HINTS & TIPS HE105
Name Richard Downes
Kit Microsoft X-Box
Problem I'm thinking of buying an X-Box
but am unsure how to connect it to a projector? The projector has two
component/RGB inputs, an S-video, and a composite input. The wires would need
to be 7m long to route through the ceiling. I am also unsure of what type of
connections is available at the rear of the X-Box. Has it got an optical out
for the 5.1 channel sound?
Reply X-Box has a proprietary multi-pin socket
that carries composite, S-Video and RGB video signals, as well as analogue and
digital audio connections. It also has a separate optical digital output
(TOSlink) on the back for connection to a Dolby Digital/dts amplifier. A
variety of cable configurations are available, as well as ‘break out’ boxes
fitted with all of the different types of connectors. In theory you will get
the best results with an RGB connection between the X-Box and the projector,
followed by S-Video, however, there is a problem. Neither RGB or S-Video
signals travel very well and picture quality can degrade over cable runs of
more than a few metres. That’s not to say it cannot be done, in the case of RGB
you will need a device called a signal equaliser, and rather a lot of cable, by
which time it’s all getting a bit complicated, not to say expensive. You might
just get away with an S-Video connection, the maximum recommended cable length
is around 6 metres and provided you use the longest and best quality extension
leads you can lay your hands on the small drop in quality may go unnoticed. Two
or more leads can be joined using ‘couplers’ and again only use good quality
products, preferably with gold-plated contacts. Otherwise the only solution is
to use a straightforward composite video connection.
The problem with long cable runs is that
the electrical characteristics of the cable – impedance, capacitance and
inductance – become increasingly significant, attenuating certain frequencies.
Noise also increases in direct proportion to cable length, though it generally
only starts to become a problem over distances of 20 to 30 metres. Video
signals are a very complex mixture of frequencies and waveforms and the
weakening effects of a long cable can have a number of effects, from unstable
colour to loss of synchronisation.
Kit Fujitsu PDS 4242 Plasma Screen, Pioneer DV 05 DVD player
(soon to be upgraded), Panasonic sky digital box, Lexicon MC1, Audiolab power
Problem I have just purchased a
Fujitsu PDS 4242 Plasma Screen. The picture quality from my Pioneer DV 05 DVD
player is great, Sky digital on the other hand isn't. The picture suffers from
a jagged edge around objects especially when viewing football matches. I have
been told that a video Scaler would dramatically improve the picture quality,
but will it be as much as I'm led to believe, especially considering the price.
basic theory is sound; a video scaler converts 625-line/50Hz video signals
coming out of a DVD player into a non-interlaced computer display signal. This
has two major benefits, firstly the refresh rate will be increased, to at least
75Hz, eliminating the annoying 50Hz flicker, and doing away with the interlaced
line structure should produce a crisper, sharper image. However, whilst your
plasma panel has a PC-type VGA input, according to our information – and we
stand to be corrected -- it is not capable of handling the panel’s ‘native’
resolution. In other words it cannot address all of the pixels individually and
the actual displayed resolution will be the VGA standard of 640 x 480 pixels.
That means the image will not be as sharp as it could be, possibly only a
little better than what you would get using normal video connections. More
fundamentally, you cannot turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse and converting a
picture already fairly heavily laced with digital artefacts and ‘block noise’
will probably only make the defects more obvious. Whether or not the possible
small improvements in picture quality are worth the fairly significant cost of
one of these devices is doubtful.
Kit Musical Fidelity X series Amplifier/CD
and tuner, Castle Harlech speakers. NEC PlasmaSync 42MP3 screen (no Tuner),
Pioneer DV-444 DVD player, Aiwa FX2500 VCR, (cable TV will be available soon).
of my entertainment revolves around the hi-fi and I want to run the cinema
elements through this set-up and I would like to achieve the best in sound and
video quality. How do I connect the TV/DVD and VCR without creating a Spaghetti
Junction of cables? Finally, when the cable TV link is available will this need
to be connected directly to the screen or would this be fed through the VCR?
