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Name                            Simon Roberts

Kit                                Sony DVP S335 DVD, Loewe Aconda 9381 TV

Problem                        I bought a chipped Sony DVP S335 last year. At the time I had a fairly old (circa 1991) Sony TV and all appeared to function correctly. I recently upgraded my TV to a Loewe Aconda 9381 and now have problems with DVD playback; a replacement TV is the same. Loewe technical help suggested trying an S-Video connection but the picture was almost completely white and composite video gives the same result. Technical support at the company that sold the DVD player were dismissive and said my DVD player is obsolete and incompatible with the TV. Other DVD players work fine on the new TV via all inputs.


Expert Reply                 It seems very unlikely that the region code modification has anything to do with it as this only works on a data processing level, it mere tells the player’s decoder whether or not it can play the disc. In theory there should be no incompatibility issues between TVs and DVD players, or any other AV component for that matter, (see Getting Started) and certainly not on any product made in the past twenty years at least and your player is definitely not obsolete! Nevertheless something similar happened a few years ago when certain brands of VCR produced over bright images on some TVs. In that case the problem turned out to be the video output on the VCR was over-modulating, but only just and most TVs were able to compensate. It’s possible that something similar is happening here and the DVD player’s video output level is worth investigating, unfortunately this requires specialised test equipment and since the machine is now out of guarantee it’s going to cost you to have it checked out. With region-free players now selling for less than £100 you’re going to have to ask yourself is it worth the expense?




Name                            Bharamee Pongpaibul

Kit                                Denon 3802 amplifier, B&W speakers, REL sub

Problem                        I am trying to put together a system for a room of about 4 by 5 metres and decided on a Denon 3802 amplifier and B&W DM603, 602, LCR6 speakers, and a REL Q150 sub, what do you think? I have around £2000 to spend on a screen but I'm not sure what to go for, a 36-inch CRT (it will probably be the new Philips 36 inch pixel plus model), a widescreen rear projector, or a projector. The sofa will be 2 to 3 metres from the screen.


Expert Reply             You have obviously done your homework on the amplifier and speakers and the components you have chosen should work well together. Deciding on a screen often comes down to size. There are a couple of useful rules of thumb (see also Getting Started) to work out optimum screen size, the simplest (for 16:9 widescreen) is to divide viewing distance by between 3 and 5 to get the screen height. Assuming a distance of 2.5 metres some rough calculations gives a screen height of between 50 and 80cm, which translates to screen diagonals of 1.1 to 1.6 metres or around 46 to 62 inches. That suggests that a 36-inch CRT is going to look a bit on the small side at that distance, but don’t let that put you off the picture quality on the Philips set is excellent and you can always scooch the sofa a bit closer. Otherwise it’s going to have to be a back or front projector and that’s going to depend on practical considerations as much as anything else. Both types work best in controlled and subdued lighting, back projectors are big and tend to have a fairly narrow field of view, with a front projector you have to consider the mounting position and provision for a screen. When you’ve come to a decision on screen size and display type drop us another line and we’ll talk model numbers.




Name                            Allan Stanners

Kit                                Arcam DV88 DVD, Sony KV-32FQ72 TV, Sony STR-DB940 Receiver

Montor Audio Bronze 1’s, 3’s & Centre, Auso ASW100 Sub

Problem                        I am planning to migrate my existing system (gradually if possible) to a more high-end setup. I plan on keeping both the Sony TV and Arcam DVD player and would like to focus on the audio reproduction initially.  I'm considering a Tag McLaren 100x5r amp and B&W 600 S3's (603, 602.5 ASW500 and LCR600).  At a later date I would like to introduce the Tag McLaren AV32 processor however my budget won't allow this just yet. Can I connect the Arcam directly to the 100x5r in some way or will I be forced to wait until I can afford a processor?


Expert Reply                 The problem is a common one as you move higher up the home cinema ladder. Your DVD player doesn’t have any on-board Dolby Digital/dts decoding facilities (but it does have coaxial and optical bitstream outputs) and the TagMcaren amplifier is just that, a basic (if a component costing the thick end of three grand can be called basic…) multi-channel amplifier with only analogue line level inputs. Of course there’s nothing to stop you connecting the stereo output from the Arcam player, via a simple pre-amp, to two of the Tagmacs inputs but it would be serious under utilisation of both components and probably a deeply unsatisfying experience when playing movies, though audio CDs should sound quite good... There’s no easy answer, assuming that as far as performance is concerned you are unwilling to make too many sacrifices.  If you want to hang on to the Arcam player (and why not, it’s an excellent piece of kit) and you are wedded to the TagMclaren amp then you are going to have to dig deep and get that processor or bide you time with something a little cheaper, but be warned, there’s not much around for under £500. Otherwise you are going to have to ditch the Arcam player and get one with on-board decoders, or re-think your amplifier strategy.



