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Name Roman Bershadsky

Kit None as yet

Problem Roman is considering buying a new audio system on a tight budget. He’s a musician, so stereo performance is the main concern, but he’s like to use it as a home cinema system, but stereo is more important than surround. Roman wants a DVD player that has superb music CD quality, a receiver that has extremely good stereo, a 7-10 band equaliser, good sounding main stereo speakers with good bass and a centre and rear channel that are cheap but okay.



As a musician Roman should know only too well that quality instruments are expensive and the same applies to hi-fi and home cinema, so he must be realistic about his expectations. Nevertheless it is possible to put together a very good sounding system for a relatively modest amount, if you follow some simple rules. The first one is that the core components in any system are the ones that make the noise, in other words the speakers. As a general rule of thumb Roman should reckon on spending at least a half and quite possibly as much as two thirds of his budget on the speakers, and usually (though not always) bigger boxes make better sounds. 


All DVD players make a fair fist of playing audio CDs, most are at least as good as mid-market hi-fi components, a few qualify as high-end audio components but they tend to come with price tags to match – from around £800 upwards – which we suspect may be stretching Roman’s budget. That’s not to say mid-market machines can’t cut the mustard with audio CDs, several players with dual-mode pickups have a very good record in this respect, and Roman can save himself a few bob by not worrying about models with built-in 5.1 channel surround decoders, the best place for that is in the AV amp.


Rather than make any specific recommendations – difficult in any case without knowing how much he has to spend and the nature of the room he’ll be using it in -- Roman could do worse than have a look through the winners and nominees in each category in our recent Awards issue.





Name Steve Ballantyne

Kit Goodmans DVD-100 DVD player

Problem Steve would like to hack the region lock for his father’s Goodmans DVD-100 player, but cannot find the codes anywhere. Do we know of any codes to hack Goodmans DVD players?



We couldn’t find any listing for a Goodmans GDVD-100 in our records, though we did come across a couple of Internet sites selling them, however on closer inspection they turned out to be listing errors and were in fact GDVD-100’s, which is a roundabout way of saying that you should always check your model numbers, especially with DVD players as they all tend to be quite similar. If, as we suspect Steve is referring to the GDVD-100 then there is a possible hack for this machine, though apparently it doesn’t always work, possibly due to different versions of the player’s firmware (the software that controls how the machine operates). If Steve want to give it a try, the procedure is to switch the player on, make sure there’s no disc in the tray, and press the following sequence of keys on the remote handset: Setup >  Menu > Step > Previous. This will take him to a hidden setup menu, with the option to change the region code.


In answer to the second part of Steve’s question, yes, we do know hack codes for a couple of other Goodmans players.


GDV-124 – with no disc loaded press 7, 4, Enter, menu appears, enter Region number or 13 for All Region, press Return to exit and save.


GDV-3000 – press Menu, 1, 6, 7 for region selection menu, enter region number or press Mute for all regions.





Name Anthony Reid

Kit Yamaha DSP-A1 amp, Sony KV28WF1 TV, Mordaunt Short MS20i Pearl (Front), MS10i Pearl (Surround), MSCi (Centre), REL Strata II subwoofer, Pioneer DV-515 DVD player.

Problem Anthony has reached a home cinema dead-end after three years of building up and adding to his system. He has a standard size living room, into which all his equipment fits neatly. He would like to further expand his system by purchasing a Marantz MM9000, to use with the A1 and possibly upgrade my speakers. Would he benefit from doing this or would a bigger picture (from a projector for example) be a better bet, he wonders?



Anthony has clearly spent a lot of time and trouble refining the audio side of his AV system, and, reading between the lines he sounds as though he is generally satisfied with the results but is now looking for extra impact. However, whilst the Marantz amp would almost certainly bring about some improvements, the next logical step would be to go for a bigger display. His present Sony TV is a decent enough model but 28-inches is the smallest size we would consider for anything approaching serious home cinema use. Exactly how big Anthony should go depends on how much he has to spend, how much room he has available, and the seating position, but if funds permit, he can shift the furniture and speakers around, make space for a screen and control the ambient lighting, then a front projector will get him a lot closer to the cinema experience, compared with a conventional large-screen TV or back-projector. Front projectors are not an easy option and it will involve Anthony in a fair amount of work, but quite simply there’s nothing to beat the sensation of watching a movie on a big screen that fills your field of vision.



