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Name Aydin Kocakazan
Kit Denon AVR-3801 Technics hi-fi system
Problem Aydin would like to connect his hi-fi system to the Denon and listen to his music in 7.1 channel sound. This system only has a set of phono sockets at the back and these did not work when tried. Also, Aydin has an unnamed DVD player that includes 96kHz/24bit processing, but the manual states you can damage speakers if you use this. He wonders what this is for and when can he use the 96/24 system.

Expert Reply

Most of Aydin's problems appear to arise from a misunderstanding of the technology, which is not surprising as DVD has spawned more jargon and techno babble than all previous audio and video formats put together.


First the bit about '7.1 channel' sound. In order for Aydin's Denon amp to produce a 7.1 channel output, or any of the many and various digital surround sound schemes (i.e. 5.1, 6.1 etc.) it must be connected to a suitable source component that can provide the necessary number of analogue inputs, or a DVD player's bitstream output, where all of the channels are carried in a single stream of digital data. Aydin's hi-fi system, which we believe to be getting on a bit and pre digital surround, (or any sort of surround sound system for that matter) doesn't have any analogue or bitstream outputs. The phono sockets he mentions are almost certainly inputs, which explains why nothing is coming out of them…


We're not sure about the 96kHz/24-bit warning since this is a standard digital to analogue conversion (DAC) system common to all DVD players, that lets them to play format standard PCM (pulse code modulation) soundtracks, which is also the system used to encode sound on audio CDs, so it can play them as well.


Name Steve
Kit Rotel DVD player, Sony VPH-1020QM CRT projector
Problem Steve would like to use the RGB output of his DVD player, but the Sony's RGB input features RGB and two extra sockets marked Sync/HD and VD. Are these the correct inputs, he wonders? If this is not possible, how can he get the most from the composite video input, as the projector doesn't have an S-Video input?

Expert Reply

The Sony VPH-1020 is a real old-timer dating back to somewhere around the mid 1980s. Back then home cinema was in its infancy and DVD wasn't even a glint in the eye of the consumer electronic industry, in fact the specs weren't finalised until 1995. TheVPD-1020 is actually a professional video presentation device and was never intended to be used with consumer video products, which also explains the lack of an S-Video input socket. The two extra sockets Steve mentions, labelled Synch HD and VD, are for 'Horizontal Drive' and 'Vertical Drive' synchronisation signals, which are used by interlaced and non-interlaced display systems respectively. To cut a long story short the RGB sockets on this projector are meant for connection to the VGA (video graphics array) video output on a computer. This differs in a number of ways to the RGB output on a DVD player, not lease in the way synchronisation is handled, the two are not compatible so the bottom line is that Steve should not attempt to connect his DVD player to the projector using RGB video. It is possible to convert from RGB video to VGA but the quality is likely to be quite poor, Steve is just going to have to make the best of his composite video connection but given the age and nature of the projector, which is optimised for displaying computer graphics, the quality is unlikely to be all that special.



Name Richard Kenyon
Kit Toshiba DVD player with progressive scan outputs.
Problem As a collector of Region One discs, Richard is keen to see his DVD pictures in their best possible setting. But he wonders why progressive scan sets from the likes of Hitachi do not have component inputs as this is the only way for a progressive scan signal to reach a TV. Are these sets just making false claims, he wonders?

Expert Reply

Progressive scan and the various claims and counter claims being made for it are doing a bang-up job of muddying the already murky waters surrounding DVD! First lets clear up the confusion of what progressive scan does. It's basically a way of getting rid of the flicker that's inherent on NTSC and PAL video displays. It uses a process known as 'de-interlacing' where instead of each frame of a picture being 'drawn' in two separate operations, each lasting 1/25th of a second, the image is created in one pass, in much the same way as a computer display.


PS fans say that de-interlacing works best on the digital data coming off the disc therefore it has to take place inside the DVD player but the problem is the re-configured video signal can only be viewed on TVs or display devices with progressive scan display facility. The component video connection is simply a result of the fact that PS first took off in the US, which uses the NTSC video system and the best way to transport NTSC signals is via a component video connection.