There are relatively few reasons for buying a DVD player with built in 5.1 Dolby Digital and dts digital surround decoders. The only significant one is to be able to make use of an older multi-channel amp or several stereo amplifiers. This kind of setup will involve complex cabling – one lead for each of the six analogue channel outputs – and the increased likelihood of noisy or intermittent wiring.




Name                            Ian Caslake, Streatham

Kit                                Sony KV-32FX20U TV

Problem                        I have a Sony KV-32FX20U widescreen and I'm very happy with the picture apart from one annoying niggle. I watch DVD and satellite through the RGB SCART (using a switching box) and find that this gives me a far better picture than an S-Video connection. The problem is that with or without the switch box I find that the image on screen shifts to the left by around 5-8mm every time I hit select RGB out! I am no longer covered by the manufacturer guarantee so I wondered if you knew of any code I could use to shift the picture to the right?


Expert Reply                 As you may know your Sony TV (and virtually all televisions made in the past few years) has a hidden ‘service’ menu that allow access to a wide range of adjustments, including a full range of picture geometry settings. However, the reason these menus are hidden from the user is simple, you also need a service manual, expert knowledge and specialist test equipment to make use of the menus. Without them there is a very real danger that you might change critical settings, which could result in serious damage to your TV. We cannot in all good conscience publish the procedure and Sony certainly wouldn’t thank us for it, or the deluge of service calls that would undoubtedly follow. It’s likely that the picture setup on your TV is within or very close to factory tolerances but if – as it sounds – the shift small and not a fault you might persuade a qualified engineer to do the job for you. It shouldn’t be too expensive, it only take a few minutes, and providing you go to a Sony approved agent or a reputable company you’ll have some comeback if anything goes wrong.



It’s not only TVs that have Service Menus these days, most AV products have them and it’s all down to digital circuitry. In the olden days the initial factory set-up and any subsequent adjustments were mostly carried out by hand, using pre-set controls or ‘trimmers’, deep inside the box. These days it’s all done electronically, and built-in diagnostic circuitry can also make constant adjustments, to compensate for the ageing effects of electronic components and displays.





Name                            Gareth Ash

Kit                                Panasonic TX21S3T TV, Sony DAVS800 DVD

Problem                        In issue 100 you carried a query about playing NTSC discs on an old TV. I have a Panasonic TX21S3T and a Sony DAVS800 DVD player. The TV should accept PAL60 but unlike your response to Paul's letter the DAVS800 cannot be set to output pseudo PAL. The instructions say the Asian and Australian sets can be. Do you know a way that the DAVS800 can be made to output pseudo PAL? All of my regions 1s are playing in black and white.


Expert Reply                 The reason DAV-S500’s destined for the Asian and Australasian markets have a PAL 60 output (see Getting Started) is because of the mixture of TV standards in the region, particularly around the Pacific Rim. As far as we can determine this facility appears to be hardware dependent – additional or different components are used on those models – so it’s not something than can be switched on or off in the player’s firmware. There are three possible solutions, you can get a new TV with a ‘raw’ NTSC input, replace the DAV-S800 or try your luck with a NTSC to PAL standards converter. It’s unlikely you’ll want to part with the DAV-S800 just yet but your TV is a little on the small side and the wrong shape for serious home cinema, so maybe that’s worth thinking about. However, a standards converter would be the cheapest option, prices start at less than £50 (see www.lektropacks.co.uk) but the conversion process does involve some loss of quality and you may notice some ‘staggering’ in the picture, caused by the differences in the video signals. It may be acceptable on a smaller TV screen but it’s likely to be quite noticeable on a bigger TV.



PAL 60 or Pseudo PAL first appeared on VCRs back in the late 1980s. It took advantage of the fact that to save costs most TVs made since the mid 1980s were built for a world market and the display circuitry was able to handle both 525 and 625-line picture signals. A PAL 60 VCR or DVD player replays the NTSC 525 line signal as is, but changes the colour information from NTSC to PAL.






