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Name Guillaume Mougin

Kit Toshiba SD210E DVD Player


Problem Guillaume bought Toshiba's SD210E DVD player because it has component video outputs. He is interested in buying a plasma screen in a year or two and wonders if it is better to connect the DVD player direct to the screen or via an AV amplifier that has component switching? He has looked at the Yamaha DSP-AX620 and the Denon AVR 1802 and both are within his budget. They both have component video but wonders if the screen would detect the component signal routed through the amplifier and which will give the best results? 


Expert Reply

The golden rule with home cinema connections - and a great many other things in life - is keep it short and keep it simple! Video switchers only really make sense when there's an acute shortage of input connections on the display device and that's unlikely to be a problem with most plasma screens. However, the real concern is that every additional plug, socket, switching device, extra stage of signal processing or length of cable has the potential to fail and introduce noise extra into the picture. The argument about switchers making it easier to control a system rarely holds water and the chances are Guillaume will still end up pressing the same number of buttons and juggling with the same amount of remote control handsets with or without a switcher on his AV amplifier.


As for plasma screens (and TVs) automatically detecting video inputs, that varies according to make and model and there's no way of knowing beforehand if it will work on a particular combination of components. Some display devices assign priority to video inputs in numerical order, so, for example an input on AV1 will always override inputs on other sockets. Others work by detecting a switching signal on the SCART connectors, generated by the active source component  (and not all DVDs, VCRs or set-top boxes have this facility) some models allow the user to set the priority and on the rest you have to switch the input manually on the remote.



Auto source switching sounds like a great idea in principle, and it does sometimes work when all of the components come from the same manufacture but problems often arise when you try to mix and match AV devices. All kinds of odd things can happen when the components in a home cinema system are connected together by SCART leads, like loosing the input from a digital set top box when you switch on the VCR to tape a terrestrial TV channel.




2. Name Avtar

Kit None as yet


Avtar wants to put together a home cinema system. He has selected the Toshiba SD210E DVD player and Denon AVR-3802 receiver.  His preferred speakers are a pair of B&W DM603 front speakers with DM602 surrounds and a LCR 600 centre. His room dimensions are 28ft by 11ft and wonders if the system will be sufficient for his room size or will he need a subwoofer?


Expert Reply

The obvious attraction of the 603's are the built-in bass-only drivers, which are meant to take some of the strain from the midrange driver, but there seems to be a consensus amongst reviewers and users that the bass output on these speakers are not as dramatic as they'd like and most suggest the use of an external sub woofer.


As competent as those B&W speakers are, and despite being quite a good idea the fact is there is simply no substitute for the low down gut-rumbling growl and grunt of a decent active sub woofer, and that applies to just about any home cinema system, in almost any size and shape of room. Moreover there are practical advantages in having a separate sub woofer. Whilst it is true that bass sounds are generally non-directional, and it doesn't matter too much where they are coming from, there's a lot to be said for being able to move the sub around, and keep it well away from anything that might rattle or resonate when bombs start going off and large space cruisers pass by... More importantly, a powered or active sub woofer doesn't sap power from the main amplifier and it will give Avatar more control over the balance of his system.



3. Name Arran Thor

Kit None as yet


Armar lives in London but wants to buy a TV that he can use in the UK and other European countries. Armar asks if he can buy a TV in the UK that is also compatible with European TV systems?


Expert Reply

Many mid-market and top-end TVs have multi-mode tuners that cover all European broadcast bands and television systems. There are only three systems to worry about. PAL I is what we use in the UK, (also the Seychelles, Gambia, South Africa and Hong Kong). PAL B/G covers most of the rest of Europe, (plus Scandinavia, much of Africa, the Middle East and India). The other system is SECAM, used in France (also Russia, former Eastern bloc countries and French dependencies and colonies).


PAL I and B/G differ only in the way the broadcast signal is structured, with the sound part of the signal being sent on slightly different frequencies. This means it's easier and cheaper for TV manufacturers to fit multi-system tuners that cover both PAL signal formats. SECAM compatibility is a little more involved and requires slightly more complicated signal processing but again a lot of manufacturers take the view that it's more cost effective to produce a single chassis that can be sold in different countries, rather than making TVs specific to just one market. Incidentally, Armar should also consider the cost and aggravation of transporting a large home cinema TV around Europe. It may even work out cheaper to buy a new one in each country he visits.




PAL and SECAM are closely related and most PAL TVs will happily display a SECAM signal, though in black and white as there are subtle differences in the way the colour information is processed. The story goes that SECAM, developed by the French after the Second World War is just sufficiently different to PAL – developed in Germany – to avoid infringing patents, factors that may have influenced the former USSR, when it introduced colour television, (using the SECAM system), at the height of the Cold War.