You can also de-interlace analogue video signals to produce a progressive scan display, which is where the Hitachi TV comes in. Purists say it's not as effective as de-interlacing in the digital domain, inside a DVD player but the advantage is that it works on any video signal, from any source. Since this TV is designed for the UK PAL market Hitachi decided that there was no need for a component video input.


Name Mark
Kit Pioneer DV-737, Sony TA-E9000ES Musical Fidelity monoblocs, Toshiba projector.
Problem Mark wants to upgrade his processor to handle the latest surround formats, such as Dolby EX, DTS ES/6.1 discrete, Pro-logic II, DTS neo6. Is there an upgrade for some or all of these surround systems, or are upgrades planned, he wonders? The TA-E9000ES has upgradable flash memory, accessed via the RS232 port on the back.

Expert Reply

Wouldn't it be great if you could buy an amp or processor and simply download a bit of software from the net to upgrade the device every time new features and facilities came along…Like the everlasting shoe and a washing machine that doesn't break down, it aint gonna happen! Manufacturers make their money by selling us products that are effectively obsolete almost before they've reached the end of the production line.


The 'ugradability' of the TA-E9000 and similar products reveals a more worrying trend in consumer electronics. Product life cycles are becoming increasingly short, which some observers fear pressurises manufacturers to launch products before they're properly de-bugged. The TA-E900 is a case in point; it originally shipped with firmware (operating software) version 1.01A, soon afterwards version 1.01C was released, which addressed a number of problems, including faulty lip-synching, display malfunctions and incorrect filter settings. Subsequent releases (we're up to version 2.01) fix yet more problems, tweak sound quality and add extra sound processor modes which have a stab at decoding Dolby EX and dts ES but it's not the real deal and the owner still has also has to purchase a new remote handset in order to access them. The latest word from the US is that no further updates for this product are expected. Our advice is that if upgrades are offered free to fix problems on digital equipment then fine, grab them with both hands but be wary of the promise of future facilities and paying for software upgrades…



Name Andy Trow
Kit Telewest cable box
Problem As a subscriber to Telewest's Active Digital cable TV service, Andy was shocked to discover the service does not broadcast in NICAM stereo. When he asked the people at Telewest, they said that although they are not broadcasting in NICAM, they are not broadcasting in mono either. They claim to be broadcasting in something called 'linear', 'pseudo' or 'phantom' sound. As they are not broadcasting in NICAM, doesn't this just mean mono, albeit dressed up with a fancy name?

Expert Reply

For a bit of mischief we posed as a potential subscriber and called the Telewest sales line to see if we could get the low-down on the sound coming out of its digital set-top boxes. It proved to be an interesting experience, not least navigating the automated phone system, which failed to connect us with a human on three occasions. We're not surprised Andy's confused. Between pestering us for an address the sales operator said the sound it was 'CD quality', and when asked if it was stereo, she said it was mono, but she believed you could get an 'adaptor' to make it stereo. We then asked where we could get one of these adaptors and how much they cost, which seemed to fall outside of the script so a supervisor had to be summoned. This chap actually did quite a good job and asked the right questions, including what sort of TV we had and the type of connections it used and slowly we got to the facts.


The bottom line is that digital cable TV channels have a high quality stereo soundtrack and the quality is good – in the same ballpark as NICAM but comparisons with CD are a bit optimistic. Digital cable set-top boxes output the analogue stereo channels on the SCART socket and a pair of phono sockets, so you can connect it up to a stereo TV or hi-fi. Incidentally, there's no reason why digital cable TV services would use NICAM, the stuff they squirt down the cable is a stream of digital data that the set-top box decodes into analogue picture and sound signals. NICAM was developed specifically as a means of adding high quality stereo sound to analogue terrestrial TV channels.



Name Marvin Wallis
Kit LG 3200E DVD player
Problem Is it possible to hack the LG DVD player to play discs from the US, without needing to have the player converted? Marvin has received NTSC videotapes from friends in the States and they have played without problems. However, he also noticed the NTSC picture is slightly smaller than the PAL picture. Why?

