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Name                Chris Burmajster

Kit                                Philips 36PW9525/05R.

Problem             I recently bought a Philips 36PW9525/05R widescreen TV. The picture seemed to have dark vertical bars 1 or 2 inches thick on the left and right of the screen, very faint on broadcast material but easily seen on a dark DVD picture. The retailer agreed that it was a fault and arranged for a replacement but it had a similar problem. The dealer arranged for a Philips engineer to look at it. He couldn't fix it and offered to take it away but I said no, because I would probably lose my right to a refund. Philips in Belgium says we are the first to complain and as far as they were concerned, there was nothing wrong with it. We went back to the dealer who agreed to a refund. We are astonished at Philips' attitude, and why haven't you at HE noticed this problem?


Expert Reply

The 'bars' you describe are generated by the TV's picture sizing systems, which seeks to make best use of the screen area, according to the aspect ratio of the picture being displayed so it is not really a fault. Usually they're very faint and barely noticeable, and then only on material that doesn't fill the entire screen width, which is why you won't see it mentioned in many reviews.


The fact that they're visible on sets you've seen, and are clearly causing you some annoyance might be due to miss-alignment or more likely incorrect setting of the so-called 'customer' brightness and contrast controls but it's a moot point, and difficult to argue one way or the other as individual users have their own preferences and set the controls according to ambient lighting conditions. There will be some variance in the factory alignment and the performance of the picture tube.


Picture anomalies like this is can be a nuisance - the damper wire in Sony Trinitron picture tubes is a case in point -- and once you've spotted them they're difficult to ignore, so don't be surprised if you start seeing bars on a lot of widescreen TVs from other manufacturers as well.



The infamous damper wire in Sony Trinitron TV and monitor picture tubes causes a thin but just noticeable grey shadow across the middle of the picture; on larger picture tubes there's usually two of them, at one third and two thirds screen height. The wires are there to stop the fine perforated metal sheet -- called the aperture grille -- from resonating, (caused by the TV's sound system or external vibration), producing colour impurities. The fine shadow is all but invisible at normal viewing distances but those spotting it for the first time sometimes think the TV is faulty.



Name                Alex Candea, The Netherlands

Kit                    wants 'kick butt' speakers          

Problem            I am about to buy a new pair of speakers and they have to kick butt with movies from time to time, but also sound astonishingly good with music. Does the difference in quality or lack thereof between the MS 908 or the MS 502 THX truly justify the higher price tag? Is the THX system really a better speaker for music or should I save money and buy the 908's with additional subs? I have a Marantz SR-7200 receiver at the moment but am planning to eventually buy a THX receiver


Expert Reply

The thing to remember about THX is that it is basically a set of standards and a system of quality control, designed to introduce conformity into the chaos that used to reign in the home cinema industry. It enables AV equipment manufacturers to design and build equipment that gets as close as possible to recreating the sensation of listening to a movie soundtrack in a movie theatre, in your living room. The other, equally important point to bear in mind is that THX-rated components work best when used as part of a THX system. In other words using a THX speaker with a conventional AV amp is a bit like putting shiny mag wheels and fat tyres on a hot hatch, it might look better but it won't go any faster or corner better until you do something about the engine and suspension.


Is the higher price justified? It's all a question of timing and largely depends on how soon you're going to buy that THX amp, and how much of your time will be spent watching movies. If it's sooner rather than later, and you're getting into DVD in a big way then yes, you will save yourself from the effort and expense of an upgrade but if you are serious about listening to music and see DVD as no more than a occasional diversion then save your money and go for speakers better suited to hi-fi duties.




Name                A. Amodeo.

Kit                    buying a new TV

Problem              I have been carefully reading recent editions of Home Entertainment and visited the HE website and have decided to buy the Sony DAV S800 as the basis of my home entertainment set-up. Now all I need is a TV. I haven't been able to find out what the essential difference is between a NICAM TV and a Surround Sound TV. My guess is that if I am getting a Home Cinema package like the Sony one I only need buy a NICAM TV and not a Surround TV?


Expert Reply

NICAM is a high quality digital transmission system for broadcasting a stereo soundtrack alongside terrestrial TV channels and all 'stereo' TVs and VCRs sold in the UK have built-in NICAM decoders. 'Surround Sound' is a much looser term, some stereo TVs claim to have '3D' surround systems but as far as we are concerned surround sound means a multi-channel sound system with at least four separate channels (preferably more), carrying right and left stereo, dialogue, for a centre channel speaker, and mono or stereo rear effects channels.


