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HINTS & TIPS HE101

 

Name: Philip Lowden

Kit Sony STR-DB1070 Amp, MXAV4 Tannoy speaker system

Problem Philip is pretty new to home cinema and wants to get the best of all these purchases in terms by using the right speaker cable, SCART leads, coaxial and digital connectors, as well as the best way to wire them up for top quality sound and vision. Philip hopes to add a KEF PS2000 subwoofer to complete the set-up, but wonders if this is the best option for his kit.

 

EXPERT REPLY

Commonsense rules apply when wiring up home cinema kit, the nature of the beast precludes the use of the really exotic cables and connectors. Of course there is nothing to stop Philip using fancy ten-quid-an-inch stuff, but it would be a bit of a waste of money as the source material – i.e. the soundtracks on movies on DVD, video and TV etc. – have a different set of dynamics to music on CD and vinyl moreover any improvements would be lost under the weight of the compressed encoding systems and the limitations of the media.

 

The best advice we can give is to use good quality, mid-range speaker cable – see our Buyer’s Guide for some ideas -- and there’s no harm in splashing out on some top grade SCART and phono leads – we’re talking about products in the £25 to £50 price range from respected brands like Hama, Ixos, Prowire etc. – which, in addition to good electrical characteristics are usually built to a much higher standard than the giveaway cables and should see Philip through a good few upgrades. The trick to wiring components is to keep it simple, always connect the DVD direct to the TV, preferably using RGB or S-Video connections and use a digital connection to the AV amp. We’re not familiar with that particular sub but all of the KEF subs we’ve tested to date gave a pretty good account of themselves so if the price is right it should be worth a spin.

 

 

 

Name Chris Binstead

Kit Sony KVX25 full-screen TV

Problem Chris has managed to convince himself, and his wife, that it is time to have a widescreen TV. His initial plan was to buy an iDTV. Having looked at the market, and read your reviews and comments, along with others, Chris decided to take up a Sky subscription (which he believes will leave him with a set top box for free to air use only after the subscription runs out). Chris is also thinking of adding a DVD player, but he doubts if his wife will accept the extra boxes of a surround system.

He has made a short-list of the Sony KV32FX65 and KV32FQ75, Panasonic TX32PB50 and Toshiba 32ZP18, all of which he can get for less than £1,200. Chris values picture, looks and surround sound and thinks the cheapest of the three (the Sony FX65) is the least attractive. What do we recommend?

 

EXPERT REPLY

If, as Chris says he wants surround sound, but without the extra boxes, then we can dismiss both Sony models, neither qualify as they only have NICAM sound systems and therefore he will require an AV amplifier. Nevertheless, it might be worth him having a chat with the missus on this point, there are some very good looking compact AV amps on the market these days… Assuming she stays firm, it’s down to the Panny and Tosh TVs, which have a very similar spec. The highlights in both cases include a super flat screen, 100Hz display; the Panasonic model has a few extra gizmos like picture-in picture. The Toshiba 32ZP18 does have some potentially useful performance-related extras, like component video input but the TX32PB50 has a slightly superior audio spec with DTS, in addition to Dolby Digital. In short it’s a very close call and there’s really not a lot to choose between them in performance terms, in the end it could come down to something as mundane as looks and that is not something we would presume to advise Chris on, but if it were our twelve hundred quid the slightly cleaner lines of the Tosh TV and stand might just swing the balance for us.

 

QUICK TIP

Chris seems to be right about Sky, although the small print (and it is very small) in the agreement threatens that Sky will take back the receiver if you stop paying it doesn’t seem to happen in practice. On the other hand On Digital, now ITV Digital, is not so obliging and from what we’ve heard it does routinely repossess set-top boxes from lapsed subscribers. Wonder what they do with them all?

 

 

Name Brian Clark

Kit Sanyo PLC 9005B projector, Pace Sky satellite receiver, PlayStation 2, unnamed DVD player

Problem The Sanyo projector, which has a composite and S-Video input. Brian’s DVD is connected to the projector via S-Video leads as is his PS2. Both show an excellent picture. But, the Pace digibox only supports RGB and composite video, so it connects to the projector via a composite video lead. The quality is good but Brian wants the best possible picture. Is he stuck with composite?