Expert Reply

First things first, the good news is that the LG-3200 is handset hackable, it's a relatively simple procedure and because it doesn't involve any tinkering around inside the box it won't invalidate the manufacturer's warranty. All Marvin has to do is switch the player on, make sure the disc tray is empty then press the following buttons on the handset: Pause, 3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9. Next choose the region number, 1 to 6 or 0 for all-region playback. Finally press the Pause button again, switch the player off then back on again and it's good to go.


Marvin asks about the reduced height of NTSC material. An NTSC video signal is made up of 525 lines, which is 100 lines less than the 625-lines in a PAL video signal. VCRs with an NTSC playback facility and DVD players playback NTSC material by converting the colour information in the signal to PAL. This process is called PAL 60 – a reference to the 60Hz frame rate of NTSC video signals – however the number of lines in the picture stays at 525 but this is not a problem since the picture processing chips in most modern TVs are designed to handle a range of signal formats (it's cheaper than developing dedicated chips for each TV market). Some older sets show the picture 'as-is' hence the reduced height, however, most recent sets expand the picture to fill the screen.



Name David Chang
Kit Aiwa FX5500 VCR
Problem David's six-year-old Aiwa is beginning to play up, randomly ejecting the video as the tape is playing. Lately, he says, the problem is getting worse, spitting the tape out every 10 minutes or so. Can we tell him how to fix the problem, or whether it needs an engineer to fix the problem, or even if it is beyond repair?

Expert Reply

Six years is a fairly good age for a VCR and if it has had a busy life then you can expect things to start going wrong. Of course some VCRs will soldier on for a lot longer but in general repairs start to become uneconomic after about five years, as the supply of spare parts starts to dry up. It doesn't sound as though the fault on David's VCR is very serious, it could even be something as simple as a malfunctioning sensor, or a mechanical adjustment, either of which should only take a few minutes to fix. Maybe this time it is fault is worth fixing – David should be able to get an estimate from his friendly local repair shop – but this is likely to be just the beginning and he can expect more problems to develop in the near future, culminating in something really serious, like a worn head drum assembly or knackered deck mechanism. The point is a six-year old budget VCR in tip top condition is probably only worth about £50 as you can buy a brand new NICAM VCR with a similar or even better specification to the FX5500 for around £120! It's hard to part with an old VCR, especially if it has given good service, it's like a much-loved family pet, but sometimes it's kinder (and cheaper) to just let it go… 



Name Matthew Nelson
Kit none as yet
Problem Matthew is thinking of investing in next generation video and is confused about the new Sky+ system and the Philips DVDR 1000. He plans to purchase both and wonders as the Sky+ box will be recording in digital, will it be possible to record this digital signal directly on one of the DVDR 1000's lower settings (designed for analogue pictures). Matthew would like more storage time on the DVD without suffering a drop in quality. He also wonders what the price of blank DVDs will be and if there are any more details on Sky+ yet.

Expert Reply

There is no technical reason why digital video devices cannot connect to each other and transfer datastreams using a serial digital communications system like FireWire, indeed it was being strongly mooted at one time but it seems unlikely to happen now. Part of the problem is that it opens up a huge can of worms concerning conditional access and the rights of viewers when it comes to watching recordings of subscription and pay-to-view satellite broadcasts. The other problem is that even if you were able to record the raw datastream from the receiver it would still have to go back through a decoder in order to extract the picture and sound.


It will be possible to connect the analogue AV inputs on a DVD recorder like the Philips DVDR-1000 to the analogue AV output of a Sky+ digital box but it would be just like connecting a VCR and the quality is likely to be little better than standard VHS.


Details of the Sky+ box are still coming through but the key points are that it will cost £300 to buy plus a £10 monthly subscription for the advanced programme guide. The big selling points however are the facility to watch one satellite channel whilst recording another, and to 'pause' live TV (see Getting Started). Recordable DVD times will increase and the cost of media should fall (4.7Gb DVD blanks disc are likely to sell for around £25 initially) but Matthew should be aware of the dangers of becoming an early adopter. Being the first kid on the block is a risky business at the best of times but to do it with two new and developing technologies simultaneously is just asking for trouble!


