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HINTS & TIPS


NAME Simon Reeve
KIT various
PROBLEM Simon has noticed that, in various replies to queries, we have said not to (SCART) daisy chain a DVD to a TV through a VCR. He has a Thomson 32WS23U TV, a Thomson VPH 6950U VCR, and a (chipped) Sony 525 DVD. The DVD is connected through the VCR (in order to do the occasional DVD-VCR transfer), and he still appears to be getting RGB, with no visible deterioration in picture quality. He therefore asks why we
recommend NOT to do this.

EXPERT REPLY

Part of the DVD format specification requires manufacturers to incorporate Macrovision anti-copying measures in players. Macrovision works on a number of different levels but the end result is that the composite S-Video and RGB video signals coming out of a DVD player have embedded spoiler signals that are ignored by a TV, but when they are processed by a VCR, they will produce large variations in brightness and cause picture instability, making recordings unwatchable. Macrovision also affects the video output on a VCR and so in a ‘daisy-chained’ setup, where the VCR is between the TV and DVD player, the TV picture is also disrupted. However, domestic VCRs can only record composite or S-Video signals, RGB signals pass straight through, so although they contain Macrovision signals, the VCR does not process them and the TV picture, using an RGB feed, is unaffected. The reason Simon is getting clean DVD to VCR transfers – which by the way is illegal, if he’s taping copyright material  -- is that a lot of the hardware ‘hacks’ used to enable multi-region playback also disable the DVD’s Macrovision system.

 


NAME Andy Palmer
KIT Toshiba MT1 projector
PROBLEM Andy is new to home cinema and recently purchased a Toshiba MT1 projector. He is now looking to provide Dolby Digital sound using a receiver etc but his problem is that he is limited in width in the cabinet he needs to house it in? The limitation is 14.5 inches (37cm) and he asks if we know of any reasonable quality products that fit this criteria.


EXPERT REPLY
Assuming that the 370mm width limitation applies to all of the components in Andy’s proposed system then he might want to think about an all-in one solution where the DVD player is integrated with the amplifier and decoder. One of our favourites is the Sony DAV-S300, which we last looked at in the December 2000 issue and for the record the main unit is just 355mm wide, so there’s room to spare. It costs around £550, which we consider to be most reasonable given the very acceptable AV performance. If Andy’s budget can stretch to £700 or so then the Pioneer VN-DV55 one-box system is also well worth considering. Another possibility is a DVD-equipped mini hi-fi system, assuming his enclosure has got sufficient height. Some well-featured models worth considering include the Denon AF-F100, Technics SC-DV170 and the Sony MHC-ZX70DVD, which all sells for around £700. Any one of the half-dozen or so portable/ultra-compact DVD players would fit into Andy’s cabinet, the Sony DVP-F5 and Panasonic DVD-PV55 players are attractively priced at £450 and £650 respectively and these could be teamed with any one of a number of mini component AV amp/processors from the likes of Denon, Panasonic, Technics and Sony.


NAME Grace Harkes
KIT various
PROBLEM Grace is interested in either the new KEF surround sound speakers (KHT 2005) or the Sony Pascal and asks how they compare. She is also concerned that the sound may be lost in her very large room although most hi fi retailers have advised her that this would not be the case. She plays her Thomson 46RG73J TV and her hi fi through a pair of KEF CARA 3076's and is satisfied with the sound. She has a Technics separates system and would consider changing the amplifier for either a
Technics SA-DX940 or Pioneer VSX 709RDS or Sony STR-DB940.
EXPERT REPLY

 

Both of the packages Grace mentions are designed for ‘average’ living room dimensions and conditions -- whatever they might be -- but the bottom line is that providing Grace isn’t living in a mansion or a converted industrial loft then it is likely that they will work satisfactorily. However, it is quite clear from the size of Grace’s TV that her room is probably bit bigger than normal, so rather than making a modestly powered amplifier and compact speakers work hard she would be well advised to go for more substantial components, which will have power in reserve, to really get behind those big dramatic effects. Her choices of AV amplifier suggests she has around £500 to spend and the Sony and Technics models would certainly fit the bill, and if she can afford to spend at least the same again – preferably a bit more -- on a beefy home cinema speaker package (she should pay particular attention to the sub woofer – the bigger the better), then she will have the makings of a very decent system, that should be more than capable of filling her living space with dynamic and involving surround sound.