 

 

EXPERT REPLY

There are ways and means of converting RGB to S-Video – we’ll come to one of them in a moment -- but Brian will have to accept that the improvements he’s likely to see will probably be quite small small. The main problem is that the quality of the source signal – from the Pace digibox – is not that wonderful to start with. Digital TV pictures are highly compressed, which has a significant impact on bandwidth (the amount of information in the picture, colour purity etc.), and then there’s all the things that can go wrong with it on its 72,000 km round trip up to the satellite and back down again (and this also applies to ITV Digital channels, many of which are distributed by satellite before being broadcast by terrestrial transmitters). The error correction systems in satellite receivers work hard all the time, more so in poor weather, all of which means that the usual benefits of an RGB connection -- with a DVD player, say – can be difficult if not impossible to spot on a digibox. In any case any improvements are likely to be masked by a projector, even one as competent as Brian’s 9005. Now for that converter, several are available but the only one we’re aware of that’s in the ‘consumer’ price ballpark is available from http://www.rgbtosvideo.com/ for a round £80, plus p&p.

 

QUICK TIP

If you have satellite TV installed at any time between November and April it’s worth double-checking the location of your dish. Some less reputable firms take the easy way out and put them in the most convenient spot – for them – that may be in direct line with a tree. If you find the picture quality from your satellite box rapidly going downhill in the next few weeks you know who to blame…

 

 

Name Raymond Crozier

Kit Philips 32DW6834 ITV Digital/Pro Logic TV

Problem Raymond has just inherited the Philips set without speakers. He wants to add speakers and a DVD player. Should he purchase a set of speakers for the TV and a stand-alone DVD player, or go instead for one of the all-in-one home cinema systems?

 

EXPERT REPLY

This particular TV – one of the first with an integrated On Digital/ITV Digital decoder -- was originally supplied with a set of cordless FM rear surround speakers. They should be available from Philips dealers as spare parts but the cost is likely to be quite high, and the sound quality from them, and the titchy internal speakers, is not much to write home about in any case. Quite honestly it’s money that could be usefully spent elsewhere. Raymond’s best bet is to bypass the TV’s sound system -- it is a fairly unexciting NICAM/Dolby Pro Logic setup -- instead he can use the TV to do what it does best, as a display, and pipe the sounds through an AV system and some decent sized speakers. The TV has a set of line-level outputs so it can be easily connected to an AV amplifier/decoder, along with his proposed DVD player and anything else he cares to add to the system. Incidentally, the only reasons for going for an integrated or one-box DVD hi-fi system is convenience and to save space. If neither of these apply then Raymond would be better off buying a separate player and amp, which will give him a greater choice of models, it will be easier to upgrade, and it should work out cheaper too.

 

QUICK TIP

Cordless rear surround speakers sound like a great idea – especially if you or your better half is worried about trailing wires – but be warned, there are just as many cables to contend with. Cordless speakers need power and have to be connected to a mains socket, and in most cases the second speaker is a passive ‘slave’ and has to be connected to the ‘master’ receiver speaker/amplifier by, you guessed it, another cable…

 

 

Name Mark Smith

Kit Sony PlayStation 2, Philips 28PW9616 Dolby Digital TV

Problem Mark would like to exploit the 5.1 channel sound possibilities of his TV and PS2. Unfortunately, his PS2 has a TOSlink optical digital connection and the TV has an electrical coaxial digital socket. Is there a cable that will link the digital audio of one to the other? Mark is considering biting the bullet and buying a dedicated DVD player but would like to avoid it, if possible.

 

EXPERT REPLY

We guessed it wouldn’t be long before the popularity of the PS2 created a healthy demand for a gadget that can convert digital audio from one signal format to another, and in fact it’s not the first time a Sony product has been implicated in this way – several of its DAT players had a similar limitation. We know of at least two converters that Mark can try, the best known being the Midiman CO2, this is a US product but we’ve managed to track down a UK supplier (http://www.software-technology.com/), who sell them for just under £40. If Marks feeling a bit more adventurous and wants to save a few bob he should have a look at the TraderTrax digital converter. As far as we know can only be bought from the US maker’s web site (http://www.tradertrax.com/catalog_page_3.htm#format) but at only £20 or so it’s quite a good deal, though having first hand experience of shipping goods from the US it’s probably only of interest if Mark’s not in much of a hurry. We haven’t tried one of these things yet but by all accounts they’re okay as they’re only dealing with raw digital data and simply converting from one format to another shouldn’t have any effect on sound quality.

 

QUICK TIP

Which is better, coaxial or optical? In theory there shouldn’t be any difference as both types of digital connection are dealing with digital data, which is largely immune to the effects of electrical noise. However, optical/TOSlink connections are immune to strong RF interference and transients but the trade off with optical cables is higher cost and limited cable length, though in most installations this shouldn’t be a problem.  

 

 

Name Pete Robson

Kit Panasonic TX-28LDL TV, Acoustic Solutions 521 DVD player, Technics SA-EX300 receiver, KEF Q series speakers, Yamaha YST-SW40

Problem Pete wants to upgrade from Dolby Pro-Logic to Dolby Digital and dts sound, and has a budget of £400 to achieve this. He insists that the replacement amplifier must have a built-in tuner. What do we suggest?