4. Name Ian Forster


Kit Denon AVD-1000 dts decoder, Denon ADV-2000, Yamaha six-channel amp, Pioneer 737 DVD player


Ian has a Denon AVD-1000 dts decoder connected to a Yamaha six-channel amp. He is experiencing problems with the sound cutting out intermittently on dts soundtracks with some DVDs but dts audio CDs are fine. He has recently replaced his DVD player with a new Pioneer DV-737 but the problem still exists. He wonders if the AVD-1000 dts decoder has a problem with decoding dts DVDs that have a bit rate of 750kbps as opposed to the older rate of 1500kbps and if it can be upgraded.


Expert Reply

Everything points to Ian's decoder being the culprit, though in theory differing bitrates shouldn't have anything to do with it. A few words of explanation might be in order. One of the most significant differences between dts and Dolby Digital is that the former is 'scalable' and was designed from the outset to operate over a wide range of bitrates.


In an ideal world dts would have been the standard audio format for DVD but it wasn't ready in time, and there were some political shenanigans going on behind the scenes as well, but the point is Dolby got the job and dts ended up as a bit of an afterthought. Squeezing full bitrate (1.5Mbps) dts onto a DVD proved to be a bit of a problem. In the early days disc makers chose to release dts only versions or they had to dump the extra features to make room but in trials lower bitrate (750kbps) dts recordings proved to be indistinguishable from high-bitrate soundtracks. On paper the bitrate should make no difference to the decoder, nor are there are no software upgrades for the AVD-1000. We haven't come across any reports of similar problems with this amp so it is most likely a fault, if it is still in guarantee Ian should have it checked.



5. Name Mike Broadhurst


Kit Wharfedale DVD player


Mike has the Patriot DVD on Region One but when he tries to play it on his Wharfedale DVD player a caption appears on the screen saying 'THIS DISC IS INTENDED FOR PLAY ON NON MODIFIED REGION 1 PLAYERS'. It also states that there is nothing wrong with this disc and that users should rent or buy discs for their own region and shows a map of the world split up into the various regions. He would like to know if this can be overcome or if this is the start of the film companies stopping us from watching Region One DVDs in the UK?


Expert Reply

Mike has become a casualty of Region Code Enhancement or 'RCE' a clever piece of digital trickery introduced by several movie studios to try and stop American Region 1 discs working in DVD players sold in other regions. However, RCE has been only partially successful because it only works on players that have been hacked, modified or sold as having 'all-region' playback. RCE works by identifying players set to all region and displays the message Mike has been seeing. However, if the player is set to Region 1 only playback the disc plays as normal. On some players the RCE lock can be easily overridden by pressing the picture search or chapter skip buttons. Otherwise the only solution is to switch the player temporarily to Region 1. Mike didn't say which Wharfedale player he has but one of the following remote handset hacks, for the 750, 750s and M5, should allow him access to the players region lock menu. For the 750 press Open/Close then 1, 1, 1, 1 and enter the Region number. For the 750s it's Open/Close 0, 7, 5, 0 then Region number, and for the M5 the service menu with the Region code setting is accessed by pressing Setup, 6, 3, 8, 2, 6.



6. Name Robert Withlow


Kit Unspecified


Robert has managed to accumulate five remote controls for his AV set-up comprising TV, AV amp, two VCRs and digital cable box. He is looking to purchase a universal/learning remote control to replace all of these but has hit a problem. He is considering the Cambridge Audio M1 and the E-Pilot but is worried that hey are not capable of handling the IRDA system used for NTL digital cable boxes produced by Pace. What do we recommend?


Expert Reply

Only five, Robert should count himself lucky…  It looks as though he’s going to have to put up with at least two of them, for the time being at least. As Robert points out NTL cable boxes (they’re made by Pace) use a different infrared remote control system to just about every other AV product in the known universe...  According to the reports we’ve seen it was specified by NTL as a form of ‘future proofing’. In case anyone is interested the system is called TWTV and is based on the IrDA standard used by the PC industry, for communications with portable devices and peripherals. This system works at a much higher speed (see Getting Started) and the idea is that it allows for a remote keyboard – to browse the web -- and multiple controllers – for playing games -- to be used simultaneously.