 

 

NAME Corey Stewart
KIT n/a
PROBLEM Writing from Canada, Corey wants to buy a new TV, but is a little confused by all the talk of HDTV, IDTV and HDTV ready. He has a DVD player, hi-fi VCR, receiver with Dolby Digital 5.1 and dts decoders as well as a five speaker package. Is it worth buying an HDTV ready TV or should he go for HDTV itself? He does not want to buy a quality widescreen TV that is not HDTV ready and find it dated in a few years. Also, does he need quality sound from the new TV as he already has a receiver?
EXPERT REPLY

There are no hard and fast definitions for HDTV and IDTV but broadly speaking HDTV or ‘High Definition TV’ refers to any system capable of generating and displaying a picture containing more than 1000 picture lines. IDTV or ‘Improved Definition TV’ technology centres on enhancements to existing 625 and 525 line systems, which includes systems that increase the number of lines, though they are created artificially and do not represent a genuine increase in the amount of detail in the image. Terms like HDTV-ready are basically meaningless; all it means is the TV can display an image from an HDTV source, but in normal resolution. Either a TV is an HDTV model or it’s not. It’s a bit like the digital TV situation in the UK; any old TV – providing it has an AV input socket on the back – can be described as Digital TV ‘ready’. We are unlikely to get pukka HDTV in the UK – at least not in the foreseeable future – however digital HDTV services are up and running in the US. The situation in Canada is unclear and Corey should consult local experts to find out what’s happening where he lives and when and if it will become available.

 


NAME Ryan Howe
KIT Denon AVC-A10SE
PROBLEM Ryan has just bought the Denon AVC-A10SE home cinema amp and is saving up for the Denon POA-T10. Until he gets that, he wonders if he can use his old amps to run the extra channels on the AVC-A10SE to give a 7.1 experience. He has a Sherwood Newcastle Receiver R-925RDS and a Marantz PM-66SE stereo amp. If so, how does he do this?


EXPERT REPLY
Just to put everyone in the picture, the Denon AVC-A10 has Dolby EX and dts ES decoders, which extract two additional surround channels from specially coded discs. These are heard through an extra pair of speakers, placed to the side of the listening position. The A10 has 5 channels of amplification, with analogue line level outputs for a sub-woofer and the two EX/ES surround channels. In other words he needs an active (amplified) sub woofer, and a separate stereo amplifier, to get the full 7.1 channel effect from the A10, which is where the amp of choice, the Denon POA-10, comes in. However, since the extra channels outputs on the back of the A10 are carried by ordinary phono sockets and are at normal line level, almost any amplifier with sufficient power – connected to the A10 with simple phono to phono leads -- will do for the surround channels. There is no reason why Ryan can’t use his retired Sherwood or Marantz amps, in fact he’ll be saving himself a good few bob since the POA-10 costs the thick end of £500, and quite frankly using an amp of that stature in such a relatively undemanding application, and in view of the very limited number of EX/ES discs available, seems a bit extravagant. 

 

 

NAME Richard Harrison
KIT Panasonic TX32PK20 Tau TV
PROBLEM Richard bought a Panasonic TX32PK20 Tau TV, but found that the picture was unsatisfactory when he got it home? with markings similar
to rainbow patterns in an oil film on the surface. He cleaned the
screen, but it made no difference? the problem seemed to be within the
front plate or coated on the outside surface and was obvious when the
set was off or in dark areas of any TV picture. The dealer was not
sympathetic, and Panasonic UK Customer Support, after a couple of tries,
sent an engineer, who agreed that it was unacceptable but who soon
became noncommital. Richard has posted details on the Home Entertainment
web forum and has found that he is not the only one who has experienced
problems and has since taken the set back. But what was the problem?
EXPERT REPLY

This one is a bit of a mystery and our usually knowledgeable ‘insider’ source at Panasonic claims to know nothing about it. However, by piecing together the bits of the story we can have a guess at what may have happened. Firstly it doesn’t appear to be a widespread problem, at least after an extensive web search we haven’t managed to find any other mentions of it, here or abroad, in fact this model and the Tau range in general seems to have been very well received. We suspect that the ‘oil film’ effect Richard describes is caused by coatings on the screen faceplate, designed to reduce reflectivity and inhibit the build up of a static charge. Our theory is that the so-called ARAS (anti reflective, anti static) coating on Richard’s TV was faulty, or improperly applied. It may be that it was damaged in some way by cleaning solutions or some other chemical that came into contact with it. Since the set in question has now been returned we have no way of knowing, so we’ll have to let sleeping dogs lie, unless we hear from anyone else suffering from this problem, in which case we would be very interested to learn of their experiences and subsequent dealing with Panasonic or the retailer involved.

