Toshiba 2108 R1 DVD player, Thomson 32inch TV PROBLEM: Alan has his amp connected to the DVD player via an optical cable, but is experiencing sound drop-outs at irregular intervals, sometimes on the same discs. He has tried several things such as straightening connections, and making sure all connections were tight fitting. The problem remained with a coaxial cable and he has noticed that, when the sound goes, the Amp's display will switch from Dolby Digital to Dolby Pro Logic for a few milliseconds. He asks if we have any suggestions as it is ruining his movies.

Optical and coaxial bitstream connections are normally very reliable and since they carry digital data, they tend to either work or not work. An intermittent connection would usually only affect one type of connection and show up when the cable or plugs were moved, so that would seem to rule out anything mechanical with the cables, plugs or sockets. Processor and decoder problems tend not to be irregular either, but the best clue to this puzzle is that Jason says it sometimes happens on the same discs and that opens up two avenues of exploration. If Alan can establish whether the dropout occurs at precisely the same point on particular discs – and if it's accompanied by any disruption to the picture or artefacts (blocking, freezing etc.) -- that immediately points to faults on the disc, possibly a scratch or mark, which should show up on close visual examination. If the dropout points are not fixed then there could be something amiss with the player's optical pickup. Dust or grime on the lens is a common problem, especially if the player is used in a smoky or dusty atmosphere. The solution is simple and a quick run through with a good quality CD cleaner disc usually does the trick.


NAME: Jason Payne
KIT: n/a
PROBLEM: Jason has heard from Sky that, at the end of June 2001, all subscribed channels will be removed from the old satellite system and closed down. He finds this extremely irritating as I get just what I need from this system. He wants to know if he 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?


It's not as if it has come as a surprise and all die-hard Sky analogue subscribers have been pestered with offers of free or highly subsidised digital upgrades for the past nine months. If he does make the change Jason can continue to use his present dish, though it may be that the LNB (the little box of tricks on the pole stuck out in front of the dish) might need replacing if it's an older type and the dish will also need to be re-aligned to the digital satellites. In other words it can be done but unless Jason has some sort of sentimental attachment to his old dish, or he wants to continue to receive 'foreign' channels, then he might as well take advantage of the offers and get a complete new system installed. He might not think it's worth the effort or expense but the chances are he will quickly come to appreciate what digital has to offer. The picture doesn't deteriorate during bad weather and the channel choice – even on a basic package – is much better than the old analogue system. There are lots of extras, like the excellent electronic programme guide, advanced Teletext, interactive services, dozens of digital radio channels and later this year ITV should be weighing in with half a dozen extra channels.

NAME: Daniel Wheeler
KIT: n/a
PROBLEM: Daniel saw an article in Home Entertainment about the different merits of RGB and S-video signals. However, the Philips technical department has told him that VCRs don't output an RGB signal. Is
this correct?

This is true VHS video recorders have only two types of video output, composite and in the case of Super VHS models, S-Video as well. Some manufacturers muddy the waters a bit by mentioning in the specs that a particular machine is RGB compatible or has RGB connections. What this actually means is that it has a pair of SCART sockets on the back panel that are 'fully wired' with an RGB bypass. That basically means the pins on a SCART socket, which by agreement carry red, green and blue colour signals, are joined together, so the signal goes into the machine and straight out again, but they don't come into contact with any of the player's processing circuitry. The idea of that is you can connect a device with an RGB video output -- like a DVD player -- 'upstream' of the VCR, using a pair of SCART-to-SCART cables. Note that this is only works when the DVD player is set to RGB output, if Daniel tries to daisy chain his DVD player through a VCR using a composite video connection he would almost certainly run foul of the DVD's Macrovision copy prevention circuitry, which will interfere horribly with the signal. 



Ó R. Maybury 2001, 2003




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