 

EXPERT REPLY

Pete is in a reasonably good position with some decent speakers plus a sub and enough to spend to do them justice though it would be better still if he could stretch his budget just a little, or be prepared to do a bit of legwork or haggling because for around £100 or so more there are really excellent AV receivers to choose from.

 

The models we’ve short-listed for Pete have all been around for a little while, which means any bugs/funny little ways they might have had should have been sorted out and there should be a few good deals available, so it’s well worth his while shopping around, especially on the web. So, in purely alphabetical order, we suggest Pete has a look and preferably a listen to the following models: Onkyo TX-DS575X, Pioneer VSX-808RDS, Sherwood R-956R, Sony STR-DB840/DB940 and the Technics SA-DA10

 

As an extra bonus -- call it a late Christmas present -- here’s a simple handset hack for disabling the region lock on Pete’s Acoustic Solutions DVD player. On the remote he should press Setup, Next, Stop, Pause/Step, Prev and Next, a service menu should appear from where he can select Regions 1 to 6 or All for region-free.

 

 

 

Name Matthew Nelson

Kit Pace Sky+ box

Problem Now Matthew has a Sky+ box; he would like to find a decent system to download his recordings. Matthew thinks D-VHS seems to be the best system as it offers far greater storage than recordable DVD seems to be offering for the same price. He has short-listed the Philips VR20D and the JVC HMDR10000. Home Entertainment rated the JVC in issue 77 with 3 stars but I think this was mainly to do with £1,300 price, but it can now be obtained for considerably less. I think the Philips seems to be a newer model and from what I have seen it has not been tested yet.

 

EXPERT REPLY

Unfortunately the Sky+ box doesn’t have a digital DataStream output so it is impossible to preserve the original picture quality. The problem is it has to down-convert digital recordings on the hard disc to an analogue signal (it has RF, composite, S-Video and RGB outputs) this process inevitably leads to some degradation in picture quality and an increase in noise. More noise will be added by processors in the D-VHS VCR, which has to go through the unnecessary rigmarole of re-digitising the analogue video signal from the Sky+ box, and then, during replay, convert it back to analogue once again so it can be displayed on Matthew’s TV. There’s worse to come, most, if not all movies on Sky Box Office etc., and an unknown amount of films and programmes on other channels are encoded with Macrovision spoiler signals that prevent them from being recorded on a VCR (analogue or digital). In short there’s very little point Matthew spending £1000 or more on a digital VCR (or DVD recorder) since the recordings are unlikely to look any better than those made on a decent Super VHS video recorder, and the blank tapes will be a darn sight cheaper too…

 

 

Name Grahame Brant

Kit none as yet

Problem  Grahame is currently renovating his home and has the opportunity to run a complete sound system throughout the house. Trouble is, he is balking at the huge costs for the custom designed/built systems. As a solution, he intends to buy the Sony 400 CD jukebox and an amp and speakers, to then try to switch zones when required. It has been suggested that he would need an additional power amp and would probably need another system for the upstairs? Is this true, he asks, and if so can we recommend a suitable amp and speaker set up? Grahame does not want a budget system and is prepared to pay a fair amount of money but is confused as to how to start and which combinations to go for, or even if this is a waste of time and the only proper solution is the professional set up?

 

EXPERT REPLY

Its not a good idea to have speaker cable runs of more than 8 to 10 metres. Any longer and the increase in impedance starts to have a very noticeable effect on the sound output, it also puts a strain on the amplifier’s output stages plus there’s a greater risk of picking up interference, so Grahame’s zone switching scheme is probably a non starter, unless he has a very small house. As Grahame has discovered professionally installed audio distribution systems can be very expensive with cabling and control representing a significant proportion of the overall cost. As well as the signal carrying cable there also has to be a ‘back channel’, for remotely controlling the source component, though this can be easily done with wireless systems, providing the distances involved are not too large. 

 

It can very quickly get to the point where it is cheaper, and musically more satisfying, to simply install an audio system in each of the room’s he’ll be using. If he spends most of his time in just a couple of locations it almost certainly makes sense, and if he want to continue listening to a particular recording, all he needs to do is take the disc with him when he goes…  

 

 

Name Andrew Gilding

Kit REL Q400E subwoofer

Problem Andrew bought the REL after reading our review. But only one question remains, does the REL continue to produce an output when the hi-level gain control is set to absolute minimum?