 


NAME Marc Rogers
KIT
PROBLEM Marc has been using the NAD C340 Amp, with the Arcam 7 CD Player and B&W DM601 series 2 speakers in his bedroom, but now intends to use them in his living room and run his Sony KV29XS TV and Hitachi VT-FX980 VCR through the speakers. If he upgrades his amp to the C370, is this going to be suitable to handle both music and audio or should he use
separate amps? Is it better to go for a surround sound package or individual speakers if he is looking to spend no more than £800-£1000? Does music sound clearer through two speakers such as he has at the moment or through a surround sound such as the Mission FS2-AV?
EXPERT REPLY


The bottom line is that hi-fi and home cinema are two quite different disciplines and purists always argue – with some justification – that to do both jobs properly you need separate systems. Apart from anything else the placement of speakers for listening to music will usually be quite different to that for a home cinema setup. Of course compromises are possible, but inevitably something will have to suffer. We recommend using an AV amp driving purpose-designed AV speakers for home cinema, especially for the centre-front dialogue and front stereo pair, which, in addition to being magnetically shielded (to prevent colour staining on the TV screen) have optimised radiation patterns to create a tightly controlled soundfield, centred on the TV screen. This sort of thing can also be useful in some types of rear channel speakers. The other obvious point is that most AV speaker packages include a sub-woofer, which is essential for home cinema – to get the full impact of bass-heavy effects -- but is very much an optional extra for listening to most types of music, indeed our purist friends often argue that a sub is unnecessary in a properly coordinated system made up of top-grade components. Marc has a healthy budget; he just has to decide for himself what his priorities are.  

 


NAME Jim Challis
KIT Marantz CD 52 Mk2 SE CD player, Marantz PM44 SE Amplifier, Tannoy 611 Mk2 Speakers
PROBLEM Jim has a hi-fi system and wants to add an AV system, but wants
to know what he should get. Should he go for a DVD player with a Dolby
Digital/DTS 5.1 decoder and a separate external decoder attached to his
existing amp, or a standard DVD player and an A/V amp with built in
Dolby Digital/DTS 5.1 decoder to replace his existing amp. Also, which
surround speakers do you recommend to accompany a front pair of Tannoy
611 Mk2s.


EXPERT REPLY
A recently as a year ago DVDs with built-in Dolby Digital decoders commanded a significant price premium, these days it adds little or nothing to the cost, in fact there are several players in the market with on-board Dolby Digital decoders, selling for less than £200. Fewer models have dts decoders as well and this can still add a few bob to the price, but against that you have to weigh the fact that there are still only a handful of Region 2 discs with dts soundtracks. However, dts decoders are a lot more common on AV amplifiers and they are to be found on several sub £300 models. Technically it makes no difference where the decoder is (on mid market home cinema equipment at any rate), nor is price a major consideration any longer (unless Jim is specifically interested in dts), however, from the standpoint of flexibility having the decoders inside the AV amplifier does have some advantages. It simplifies the connections between the player and the amp – just one optical or coaxial cable -- and it allows for a wider choice of DVD decks, since all players have digital bitstream output and almost without exception all models built within the last year or so are dts compatible. Jim’s choice of surround speakers will be largely dictated by the amp and room conditions, but it’s often a good idea keep it in the family, as it were, and a pair of Tannoy Mercury M1/M2s would certainly fit the bill.   

 


NAME Chris Bassett
KIT n/a
PROBLEM Chris is fairly new to home cinema, and is thinking of getting a
Toshiba 40PW03 rear projection TV, a Sony STR-DB940 Amp, Sony SA-VE505 Pascal speakers and a Pioneer DV-717 DVD Player. He is sure about the TV but asks whether the Pascals or the Mission 6 Pack would be better suited to his amp. He is not after a very loud system, but wants to fill
his 15ft by 10ft room. By the way, he loves bass.
EXPERT REPLY

Chris has selected two quite evenly matched packages, Although we haven’t carried out a side by side comparisons on these packages we are fairly certain that as far as general AV performance is concerned – and all other things being equal -- there’s probably not a lot to choose between them. Chris’s self-confessed love of bass doesn’t help very much either since both packages include powered sub-woofers, each rated at 100 watts. If pressed we would have to say that the Mission 70ASE sub appears just a tad more substantial, but whether or not that has any impact on the output can only be confirmed by a listening test. Our earlier advice, about how sticking with a single brand can sometimes be an advantage is not especially relevant in this situation, which just leaves price and largely secondary considerations, such as design and cosmetics. So, in a spirited piece of fence sitting we are going to have to advise Chris to make up his own mind and try and hear both sets of speakers in action at an obliging local dealer, or say to hell with it, shop around and decide on the basis of the best price.