Basic four-channel analogue surround, known as Dolby Surround, can be carried inside a high quality stereo sound transmission system, like NICAM, and decoded using a Dolby Pro Logic decoder. Digital surround systems have 5 high quality channels, and one narrow bandwidth channel (for low frequency bass sounds), the two currently popular systems are Dolby Digital (aka AC-3) and dts; 5.1 sound is used on DVDs and some satellite channels now broadcast Dolby Digital soundtracks. Since your Sony DAV-S800 has built in Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Digital and dts decoders there is clearly no point duplicating the setup by buying a Surround Sound TV. In theory you cold even get away with buying a mono TV (using a NICAM VCR as the audio source for terrestrial TV), though you'd be hard pressed to find one these days with a screen size of more than 26-inches.




NICAM stands for 'near instantaneously companded audio matrix', which is worth remembering if you want to attract women and impress people at parties. The BBC developed NICAM back in the late 1970s and is notable for being the world's first digital broadcasting system. More trivia, trials began as early as 1981 and were used during the coverage of the Charles and Diana Royal Wedding during broadcasts from the Crystal Palace transmitter; the first public demonstration was the 1986 First Night of the Proms.



Name                Anil Chugh

Kit                    Buying a widescreen TV

Problem             Do you have any advice as regards to whether the Panasonic TX28PB50

is better or worse than the Philips 28PW9616 in terms of picture quality? I've got Dolby Digital/dts surround sound audio setup at home, so all I need is a good-looking widescreen TV with excellent picture quality. It’s very difficult to judge in a high street store since the

quality of programmes broadcasted/displayed is poor.


Expert Reply

I can be difficult to decide under the kind of conditions you get in a lot of retail outlets, which is a good argument for seeking out specialist dealers, who often have proper viewing facilities, and the expertise needed to help you make an informed decision. Picture quality is highly subjective (see Getting Started) and you’ve not made our job any easier by choosing two such similar models, they have the same core display facilities (high-contrast flat faced tube, 100Hz picture, digital motion processing etc.,) the typical street price is about the same and they even look alike, right down to the design of the glass-shelved stand. This shows just how closely Philips and Panasonic are competing in this very busy segment of the home cinema TV market. We’ve looked at both TVs and on a purely technical level, as far as picture performance is concerned, there are only very minor differences that we doubt would not be visible under normal viewing conditions. Engage on the enhancements and digital processing systems and the gap widens slightly though, the Panasonic set has a Progressive Scan mode which should make R1 NTSC movies on DVD look a little better and it has rather more in the way of toys, like the twin tuner and multi-mode picture in picture displays. However, in 100Hz display mode the Philips TV does have a very slight edge when it comes to handling rapid movement, which might just tip the balance in its favour, if you were not too bothered about watching R1 movies.




Name                Kaushik

Kit                    Philips DVD-955

Problem            I want the best quality audio CD performance from my DVD player – a Philips DVD-955 -- what do I need? I have both the CD and DVD of Mission Impossible 2, which is likely to give the clearest sound?  In short is the DVD soundtrack better or worse than the same material on CD?


Expert Reply

Whilst virtually all DVD players can replay audio CDs it’s a little known fact that it is not actually part of the spec and as a consequence some do it better than others. To be fair we’ve yet to hear a really bad CD-A performance from a DVD player but there is a very clear distinction between the best and the worse. Some manufacturers put a great deal more effort into it than others, and there is now a new standard for audio-only DVDs (see Getting Started), but getting better sound out of a DVD player basically translates into higher prices. The DV-955 is first and foremost a DVD player and CD-A playback is in the budget/mid-range component CD player category and the end result will largely depend on what amplifier and speakers it is used with.


As for the comparative sound quality, all other things being equal a recording on CD will usually sound better than DVD for the simple reason that CD audio is largely uncompressed. Multi-channel DVD sound on the other hand is highly compressed, the quality is still very good but there is a reduction in the depth and clarity. This can be quite noticeable when listening to light or intricate musical material but it clearly doesn’t matter too much for home cinema replay when the soundtracks are largely used to carry dialogue incidental sounds and sound effects, which tend to occupy a fairly narrow band of frequencies (mostly of the bass variety in the movies we watch…).