Name                            Dave Tootell, Alton, Hants

Kit                                Toshiba SD-100 DVD, Marantz SR4200 amp, Grundig widescreen TV, Sky digibox, Sony speakers

Problem                        I'm having great fun with this system but it's time to upgrade the speakers. Sound is generally fine for CDs, action DVDs and Sky music broadcasts like MTV but it disappoints on dialogue-based DVDs and the Pro Logic output from Sky. The sub is fine for my needs (my room is 3 x 5m in a flat) but I feel I need a centre speaker with deeper sound and front surrounds with a touch more bass for TV broadcasts. I always use the amp with the TV. I have about £200-250 to spare but is there anything out there within my budget?


Expert Reply                 You have to be realistic and accept that your budget of £200 to £250 isn’t going to be enough to replace all three front speakers and deliver the kind of improvements that you’re looking for, you could easily spend that much just on a set of cables…  Replacing just the centre speaker, which is where you say most of the problems are, is certainly an option and it might be worth short listing models with matching surrounds that you can buy when funds allow. It’s certainly worth having a look at the B&W CC6 S2, which is a consistent good performer and well within your price range. If you can rake together just a little more then the JM Labs CC700, part of the affordably priced Chorus range should be worth investigating.





Name                            Brian Clark

Kit                                Sanyo 950B projector, Pace Sky digibox

Problem                        Please could you tell me how to get the best possible picture from my Sanyo 950B Projector from a Pace Sky Digibox? The Projector is PAL only and has the following inputs: S-VHS, component video, composite Video. Is there another Digibox, which has either S-VHS or component connections? Also, I currently have my Sony 735 DVD player linked to the projector via three leads using the component video connections on the Projector and on the DVD. Is this better than using the S-VHS to S-VHS option?


Expert Reply                 The best, indeed the only connection option on your present setup is to use the composite video connections, not that S-Video (not S-VHS, that’s a tape format) or even RGB or component video connections would make a great deal of difference due to the way the video information is encoded. Satellite TV signals are very highly compressed and it’s a myth that they look better than analogue terrestrial, they don’t! Satellite and digital terrestrial TV for that matter is more about squeezing in extra channels, pay to view services and widescreen rather than better picture quality (unless you happen to live in a lousy terrestrial TV reception area…). In theory the component video connection between your DVD and projector will give best results when playing NTSC material (assuming that the player has been chipped), S-Video should be better for PAL (Region 1) movies, though the differences are likely to be very small indeed, but let your own eyes be the judge and decide for yourself.





Kit                                Pioneer VSX-609 RDS amp, Pioneer PDR-W839 CD recorder, Tannoy

Mercury MC centre speaker, Wharfedale Valdus 400 front speakers, Celestion 1 rear speakers, Sony 28-inch TV (eventually upgrading to widescreen)

Problem                        I am looking for a DVD player costing up to £300 that will compliment the rest of my system. After reading your reports my mind is boggling, all I want is a player that gives great pictures and sound and has its own built in digital decoders.


Expert Reply                 It’s really not as bad as you seem to think though it can look a bit daunting with more than 150 makes and models of DVD on the market at the moment, and they’re just the ones we know about... Your Pioneer amp is a few years old now and although it has a on-board Dolby Digital and dts decoder there have been reports of problems with DVDs with dts soundtracks using the bitstream input, which is presumably why you are looking for a player with built in 5.1 channel decoders. This narrows the field considerably. There are plenty of players with Dolby Digital decoders but not so many with dts as well. We can eliminate several of the cheaper dual-decoder models straight away for having indifferent or average picture performance and facilities, and a half dozen or so others for being well outside of your price range and that leaves us with just a very small handful of models to look at, including the Philips DVD-Q40, Haus H-615L and Cyberhome AD-L528.



Whilst there may be well over 150 DVD players to choose from one you get inside the box it’s a different matter. Only around half a dozen companies manufacture the main decoder and processor chipsets, and the same goes for deck mechanisms. There’s still plenty of opportunity for manufacturers to tweak and build in added value features but it’s not unknown for the same guts to turn up in players with a price differential of several hundred pounds.




Name                            Matt Wilson.

Kit                                Denon 3802 AV receiver, Denon 2800 DVD player, Sony VPL HS1 projector

Problem                        I have a Denon 3802 receiver plus a Denon 2800 DVD player linked to the M&K K3 series speaker package. I have just purchased the VPL HS1 projector from Sony and am very happy with DVD quality but shocked at the very poor image coming from my digital satellite decoder. The image on all stations is very grainy, with cross-hatching. Colour is flat and when adjusted up suffers bleed and just makes the picture worse. I have tested the decoder by plugging it direct to a separate TV, which is fine. Would a higher end projector give me a dramatically better image?