 


NAME Andy Wilson
KIT various
PROBLEM Andy currently has a Yamaha DSP595a amp, Panasonic TX36PF10 TV,
Toshiba SD-100E DVD player, Tannoy MC, M2.5 fronts, M1 rears, Gale
XL-315 front cable, XL-105 rears, Ixos Scart & Qnect1 interconnects.
Would he benefit from changing his speaker cable to the Chord comp
carnival, and would the Tannoy Msub 10 add to the sound of the system?
EXPERT REPLY

Speaker cable is one of those highly contentious issues that hi-fi experts and aficionados get really worked up about and argue over at great length. Whilst it is fair to say that the design, structure and construction of speaker cable can and does have an effect on the sound output of amplifiers and speakers it has to be said that it is generally very small, and only discernible on top grade equipment (not that there’s anything wrong with Andy’s system). However, more to the point, such differences as there are will only be apparent during detailed listening tests using high-end source components and carefully selected musical material. In other words, after changing his speaker cables Andy is unlikely to notice a jot of difference when playing DVDs through his system. Even on audio CDs there’s unlikely to be any perceptible changes. On the other hand adding a sub woofer to his system will have a major impact and add considerably to his enjoyment of watching DVDs. Most movie soundtracks contain a lot of bass information, action blockbusters are an obvious example, but even apparently quiet and gentle films use low level, almost subliminal infusion of bass to add to the drama or help create an atmosphere.   

 

 

NAME Akeel
Panasonic TX32PK20 KIT n/a
PROBLEM Akeel has saved up for a JVC WFP1EK 32inch television, which he likes because the twin tuners suit his own needs perfectly. However, now
there are even better models on the market, such as Sony's KV-32FQ75,
and he wants to know if there are any new TVs with two tuners and
similar features to the JVC on the market.
EXPERT REPLY

 

Twin tuners is not a very common feature and to be honest it’s not something we expect to see much more of in the immediate future. The reason is simple; the UK broadcasting industry is in a state of transition, and confusion! The arrival of digital TV has seriously muddied the already cloudy waters. Kitting out a TV with twin analogue tuners could turn out to be a short-lived benefit, especially if the planned switch-off of analogue TV happens faster than expected. Twin tuners are a feature on digital TVs, but it’s rarely used to generate twin pictures, which seems to be the feature that appeals to Akeel. In fact digital TV brings with it a whole new set of problems for manufacturers. Most of them have decided to go for dedicated models that can either pick up ONdigital or BSKYB transmissions.  Interoperability or dual standard compatibility remains a distant dream; moreover ITV’s continued absence from the digital satellite channel line-up makes life even more difficult for consumers. The alternative to twin tuners is picture-in-picture, and there’s plenty of sets with that feature to choose from, there’s no need for a second tuner either since the PIP image can come from any external source, including the tuner in a VCR or a digital set-top box.


NAME Ian Forster
KIT Toshiba 40PW03B
PROBLEM Ian has recently bought a Toshiba 40PW03B and thinks there is a pinkish hue on the right hand side of the screen which is especially
noticeable on black and white transmissions. He thought it might be
magnetic staining, but the other side is fine and he even has a centre
channel placed on the top. He also asks why 1:85:1 NTSC Laserdisc's
don't fill the entire screen (as they did on his old Philips widescreen)
while 1.85:1 ratio PAL discs do. The manual for his Pioneer CLD-515
manual said that NTSC letterbox pictures would not always fill the
screen due to the NTSC-PAL conversion? His old Philips set only accepted
PAL and NTSC 4.43 while the Toshiba accepts raw NTSC 3.58 as well, so
what is it converting? DVDs are unaffected and he wonders if it is
because of the RGB or S-Video input he uses for DVD?

The pinkish tinge on the side of Ian’s screen is almost certainly is caused by magnetic staining. The close proximity of unshielded speakers is usually the reason, but radiators, buried pipes and power cables or hidden metal components in the building’s structure, can also cause it. Since Ian’s TV seems unable to neutralise the staining on its own the only way to get rid of it is have an engineer wave a ‘degauss’ coil over the screen.

