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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.



                Fujitsu PDS 4242 Plasma Screen, Pioneer DV 05 DVD player (soon to be upgraded), Panasonic sky digital box, Lexicon MC1, Audiolab power amps.
        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.
            The 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.



            Colin Groves

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).

Problem        Most 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.




            Ned Chapman
                JVC AV-32WFT1 TV, Pioneer 525 DVD player, Sony STR-DB930, Eltax Symphony 6.5 main, Eltax HT2 centre and Kef Q55's rears
        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.



           Brian Sexton

Kit                wants digital TV

Problem        I'm 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 radio channels.




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

Problem        The 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 incorrectly?


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.






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, 0705








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