 

EXPERT REPLY

An interesting if somewhat esoteric question, to which the short answer is yes. The input and output stages of any audio amplifier, including the one inside the REL Q400 are never completely idle. This is the case whether or not it is receiving an input signal from a source component, or it’s input or gain controls are set to minimum. In fact for as long as it’s powered an amplifier will still be amplifying random noise, generated both from within its own electronic components, connecting cables and anything else that it is connected to but these are normally at such a low level as to be inaudible. Moreover it will also be processing microscopically low amplitude signals covering a frequency range that extends from sub-sonically low frequencies to ultrasonic and beyond, even into the RF spectrum, and this is so, even when the signals are well outside the amplifier’s nominal operating range. They are generated by power supplies and picked up from nearby electrical appliances, other electronic devices and not forgetting radio and TV signals and emission from everything from mobile phones to microwave ovens. This happens in spite of filters and crossover networks but the levels are so low – measurable only on the most sensitive instruments -- and the frequencies so far out side of our range of perception that they are no consequence.

 

 

Name Mohamed Moolla

Kit Sony DVP-S735 DVD player, Sony STR-DB940 receiver, Mission 703 front speaker, Sony SCR-505 centre/rear speakers, Sony SA-WM40 subwoofer

Problem The Mission 703 speakers were the last bit of kit purchased and they are ‘bi-wirable’. What does this mean, what are the advantages of bi-wiring and how does one go about bi-wiring? Does he need a separate power amplifier to achieve this?

 

Secondly, Mohamed is using component video output to the component input of the TV but can’t find a component output activation on the Sony DVD player. Does the 735 automatically output the video signal in order of highest priority? He is also using the S-Video out to AV1 input of the TV but he cannot find the difference in quality between S-Video and component video. Is there a big difference, he wonders?

 

EXPERT REPLY

Bi-Wiring is one of those moderately controversial techniques that audiophiles and manufacturers love to argue about. The basic idea is that speaker cables can have different high and low frequency characteristics, so the theory goes that by using two sets of cables from the amplifier, connected to the separate high and low frequency inputs on the speaker, you’ll get a better sound. This is not to be confused with bi-amping, where separate amplifiers are used for the high and low frequency components. For the price of some good quality speaker cable it’s worth a try but Mohamed shouldn’t expect too much, especially if his system is mostly used for home cinema.

 

It would have been helpful to know the make of Mohamed’s TV but the most likely explanation is that the component output on a DVD player is normally only active when playing NTSC discs. If his player is a Region 2 only model, or he hasn’t got any NTSC region free recordings the component outputs will remain dormant. The difference between composite and S-Video is usually quite noticeable, on an S-Video feed colours should look a lot sharper (especially around the edges) and there shouldn’t be any cross-colour patterning (wavy lines and interference) in areas of fine detail. 

 

BOX COPY 1

We usually recommend using RGB or – where available – a Component video connection between a DVD player and TV or display device but is there a difference when it comes to picture quality? RGB or red green and blue is video in its purest form, it’s what comes out of a video camera. The three ‘monochrome’ signals – one for each primary colour – have a very wide bandwidth and contain a lot of information, including the brightness element of the image which is needed to create a black and white picture. As a consequence RGB signals are not particularly robust, they don’t travel well over distances of more than a few metres and require careful handling.

 

Component video was developed to make RGB signals easier to deal with by reducing the bandwidth requirement. The three components are technically known as ‘Y, PB Pr’. Only the Y component carries the full bandwidth brightness or ‘luminance’ information, the Pb and Pr components carry red and blue colour information, with the green information cunningly embedded as a ‘difference’ signal, defined by the relationship between the two colour signals and the brightness signal. It sounds horribly complicated but the upshot is component video signals are easier to transport, but in the context of picture quality on DVD player to a TV there should be little or no visible difference.

 

BOX COPY 2

Digital video recording has the potential to cause even more confusion than all of the tape and disc format battles to date… The oldest ‘consumer’ system is DVC used on digital camcorders. The key feature that the information going onto the tape is raw uncompressed digital data and this can be piped directly into PC for editing and post production using the industry-standard FireWire serial data connection system (FireWire is also known as IEEE 1394 and iLink).

 

D-VHS is closely related to DVC and VCRs that have a FireWire input can record directly from a digital camcorder but all other devices (satellite receivers etc.) have to connect using analogue inputs and the VCR converts the signal into digital data.

 

The SKY+ box is a hard disc recorder it stores the digital datastream broadcast from the satellite, however this is highly compressed and can contain several TV channels. The datastream then has to be passed back through a MPEG-2 decoder in order to extract and view programmes.

 

TiVO is also a hard disc recorder but unlike SKY+ it’s designed to record terrestrial TV programmes so it has both analogue-to-digital and digital-to-analogue converters.

 

DVD-Recorders are closely related to devices like TiVO in that they are designed to work with analogue inputs, which are converted into a compressed digital format (MPEG-2) before being ‘burnt’ onto the disc.

 

---end---

 

Ó R. Maybury 2002, 0301

 

 

 

 

 

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