 

The answer to the second part of Ian’s question, about aspect ratio, seems to lie with the way the Pioneer LD player converts NTSC to PAL 60, which Ian’s old Philips TV regarded as a conventional widescreen image to be zoomed to full screen height. The new Tosh TV simply displays the NTSC picture as-is, retaining the original aspect ratio. Feel free to provide alternative explanations, but please don’t waste valuable movie watching time worrying about the minutiae of movie aspect ratios …

 


NAME Ian Letters
KIT n/a
PROBLEM Ian already has a Yamaha surround sound speaker system but wants to buy a 32-inch flatish wide screen TV. He wants to keep using the
Yamaha so asks if he just needs a 32 inch Nicam TV or does he have to
get a Dolby TV, plug his Yamaha into it and somehow cut out the internal
Dolby? Everywhere seems to assume you don't already have your own
amplifier and therefore the choices are TVs with the inbuilt Dolby. Do
other people accept a smaller Nicam TV buy a 32-inch Dolby TV that can
use an external amplifier?
EXPERT REPLY

The situation isn’t quite as bleak as Ian seems to think, there’s no reason he can’t buy a 32-inch widescreen Dolby-less TV and not continue using his Yamaha surround system. Stereo sound and NICAM are more or less standard features on TVs these days but since it only adds about tuppence to the price it’s no big deal if he doesn’t use it. The usual trick – if he wants to only use his Yam amp for sound – is basically just use the TV as a video monitor and to bypass the TV sound system completely. In other words the NICAM TV sound comes from a VCR (connect the VCR to the TV by SCART cable and use a twin phono to phono lead to connect the stereo audio out on the VCR to the VCR or aux input on the amp). The same applies to the DVD player. Ian can use a SCART cable for the video, or better still, use an S-Video connection (or RGB, via a fully wired SCART, if both devices support it), and run the mixed stereo output from the DVD player to an aux input on the Yamaha amplifier. This will give Ian analogue surround sound and provides an easy upgrade path to digital 5.1 digital surround, if an when he decides to replace his AV amplifier.

 

 

NAME Michael Clark
KIT
PROBLEM Michael is considering buying a DVD player but doesn't have
sufficient SCART sockets on his present television, His setup consists of
a digibox and video asks if we could suggest his options for connecting
a DVD.
EXPERT REPLY

 

It’s amazing that TVs are still being made with only one or two SCART sockets, let alone the three or four that most of us seem to need these days! Fortunately it’s not a problem, the simplest solution for Michael is to equip himself with an external SCART adaptor or switch box, and route all of his AV components through that. However, it’s worth pointing out that if his TV has an S-Video input socket on the back, he should use that to connect to the DVD player, instead of the SCART socket as this will give him a small but worthwhile improvement in picture quality. Of course, if his TV and DVD player are both wired for RGB he should use that, however it’s not that common on TVs – especially budget and mid-range models more than two or three years old. Back to the SCART box, there are lots of different types, with two, three or four inputs, some are manually switchable but to make life easier Michael should look for one with auto switching, that automatically routes the ‘active’ component (i.e. the device, VCR, DVD, sat box etc., that is switched on), through to his TV. Michael will find a useful selection on offer at better video accessory dealers or  Maplin Electronics, they can be reached at  0780 264 6000 or check out its on-line catalogue at: www.maplin.co.uk

 


NAME Symeon Menexis
KIT Pioneer DV-535
PROBLEM Symeon is looking to buy a region-free Pioneer DV-535 and has
found three potential hacks? the Techtronics Multimode chip, Link
Electronics' Paragon chip and Furturetronics' 'reprogram?' Which is
best?

EXPERT REPLY

As regular readers will know we have never been very keen on ‘hardware’ hacks, that involve modifying the DVD player’s circuitry in one way or another. In almost all cases this will result in the manufacturer’s warranty being voided, though we are aware of one ‘plug-in’ module that would seem to get around this restriction. However, recent events following the ‘successful’ introduction of discs with RCE (regional code enhancement), like The Patriot, that stops R1 discs playing on decks chipped or hacked for multi-region replay. RCE has made us even more wary of hardware hacking or ‘chipping’. Some companies offering these mods claim their hack is unaffected by RCE but we can be pretty sure disc manufacturers are working to improve the system and there’s no guarantee that current systems that are immune won’t eventually be nobbled. Our advice to Symeon is to buy the DV-535, if that’s the player that he wants, but if his priority is to watch R1 discs then he would do better to buy to a budget player with a regional lock that can be switched to Region 1 by entering a code or pressing a sequence of buttons on the remote handset. This is the only sure way we know of defeating RCE but again it is quite possible disc manufacturers will find a way around that too. If they do then at least Symeon won’t have wasted too much money.

 

---end---

 

Ó R. Maybury 2000, 1312

 

 

 

 

 

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