When buying a projector don’t penny-pinch or skimp on performance. It’s much better to get a projector with a light output and resolution that comfortably exceeds your requirements – i.e. room size, viewing distance and screen dimension and so on -- than make do with one that’s only just up to the job. Apart from the extra ‘headroom’ it also means you won’t have to buy a new projector if you move your home cinema to another larger room, or move house.





Name Neil Armitage

Kit Sony DVP-S735 Multi region DVD player, Sony STR-DE445 receiver, KEF KHT2005 sub/sat speakers, Sony

KV28FX20 television.

Problem Neil is considering upgrading the receiver to a Sony STR-DB1070 or STR-DE870/875. Would these receivers offer a leap in performance worth the outlay or is the performance his current receiver comparable? He wonders if the extra power per channel drives the speakers any better?


On a different note: When he plays Region One DVDs, the picture has a slight but noticeable flicker to the bottom left corner. Neil wonders if this is normal?



A ‘leap’ in performance is unlikely with either amp, and on a broader note, upgrading components with a similar specification from the same manufacturer, especially when they’re in the same general price ballpark and of the same vintage rarely makes a huge difference. As we’ve said before, output power isn’t the be-all and end-all of system performance, and louder certainly doesn’t mean better, especially if the speakers can’t handle the extra power. If Neil wants more muscle he will probably have to take a more holistic approach and consider upgrading both the amplifier and the speakers.


The screen flicker on Neil’s DVD player is almost certainly due to the fact that it has been ‘chipped’ to play R1 discs. Unfortunately, when you submit your player for chipping, or buy one that has already been modified you have no way of knowing how good it will be, or what effect it’s going to have, now and in the future as movie companies dream up new ways to defeat region switching. Once the box has been opened and changes made you’ve no comeback from the manufacturer, and the company that carried out the work may be less than sympathetic, assuming they’re still in business…



If the facility to play Region 1 discs is a priority then you should choose a player with a ‘hackable’ region lock. That means being able to change to change the region code in the machine’s ‘firmware’ (the software that controls how it works) by pressing a few buttons, or entering a simple code via the handset. No physical changes are made to the machine and since it’s a built-in (though unadvertised) facility the manufacturer’s warranty isn’t affected.





Name John Birdsall

Kit Unnamed TV, DVD, digital cable, VCR, AV amp

Problem John moved into his new house and has recently signed up to digital cable. He is wondering what is the best way to connect my system. The TV set has just one SCART socket, the cable box and VCR both have two SCART sockets, the DVD has composite, component and S-Video connections and the AV amplifier only connects with composite video only. There are also digital and analogue audio connections, too. John wonders what is the best way of hooking all of this together?



The single SCART socket on John’s TV is a problem, there are ways around it but if it’s an oldish set -- at or close to retirement age -- John should consider getting a new telly with at least two and preferably three SCART sockets and an S-Video input. Ideally the DVD player should connect directly to the TV, that’s because the player’s video output carries a Macrovision spoiler signal, designed to stop DVDs being taped. If the DVD is ‘daisy chained’ with the video recorder there’s a very good chance that the picture from the DVD will be unwatchable as the Macrovision signal interacts with the VCR.


From the sound of it John’s AV amp has some video switching functions, in which case he will need two SCART-to-phono leads. One goes to the DVD player, the second to the cable box and VCR (daisy-chained by SCART-to-SCART cable so John can tape cable TV programmes). He’ll also need one ‘input’ type phono-to-SCART to connect the amp to the TV. The stereo outputs from the VCR and cable box go to the appropriate inputs on the amp, if it has a built-in digital surround decoder he should use a coaxial or optical cable from the DVD player, otherwise use another stereo cable. If the amp can’t be used the alternative is a SCART switcher, obtainable from AV dealers for around £20.



When buying SCART-to-phono leads it is vitally important to specify which type you need. There are two: AV out leads are wired so that the video and audio outputs are on the phono plugs, whilst on AV in leads the phonos are wired the other way around, as inputs. Switched and double-wired SCART-to-phono leads are also available though inevitably they are more expensive.





Name Paul Steggles

Kit Sony KV25X5 TV, unnamed hi-fi system

Problem Paul is hoping to buy a multi-region Sony DVP-S735 DVD player and wonders if his Sony TV will accept NTSC pictures. Also, Paul will be connecting the player to his existing stereo system and wonders if he can connect an active sub directly to the DVD player without a separate AV amp?