Reply Unfortunately until the glorious day
when all AV products can be connected by wireless link a ‘spaghetti junction’
of some sort is inevitable, but we’ll try and keep it as manageable as
possible. First the DVD player, for the best possible picture quality you
should connect the player to the panel using RGB video, you’ll need a special
SCART-to-RCA or SCART-to Phono (with phono to RCA adaptors) cable, these are
not very common but any good AV dealer should be able to get one or make one up
for you. The VCR connects to the panel’s Video 1 input using a Type V
SCART-to-phono. The 42MP3 doesn’t appear to have any audio loop-through
connections so you can either connect both the VCR and DVD’s audio output to
the panel, or send them straight to the amplifier, which will obviously give
better results. As and when you get cable the best way to integrate that into
your system is to use a SCART-to-SCART cable between the cable box and the VCR.
This arrangement will also allow you to record cable TV programmes.
A SCART-to-RGB lead actually has four
cables, one for each of the red, green and blue colour signals and a fourth one
carrying the ‘H-Sync’ (horizontal sync) signals. For those of you that might be
handy with a soldering iron the pin connections for an RGB output lead are as
follows: pins 7 & 4 blue out and blue ground, 11 & 9 green out and
ground, 15 & 13 red out and ground and 19 & 17 sync out and ground.
Kit JVC AV-32WFT1 TV, Pioneer 525 DVD player, Sony STR-DB930,
Eltax Symphony 6.5 main, Eltax HT2 centre and Kef Q55's rears
Problem I am looking to upgrade my
DVD Player. I use the system as my main hi-fi so I'm looking for an improvement
in CD playback as well as improved picture and sound for home cinema. With so
many different recommendations I'm not sure where to start. If I go for
something with DVD-Audio/SACD capability is it likely I will need to get a
decent pair of rear speakers to sonically match the front ones?
Reply It really depends how much you want to
spend. It’s a bit of a generalisation but it’s fair to say that most DVD
players costing under £250 or so are mainly designed for DVD playback. Of
course they can all play audio CDs, and many of them make a pretty good job of
it, but if you’re looking for the kind of performance you get from mid-range to
high-end hi-fi separates you are going to have to dig a little deeper, upwards
of £350, say. This will buy you an optical pickup optimised for both DVD and
CD, improved deck mechanism, separate audio processing and (heavy duty) power
supply circuits plus a more substantial chassis with additional damping.
Without naming names, you can take it as read that DVD players from companies
with a good track record in hi-fi should be on your shortlist.
Going the DVD-Audio/SACD route isn’t
necessarily about better sound quality at least not as far as your existing CD
collection will be concerned. Before you take the plunge you should make sure
that whichever format you opt for has enough software available to satisfy your
tastes right now because there is a chance that one format will fail, in which
case the supply of new titles will probably dry up very quickly.
The main difference between CDs and DVDs
is the size of the microscopic reflective ‘pits’ that make up the disc’s
reflective layer and represent the digital data stored on the disc. The pits on
a DVD are around half the size of those on CDs, in order to read the pits
correctly the wavelength of the laser beam has to be 640nm (nanometres) for DVD
and 780nm for CD. Cheaper players get by with one laser pickup but more
expensive models have twin lasers or dual wavelength lasers.
Kit wants digital TV
in Poole, Dorset, currently hooked up to cable, but looking for 'free
channels’. Your ‘More TV For Less’ feature in the April issue looked as if it
was the answer. ITV Digital is not available in my area so my only alternative
is Sky. Then I read I have to fork out £215 + £100. If 'free channels' are
intended to give digital TV the kick start it needs how are they ever going to
get started if big business bucks block their reception by the average viewer.
I may be missing something but can you advise any cheaper way of receiving
these so-called free channels?