Name                Radi Grigorov

Kit                    buying an AV receiver

Problem             I'd like to ask your opinion on the choice I have to make. I'm going to open a DVD club in my town and I have to decide on an AV receiver. My shortlist is: Sherwood R863RT and R963RT, Sony STR-VA 555ES, Denon AVR-3802, Onkyo TXDS 797 and Yamaha RX-V2200. One more question, I also need a video projector I’ve been looking at models made by Sony, Philips and Panasonic, what are your thoughts?


Expert Reply

Presumably you are talking about setting up what amounts to a mini cinema, as opposed to a DVD rental operation. If it is the latter you should be guided by your shop-fitter who should be able to put you in touch with experts in the area of in-store AV systems. They are unlikely to recommend off-the-shelf ‘consumer’ products, which are not designed for the rigours of commercial operation.


If you are intending to set up a small cinema then without knowing a great deal more about the size and layout of the viewing area, audience numbers, seating positions, acoustics and so on we can only talk in generalities. All of the receivers you’ve listed should be capable of filling a moderately sized room or even a small hall, though you will have to be careful about your choice of speakers, and their placement, to get the best from surround sound soundtracks. It’s possible to muddle through but since you are starting from scratch it might be wise to be guided by a local expert, experienced with dealing with larger scale AV installations. They should also be able to help you to choose the best video projector for your situation, based on the size of the screen, the layout of the room and the prevailing lighting conditions. 




Name                Dave Lean

Kit                    buying a widescreen TV

Problem             I am interested in buying a 28inch widescreen TV. I have a budget of around £500 and intend using it with either a Pioneer NS-DV55 or Sony DAV-S500 DVD systems, which I also plan to buy shortly. I have narrowed my choice to the following four models:

Hitachi C28W411TN-311, JVC AV-28WT5EK, Philips 28PW6006 and Toshiba 28W93B.


I would like to know if the TV's and DVD systems entirely compatible? I have read the

best connection would be SCART, which the DVD systems do not have - could I convert the S-Video outputs and would it make a difference?  Also, I am assuming that the TV's sound quality will not matter too much if I have the surround sound speakers in effect - is this true?


Expert Reply

There are no compatibility issues with the TVs and DVDs (hardware or discs) sold in the UK through normal retail outlets. Problems only arise when people try to use DVDs or TVs designed for use in other countries, or try playing discs and videotapes bought abroad or imported from other ‘Regions’. That said there are ways around these incompatibilities – see Top Tip -- but if you want to keep things simple, only buy equipment and discs intended for this country. As far as your selection is concerned, they are all worth considering but without knowing more about your personal preferences and requirements we can’t make a specific recommendation, so make it your business to see them all in action at local dealers.


You are right, you don’t need to worry too much about the audio systems on these TVs as you will be using your surround sound system, though there may be occasions when you just want to listen to the TV sound through the inbuilt speakers, so make sure you listen to them as well.


Neither the Pioneer and Sony systems have SCART connection and therefore no RGB outputs, which is usually the best option or DVD, however, S-Video is a good second choice, and better than the standard composite video output, which is the basic standard video connection for all TVs, DVDs and VCRs.



If you want to play DVDs from other regions – the UK and most of Europe lies within Region 2, the US is Region 1 -- you have two choices. The easiest way is to buy a player that is sold as Region-Free or can have its region lock ‘hacked’, by entering a simple code or pressing a sequence of buttons. (Check HE reviews for details). Players that can’t be hacked have to be ‘chipped’ which means modifying the player’s electronic circuitry. However, this will almost certainly invalidate the manufacturer’s warranty.




Name                Fredrik R.

Kit                    buying speakers

Problem             I’m planning on buying some speakers, but I need some advice! I know all speakers are different and that I really need to check out some demos before I buy speakers, and actually listen to them myself. But then this thought came to me! What if I could build my own speakers..? What do you suggest in this matter? Yes, by building myself I can save money and put more money into buying really good speakers, but is there any other advantages and disadvantages that you know about that you want to share with

me before I go out and try to glue a great big box together? For example, could I build it myself or should I hire a carpenter to do it?