Paul’s TV can handle ‘raw’ NTSC video signals but this shouldn’t be necessary as the Sony DVP-S735, like pretty well all Euro spec DVD players can be set to output a pseudo-PAL (aka PAL 60) video signal, when playing NTSC discs. This type of partially converted video signal is compatible with most recent PAL TVs. The thinking behind this facility is that it allows owners of Region 2 DVD players to purchase and play Region-free discs, most of which are produced in the US and therefore will contain NTSC recordings. (As a matter of interest US DVD players are normally NTSC only because the standards conversion trick doesn’t work the other way around).


Of course there’s nothing to stop Paul using the internal 5.1 channel surround sound decoder on the DVP-S735 and connecting an active sub to the machine’s sub-woofer output, and hooking up the front stereo channels outputs to his hi-fi system. However, that means he will be missing out on the right and left stereo surround sound channels, which usually contain a lot of information and effects. The two extra channels are an essential ingredient in surround sound and genuinely enhance the atmosphere on most movies.





Name Sherry Gosnell

Kit Hitachi C36WF810TN, Sony DVP-S735 DVD

Problem Sherry asks why do some DVDs have black bars on the top and bottom of the picture but not on others. e.g. Snatch is full screen but Matrix has black bars top and bottom. Sherry has tried to change screen ratios both in the Sony set-up menu and on the TV menu, but to no avail.



It’s all down to our old friend screen aspect ratio. Sherry’s Hitachi TV is a 16:9 widescreen model, in other words, it is 16-units wide by 9 units deep. The movie Snatch was shot in an aspect ratio 1.85:1, which a quick tap on the HE calculator reveals also be expressed as 16.65:9, which is pretty darn close to 16:9, in other words the movie Snatch is a good fit for a 16:9 screen. The Matrix on the other hand was shot with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and if you do the same calculations it comes out to 21.1:9, which results in a wider, thinner picture. When the movie is transferred to DVD the producers had two choices, format the movie so that it fills a 16:9 screen, which will mean lopping off the sides of the picture, or keeping the purists happy and showing the whole picture, which results in the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.  Most widescreen TVs these days have the facility to jiggle the picture so that it fits, but this almost always results in some distortion or cropping of the picture. Unfortunately, unless movie-makers standardise on picture formats or someone invents a variable geometry TV screen it’s just something we have to live with.





Name Shane Thompson

Kit Sony KP-7210PS projector

Problem Shane’s Sony projector needs some attention. It needs a thorough clean inside and realignment as the picture is blurred and slants down one side. Shane would like to keep the ‘big-screen experience’ but has limited funds and cannot afford the newer, smaller and sleeker projectors currently available. He wonders if the product is worth repairing and if so how much will it cost?



Shane’s video projector is a real old-timer, almost a museum piece. It took us the best part of a day to track this one down. Catalogue and Internet searches proved fruitless, though we did manage to find a projector with a very similar model number for sale at a school, in Southern Australia…


Confirmation that Shane (and we) were not going mad finally came courtesy of our good friends at Sony Service, who found a reference to it in their archives. This model was built more than twenty years ago, back in 1979. Suffice it to say even Sony, which has a good reputation for keeping parts for old and obsolete products no longer have any spares for this particular model. Even if they did we suspect they would cost a small fortune. It’s a minor miracle that Shane’s projector is working at all – they really built them to last back then -- but the symptoms he describes sound exactly like worn out CRT projection tubes. To give him an idea of what he’s up against replacement tubes for more recent models cost in the region of £200 to £300 each, and all three should be replaced together! Unfortunately Shane is just going to have to start saving if he wants to continue the big screen experience.





Name Patrick Randall

Kit Sony KV36FS70 TV, Toshiba SD210E DVD player, Sky digibox, B&W CM4 speakers

Problem Patrick’s experiences with DVD meant that terrestrial TV just wasn’t good enough anymore. So, Patrick had Sky Digital installed. Trouble is, the Toshiba only has one SCART socket and the Sony TV only has one SCART socket with RGB connections, leaving Patrick with less than perfect pictures from either the DVD player or the Sky digibox. What should he do?


Patrick is also plagued by bad colour staining from his front speakers. Although the speaker is a metre from the set, it still leaves a yellow stain on the bottom right of the screen and switching the set on and off does nothing to correct the stain. Is there any way to correct this?



No doubt about it, the RGB input on Patrick’s TV would do most good when it’s used by the DVD player. In any case not all Sky digibox have RGB enabled outputs but even on those that do the benefits are marginal. The point about an RGB video signal connection is that it bypasses several processing stages that can degrade the video signal. RGB makes a lot of sense when dealing with a high quality video source, such as DVD, but digital satellite TV is not in that category. RGB won’t do anything for motion artefacts, smearing and texturing that all digital TV channels suffer from to some extent. At best picture quality is okay and there are those that argue – with some justification – that it’s still not a patch on analogue TV.