Name Glenn Kelly
Kit Samsung DVD-709 DVD, Sony STR-DB940 receiver, KEF 2005AV speakers
Problem Glenn recently bought the amp and speakers. While the system sounds fine for stereo use, Glenn has noticed that the subwoofer produces a constant and annoying hum when video signals are present. If he plugs in a composite video lead from the monitor socket on the receiver to the TV the sub hums, but it also hums when the audio out from the TV or satellite is plugged into the receiver. More puzzlingly, it hums even when he connects the DVD player to the TV using a SCART lead. Is there a way we can solve this problem, he asks?

Expert Reply

Mains hum –assuming that is what it is -- can be a real pain to track down and there's no simple or single cure-all. Incidentally, other forms of hum are possible but in general the mains is the source of the hum if it is at a constant frequency and doesn't vary in sympathy with the video signal.


The only way to find the source or entry point is by a process of elimination. Is the hum is always present or does it come and go when one or more of the AV components are switched on? Cables are always suspect, Glenn should keep them as short as possible, avoid loops and kinks and keep all signal carrying cables well away from mains leads. He should make sure all of the cables plugs and sockets are in good condition; it's worth swapping them around to see if that makes a difference. Watch out for unshielded cables, like those used to carry control signals between components in a system and especially speaker leads. Even though Glenn's hum only happens when his system is handling video signals, it is still possible that the hum is getting in through the speaker leads, so he should avoid running them close to mains wiring or large metal objects.  



Name Adam Recht
Kit Pioneer VSX-709RDS receiver, DV-535 DVD player
Problem Adam likes the look of the S-V606 flat speaker system, but can only find them on mail order and can't find any reviews on them and wonders if they are any good. Also, Adam asks if they work well with his existing equipment and should he stick with kit from one manufacturer for compatibility's sake?


Expert Reply

Unfortunately we never got around to testing the S-V606 package, which was first introduced around 2 years ago, nor are we ever likely to, as we understand from Pioneer that it has been effectively discontinued. Apparently a handful of dealers still have them and the few remaining examples are only available in a white finish but if Adam would like to call the dealer support line (01753 789789) they will happily put him in touch with his nearest supplier...


The spec actually looked quite interesting but one of the reasons we didn't review it was that Pioneer never got around to promoting it and it arrived with little or no fanfare. According to a Pioneer spokesperson it was launched at about the same time as DVD was starting to take off and it coincided with several other important product announcements so it ended up on the back burner. Someone of a more cynical disposition – not us obviously -- might suggest that the much-hyped NXT flat panel speakers appeared at around the same time and if the S-V606's were any good they would have received the coverage they deserved. But it seems that we will never know, unless someone out there with a set would care to get in touch and let us know the score so we can help Adam make up his mind…




When it comes down to it hard disc drive (HDD) video recorders like TiVo and the new Sky+ box are not much more than glorified VCRs, but without the facility to archive recordings on tape. (In fact the JVC HD-HMS1 HDD recorder can do just that as it has a built-in S-VHS deck). However, all HDD video recorders can do one thing that no other tape or optical disc based recorder can do, and that's pause to live TV.


It's a spectacular trick that a lot of people will find genuinely useful and is bound to sell a lot of these devices when it's properly demonstrated. It takes advantage of the fact that information can be written to and read off a hard disc drive at phenomenal speed, so fast in fact that it’s possible to simultaneously record and replay video data. It works like this: the hard disc recorder constantly records whatever channel you are watching, typically it stores around an hours worth of video, which is constantly overwritten. The picture that appears on the TV screen is actually a replay of the recording and it may be a second or so behind the 'live' programme.  That means that you can pause playback but the machine continues to record and you can resume playback at any time without missing a thing. Some HDD recorders can also play back at slightly higher speed – usually around 1.5x, so it remains watchable and sound is still legible – and eventually the recording catches up with the live broadcast and normal speed 'real time' playback resumes.




Ó R. Maybury 2001, 0708







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