All this is of little consolation to Robert but it might cheer him up to know that several companies are rumoured to be working on the problem and we wouldn’t be at all surprised if someone hadn’t already come up with a solution, based around a handheld/pocket organiser. In any event controlling so many different devices from one box is not as easy or convenient as it sounds and your whole system could be immobilised when the dog chews the remote, or it disappears down the back of sofa…



7. Name Mary Hill


Kit Marantz DVD Player


Mary has a Marantz DVD player that she bought in June last year. It was modified for multi-region playback by the shop but has started to give trouble with some Region One DVDs and will not read about nine-tenths of some discs. Mary would like to know if this is likely to be a glitch caused by the machine being adapted or a laser problem? She read recently that some machines hit a problem after 25 region changes and wants to know if this could be a problem with hers?


Expert Reply

The 25 region change story goes back to the early days of DVD and concerns a hack for first generation Philips players (Philips produced several decks for Marantz). The region code lock on these machines could be changed by entering a code into the remote control handset, but – so the story went -- after 25 changes it would stick on the last setting.  We tried it a couple of times but either gave up or lost count so we’re still not sure if it was true or just scaremongering. Philips explained that this facility was for the benefit of owners who moved home from one area of the world to another and was never intended as a means of defeating Regional Coding. Latterly a new ‘all-region’ hack, using a ‘universal’ remote control like the One For All 4 and 6 has come to light and we’ve not heard of any problems. However, this story only ever concerned region changes, since Mary’s player is set on all region replay it wouldn’t apply. The problem she’s having is almost certainly a result of Region Code Enhancement RCE (see earlier query), and the usually solution is to change to Region 1 only replay unfortunately if Mary has a DV890 or DV4100 this can only be safely set to all region replay, but if she has a DV4300 she’s in luck (see Quick Tip)




The handset hack for the Marantz DV-4200 is as follows. With the machine switched on, but no disc loaded, press Pause then 3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9 and the on-screen display should show the word ‘Code’ and the currently set region number. Next, enter the region number you wish to change to (1 for the US, 2 for Europe etc.) or enter 0 for all region replay. To store the setting finish off by pressing Pause on the remote control, switch the machine off, count ten and then switch it back on again.



8. Name Ian Payton


Kit Panasonic TXW28R4DP Pro Logic TV, Samsung DVD-709 DVD Player


Ian has a problem positioning his rear speakers in his surround sound system. He uses a Panasonic TXW28R4DP Pro Logic TV as the centre speaker and his hi-fi amp and speakers take care of the left and right channels. He currently has no rear speakers and would like to use the TV's rear speaker/line outputs to provide the rear channels or buy an A/V amplifier and speakers to the same effect. He has heard about wireless speaker systems but has been unsuccessful in tracking any down. Do we have any recommendations?


Expert Reply

There are several cordless speaker systems on the market but the choice isn’t terribly inspiring. They’re either cheapo items that you just know are not going to do justice to 5.1 surround or, what look suspiciously like the guts from cheapo cordless speakers, dressed up a bit, with a hefty price tag. Wireless speakers really should be treated as a last resort, they tend to be quite hissy and are susceptible to interference (see Quick Tip) moreover ‘wireless’ is a complete misnomer, they involve more wires than ordinary cabled speakers. There’s a set of stereo leads at the transmitter end, another wire to connect the ‘master’ and ‘slave’ speakers together, and a mains cable (though you can get 30-hour battery-powered models, see http://www.holdan.co.uk/).


If Ian is serious about sound quality then he should think about doing the job properly with and AV amp and wired speakers but if for some reason that is not possible, and he’s feeling flush, he might like to have a look at a widget called the Limpet. This is a cordless amplifier, that lets you use speakers of your own choosing. It comes in two parts, a transmitter module that plugs into the source component, and the receiver/amplifier module, with a 50 watts RMS output. It sounds quite promising though we haven’t actually tried one yet. Limpet costs £299 and you can get more information at:




Interference is a growing problem with ‘cordless’ and ‘wireless’ products, and it’s only going to get worse. In the UK the 863 to 865MHz band is allocated for a wide range of consumer audio devices, like headphones and speakers but also things like computer mice and keyboards. The radio frequency power outputs of these products is strictly limited but you can guess what can happen if you live next door or close to someone with cordless gadgets in their home.



9. Name Graham Ross


Kit Philips 621 DVD player, Yamaha RX-V393 AV amp

Graham wants to connect his DVD player to his amplifier and get digital surround sound. His problem is that his Yamaha amp has six discrete inputs for digital sound and his Philips DVD player has just has a single coaxial digital output. He would like to know if he needs to replace his Yamaha amp and get one that has a coaxial Dolby Digital input?