Expert Reply                 There are three issues here. Firstly satellite TV picture quality is not that great to start with. Second, video projectors, by their very nature magnify picture defects, so minor picture faults that may go unnoticed on a CRT display are writ large when blown up and shown on a 60 or 100-inch screen. Third, the picture quality of most video projectors is inferior to that of a conventional CRT display. The picture is simply not as bright or detailed and for the most part this is due to a narrower Contrast Ratio. This is a measurement of the projectors ability to range from peak white to solid black. To put that into perspective a CRT and some recent plasma screens typically have contrast ratios in the order of 1500 to 3000:1. Your Sony projector uses LCD display elements with a contrast ratio of around 400:1, which is fairly typical, though newer technologies, like DLP (digital light processing) and LCOS (liquid crystal on silicon) are improving on that. All a high-end projector would do is make the defects in the satellite picture look even clearer!




Name                            Howard                        

Kit                                buying home cinema system

Problem                        I am about to furnish my new house with some new equipment. However, I'm rather confused by all the possibilities. I want to have a home cinema set up and I know this requires 5 satellites and a subwoofer, but I also want a conventional stereo system for music. Does this mean I'll have to have 8 speakers in my living room? And what about the digital TV itself, which might have its own satellite speakers, too? It seems like speaker cable hell!


Expert Reply                 There is a case for eight or more speakers but most people manage to get by with a basic five speaker plus sub-woofer setup. The main reason why you might want an extra pair of front stereo speakers is for listening to music. In a normal 5.1 channel surround sound installation the main front stereo speakers are placed either side of the TV screen or display device. If the front speakers are spaced too far apart the frontal surround soundstage may collapse and become detached from the screen. Clearly this may not be the best arrangement for listening to audio CDs. In most cases it’s possible to achieve a reasonable compromise but in the end it’s up to you to decide your priorities and locate your speakers accordingly. As far as any extra TV speakers are concerned, it’s normal practice to route the sound output from a digital receiver, whether it is built into the TV or in the form of an external set-top box, through your AV system.




The video signals coming out of AV equipment have to conform to a set of agreed international technical standards to ensure compatibility. The basic industry standard video signal is known as ‘Composite Video’, where the colour, brightness and synchronisation elements are combined. A composite video signal has a nominal level of 1 volt (measured ‘peak to peak’) on a cable with 75 ohms impedance. Next, in terms of quality is ‘S-Video’ (or Y/C where Y and C are the brightness and colour components). These are kept apart to prevent them from interacting with each other producing the characteristic ‘herringbone’ patterning in areas of fine detail. The brightness or Y signal has an amplitude of 1-volt p-p whilst the C or colour signal is at 0.5 volts p-p, again when using a 75-ohm cable. ‘RGB’ (red green and blue), sometimes referred to as ‘Component Video’ colour signals give the best results on PAL equipment because it involves fewer stages of processing.  The standard signal level in this case is 0.7 volts p-p for each of the three colours. Incidentally synchronisation signals are usually carried on the green signal or they can be handled by a separate connection. The US type ‘Component Video’ signal, also known as ‘Colourstream’ and used on some NTSC DVD players, high end TVs and within the broadcasting industry has three ‘colour difference’ components known as YUV (or YCrCb), the Y signal has a nominal level of 1 volt p-p whilst the Cr and Cb components are at 0.7 volts p-p. If nothing else it’s something to break the ice at parties…




Believe it or not there is, or rather was an official British Standard (BS 5876) for calculating the optimum viewing distance for watching your televisual apparatus. You have to remember this was devised in the days when a 21-inch TV was considered big and a long time before widescreen, nevertheless it does give a useful rule of thumb and the basic recommendation was to multiply the screen height by six.  That simple formula still works quite well with older TVs with a conventional 4:3 aspect ratio screen but it’s not so good on 16:9 screens, which perversely have a smaller screen height for a given screen ‘size’ (remember screen sizes are measured diagonally).  Viewing distances tend to be a bit more flexible with widescreen displays, and have to take into account that they can get very large indeed, to 100 inches or more in the case of projectors, to the usual rule of thumb is to multiply screen height by between 5 and 8 times.


Even then it really comes down to personal preference but sitting too close to a large TV screen can spoil the picture. You may become aware of the picture line structure or pixellation, which will make the picture look grainy or ‘coarse. You may also be more aware of processing artefacts on pictures from DVD or digital channels and TVs with 50Hz displays you may become aware of the flickering, which can be annoying and in extreme cases can cause headaches.




Ó R. Maybury 2002, 1104




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