All colour TVs have a built in ‘degauss’ coil that can handle low-level magnetic fields – the screen is usually automatically de-magnetised at switch on – but if it is faulty, or the field from the speakers is unusually strong then the staining won’t go away. Patrick should have his TV looked at, to make sure the degauss system is working, otherwise the speakers will have to be moved even further away, or he should change to magnetically shielded types.



It’s not only loudspeakers that can cause magnetic staining, the Earth’s own magnetic field can have a long-term effect if not dealt with, though the automatic degauss systems on colour TVs usually neutralise it. Large metallic objects can also develop magnetic fields so beware of positioning a TV close to radiators and pipes or structural beams embedded in walls or under the floor.




Name John Crawford

Kit Panasonic 36” Tau TV, Meridian 508 CD, 551 integrated stereo amp, Monitor Audio speakers.

Problem John is looking to build a surround system and wonders if he can use his hi-fi as part of a surround system and what speakers and AV system would compliment it. As John spent over £5,000 on his stereo kit, he is reluctant to start all over again. He has looked at the Yamaha AV range and like the look of the KEF KHT 2005 as he can’t have huge speakers on top of the TV, and plans to spend a lot less than he did on his hi-fi.



The bottom line is that hi-fi and home cinema are two quite diverse technologies with very different aims. In its purest form hi-fi seeks to reproduce the subtleties and sensation of listening to a live musical performance whilst home cinema aims to recreate the movie theatre experience, in your living room, preferably blowing your socks off in the process! Using high-end hi-fi kit in that role is rarely very satisfying, to begin with there’s not enough channels, the speakers are often ill suited to the task and they’re usually in completely the wrong place. In other words John should leave his hi-fi alone, doing what it does best and splash out on an AV amp and speakers. Fortunately he won’t have to spend anything like five grand to achieve very satisfying results. The Yamaha and Kef components he identifies will indeed form the basis of a useful system, but he shouldn’t go on looks alone and it’s worth his while listening to a few systems first. One last thing, if John is not to be sorely disappointed he must remember that it’s unwise to compare the highly compressed and processed sound of a DVD soundtrack with a carefully engineered audio CD or vinyl LP sound, though when it’s done properly, both will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and tingle…  




Why is RGB better than S-Video or composite video? The reason is simple the red green and blue elements of an RBG signal represent ‘raw’ video information in its purest form, which delivers the full bandwidth of the signal and therefore the best possible picture. The decoding and processing circuitry inside a video source component -- like a DVD player - operates at the RGB signal level, as does the display circuitry inside a television or video projector, but unless both devices can be linked together with an RGB connection the video information has to be converted into another mutually compatible format. The basic standard is ‘composite’ video, where RGB information is combined with synchronisation signals and can be carried by a single shielded cable. However, mixing so many complex signals together causes problems, the signals interact resulting in the characteristic ‘herringbone’ and moiré effects in highly patterned areas of the picture. The alternative is S-Video (or Y/C) where colour and brightness information is separated, to stop them interacting with one another. However, in both cases the unsullied RGB video information has to be ‘modulated’ by the source component, and then de-modulated back to RGB by the display device. These extra stages of processing introduce noise into the signal and reduce its bandwidth, which ultimately reduces picture quality.




Although most TV programmes are now made in widescreen format there’s still a lot of 4:3 material around and this can look decidedly odd when shown on a 16:9 display, with intrusive black borders at either side of the picture. Widescreen TVs have always been able to electronically enlarge a 4:3 picture to fill the whole screen but a lot of widescreen sets nowadays have a clever trick whereby a 4:3 picture is effectively re-formatted to fill a 16:9 display, without cropping the top and bottom of the picture, so it doesn’t cut off people’s heads, or obscure captions along the bottom edge of the screen. This facility, sometimes called Panorama mode displays the picture at full screen height then subtly stretches the outermost thirds of the picture to the edges of the screen. On some models the effect can be barely noticeable though sometimes you may be aware that objects moving vertically, up or down the screen can have a slightly ‘barrelled’ appearance. It often shows up on end credits too, which can appear to be curved. People and objects close to the edges of the screen may also look a bit odd, making them appear a good deal fatter than normal, though as they move towards the centre of the screen the extra weight falls off like magic…




Ó R. Maybury 2001, 3011




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