Reply In spite of the collapse of ITV Digital
the infrastructure remains in place and transmitters are still being upgraded;
it’s just possible that you will be able to receive the signal one day and you
could get one of those rumoured £60 free to air set-top boxes. There are also
lots of ITV Digital receivers going for a song on ebay (www.ebay.co.uk). However, digital satellite
remains your best bet. The trick is to sign up for a year’s subscription, which
will get you a free digibox and subsidised installation (currently just £1.00
with some packages, if you order online at
http://www1.sky.com/skycomHome/getsky/). Even if you opt for the most basic
subscription deal (Value Entertainment Package, £10 per month) and pay the full
price installation fee of £50 your outlay in the first year will only be around
£170, and if you decide to cancel your subscription at the end of you the year
you can continue to receive the 13 free-to air TV channels and a dozen or so
If you’re an ex ITV Digital subscriber
hang on to your set-top box, it should continue to supply you with free to air
channels for the foreseeable future and technically they remain the property of
ITV digital, though it’s unlikely they’ll be coming round to collect them. You
should also hang on to your woollen ‘Monkey’, and keep it in its box. They’re
rapidly becoming sought-after collectors items and pristine examples have been
changing hands on ebay recently for as much as £120!
Name Ron Trowell
Kit Sony KV-32DS60 TV, Sony SLV-SE800 VCR
TV and VCR have been set up and tuned to each other and whilst I can timeshift
BBC1 & 2, ITV and Channel 4 I cannot timeshift Channel 5 or any of the
other ‘free to air’ programmes. I purchased the TV with Smartlink capability in
the belief that I could record all channels. Is my equipment set up
Reply Our first instinct was to wheel out the
standard RTFM (read the ‘flippin’ manual – or words to that effect) reply but
after asking the technical bods at Sony for confirmation that Ron Trowell
wasn’t pressing the right buttons, now we’re not so sure… A Sony spokesperson
assured us they hadn’t come across this particular problem before but they did
acknowledge that it might be something to do with the TV’s software. They
recommended that Mr Trowell should contact his local Sony dealer, or the shop
where he bought it from and ask them to check out the software version, to make
sure it’s the latest issue, and if necessary carry out an upgrade. This will be
done free of charge, even if the set is out of guarantee. Sony also suggested
that this kind of deviant behaviour could be also caused by a system error on
the broadcast side, the TV channel sending the wrong codes and so on, though
this apparently only affects some digital TV/VCR combinations, and only in some
areas. Mysterious stuff… If anyone else has experienced this sort problem – and
we’d very much like to hear from you – you should contact the Sony Customer
Helpline on 07805 111999 and they’ll be able to tell you what to do next.
GETTING STARTED – VIDEO SCALING
Video scaling is another attempt to
improve the picture quality of digital home entertainment systems like DVD by
recreating the kind of sharp rock-steady and flicker-free displays that we are
used to seeing on our computer monitors. Scaling is different to most other
systems, such as line-doubling, de-interlacing and progressive scan, in that it
involves making fundamental changes to the source video signal, converting it
from its original format (i.e. PAL or NTSC), into a form that can be displayed
on a computer monitor or display device. A growing number of video projectors,
plasma panels and even some high end home cinema TVs are now equipped with a PC
type VGA, SVGA and USVGA etc. monitor inputs capable of handling video
resolutions up to and beyond 1600 x 1200 pixels.
The output signal from a scaler can
usually be configured, manually or automatically, to suit the ‘native’
resolution of the display device. Essentially this means matching the signal
from the output device pixel for pixel to the display screen in order to
produce the best possible picture quality.
Scaling is a fairly complex and therefore
quite costly business involving a number processes, including de-interlacing,
and sophisticated algorithms, to alter the resolution, refresh rate and aspect
ratio to suit the display device. The latter reduces the need for picture
cropping or re-shaping, which inevitably degrades the image. Scalers are
currently quite expensive though prices are falling as more products appear and
the number of compatible display devices grows.
Ó R. Maybury 2002,