Expert Reply

Unfortunately Graham has suffered the fate of a lot of ‘early adopters’. DVD and home cinema has evolved – and continues to evolve - -at a frightening pace and what’s regarded as state of the art today can be virtually obsolete within a year. The Yamaha V393 was one of the first 6-channel home cinema amplifiers on the market, and very good it was too, and a perfect partner for early high-end DVD players with built-in Dolby Digital decoders. Nowadays DVD players with 5.1 decoders are two a penny, at least there now a fair few of them selling for less than £150 and it’s no longer an exotic and expensive feature. AV amplifiers with on-board Dolby Digital and dts decoders are also the norm rather than the exception. Replacing his trusty V393 would be one solution, however if Graham is happy with his current amplifier and speaker setup he might find it easier and cheaper to replace the DVD player, which is also getting on a bit now. DVD players built-in 5.1 surround decoders are all fitted with discrete analogue channel outputs and can be connected directly to his amplifier with standard phono-to-phono stereo cables. 



10. Name Paul Lockett


Kit None as yet


Paul has recently moved to France and wants to buy a rear projection TV. His problem is he is confused by 4:3 and widescreen 16:9 format TVs and can't decide between a 4:3 Sony KP41PX1 or a 16:9 Thomson Scenium 44RW67E. He watches a lot of 4:3 programmes and doesn't like the way they are stretched on widescreen TVs. He also wonders if 100Hz picture processing is important.


Expert Reply

The TV and broadcasting industry is about two thirds of the way through a ten-year transition period from 4:3 to widescreen, and not just in the UK, it’s happening worldwide, even in France. The point is since the mid 1990s almost all new TV programmes have been shot in widescreen, broadcasters are moving increasingly towards digital platforms, which are designed to handle widescreen transmissions, most movies made since the mid 1960s have been filmed in widescreen, virtually all movies released on DVD are in widescreen format; there’s no escape, it’s a widescreen world. Even if Paul continues to watch old material virtually all 16:9 TVs have a 4:3 display mode, so he doesn’t have to put up with the sometimes awkward stretch display, though if memory serves the Thomson RW67E does quite a good job of it. 


A 100Hz display is a near necessity on any screen over 28-inches, the flickering at the edges of a standard 50Hz picture becomes much more noticeable on a widescreen TV, but as the screen gets bigger it can become really annoying and on anything over 32-inches it is essential.  





The infra-red remote control systems used on pretty well all home AV components dates back to the days when remote controls on TV were a rare and expensive luxury, and almost unheard of on hi-fi equipment. Early remotes were mostly limited to controlling just a small handful of functions like channel change and volume. The system is based on a technique called carrier modulation. In English that basically means the invisible infrared light coming from the front of your remote handset is being switched on and off somewhere between 35,000 and 60,000 times a second (35 to 60kHz), depending which button is pressed. There are some exceptions, the remote control systems used on Bang & Olufsen products, for example, operate at much higher frequencies, which is why some universal remotes can’t handle them, but in general most companies stick to the same basic specifications and an agreed set of command code protocols, to stop one maker’s remote handset interfering with another manufacturer’s equipment. The IrDA (Infrared Devices Association) system, used by the computer industry, and the variant used on NTL cable boxes differs in that it is not carrier based, instead devices transmit a stream of pulses, at a frequency of 115kHz. The data stream consists of packet of data, comprising 7 bytes, lasting for around 600 microseconds. This basically means it can handle quite large amounts of data, compared with an AV remote control system. The data packages contain information identifying each particular device, which prevents interference and devices receiving data not meant for it.





One of the less well-known differences between Dolby Digital and dts (digital theatre sound) concerns the way the two systems are used in movie theatres, and this has had a direct bearing on the evolution of home cinema surround systems.


The soundtrack on Dolby Digital movies is printed on the actual film, in between the sprocket holes. However, there is a limit to the amount of data that can be squeezed into this very small space, hence the need for comparatively high levels of compression. The aim of dts was to provide the highest quality multi-channel sound for cinemas and the developers quickly realised that there wasn’t enough room on movie prints for any additional audio information so they took the bold decision to put the soundtrack onto separate media, electronically synchronised with the movie film. Initial tests with DAT (digital audio tape) proved unreliable if the film had been edited or damaged the data on the tape took too long to re-synchronise. Eventually it was decided to reprise an idea dating back to the early ‘talkies’ and the dts movie soundtracks are recorded on disc. In fact dts sound is held on specially mastered CD-ROMs, a disc holds around 100 minutes of soundtrack so a typical movie needs two discs and to make sure the film and the soundtrack stay together they are transported in specially designed canisters. 


Cramming the large amounts of data in a dts soundtracks into the confines of a DVD proved to be quite a challenge but aficionados claim it was well worth the effort and the lower compression levels produce a sound that’s as close to the cinema ‘master quality’ as it’s possible to get.




Ó R. Maybury 2002, 0702






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