Expert Reply

You must definitely have a go and there is an excellent chance that you’ll end up with a set of speakers that perform and look better than commercial offerings. DIY speaker design and construction has a long and honourable history and many of today’s top designers started out with a general dissatisfaction with off-the-shelf products and a conviction that they could do better! Some of them now make a very lucrative living out of it…


How much of the actual work you do is up to you, but you certainly don’t need any special skills. You could start out with a simple self-assembly kit, a bit like flat-pack furniture, or design and build from scratch, some purists even go so far as to construct their own drivers, though that’s probably taking it a bit too far, unless you have a lot of specialist equipment, and knowledge. The web is a very good place to start and below there’s a small selection of web sites, ranging from comprehensive links to speaker kit manufacturers to home builders personal pages. Good luck and let us know how you get on!











Name                ---unknown---

Kit                    Panasonic TH42PW4B plasma screen, Pioneer NSDV55 DVD

Problem             I have just purchased a Panasonic TH42PW4B plasma screen. I connected it to my Pioneer NSDV55 DVD player firstly using the "hi-fi" style yellow ended cable and managed to get a reasonable picture. No sound to the Plasma Screen is required, because the DVD speaker system is handling the sound. I then tried connecting via a S-Video lead and the picture quality was considerably better. So I then started to add the rest of my video components. I have an elderly Panasonic NVF 70 VCR with one SCART socket and a Panasonic Sky digibox with two SCARTs but so far I have not been able to get a picture from either the VCR or digibox.


Expert Reply

It’s possible you could get even better picture quality from the DVD player by using an RGB video connection. The plasma screen has an RGB input but it’s in the form of separate phono sockets (what you refer to as ‘hi-fi style connectors), but to make use of it you will need a specialist SCART to phono cable, (see Top Tip) wired for RGB output. As for the VCR and satellite box, there is no good reason why they shouldn’t work with the display as you have proved that all of the video inputs are operational. The most likely cause is the wrong type, or a faulty cable. The best solution would be to use a single type ‘V’ SCART-to-SCART cable to link the VCR to the sat box, then use a SCART-to-phono lead (output type), from the satellite receiver’s second SCART to the video input on the plasma display. It’s worth pointing out that there are two types of SCART-to-phono lead, and this may be where you’ve been going wrong, the other type looks identical but the phono leads are wired for video and audio input, and will not work.



We talk a lot about SCART leads but rarely go into any detail, so here’s what those pins actually do.

01 right audio out

02 right audio in

03 left audio out

04 audio ground

05 RGB blue ground

06 left audio in

07 RGB blue

08 AV mode switching

09 RGB green ground

10 data/RGB vertical sync

11RGB green

12 data/RGB horizontal sync

13 RGB red ground

14 data ground

15 S-Video chrominance in/out/RGB red

16 blanking

17 video ground

18 composite video/S-Video luminance in ground

19 composite video out

20 composite video/S-Video luminance in

21 ground (shield)



Name                Michael

Kit                    buying a DVD player

Problem             I am about to take the plunge into DVD, but I've got a few questions

regarding TV systems. I think I've got my head around the notion of Regions but I haven't quite got to grips with things like PAL and SECAM. I live in the UK and want to start collecting DVDs but I'll be going to France for a short holiday soon and would like to buy some French titles. I'm aware France uses SECAM, will I be able to play French DVDs here and English in France, as I'm thinking of moving there in the not too distant future)?


Would I be able to play Region 1 or 'no-region' DVDs in France in the same way, as I would go about playing them here? And just as a matter of interest: how does this all work when playing DVDs on a Laptop, PC or portable DVD player? Oh for standardisation!


Expert Reply

Good news for once in the tangled world of DVD! Recordings on DVD are produced in only two standards, PAL and NTSC, there’s no need for SECAM discs as most SECAM TVs made within the last ten years or so can happily decode PAL signals. In a nutshell that means you can buy a player in the UK, take it to France connect it to a French TV and play discs bought here, and in France, (we’re both in Region 2). The same should apply to players hacked or chipped for R1 playback, though you need to make sure the player outputs a PAL signal when playing R1 discs, otherwise you will need a French TV capable of displaying NTSC signals.  PCs and laptops are not concerned with TV standards; they simply convert the data coming off the disc into a moving image.




There are two ways to get better sound out of a DVD player. The first is to buy a machine that has extra CD-A features and in general these are made by companies with a track record in the hi-fi industry. Things to look out for are dual laser and specially designed pickups, that are optimised for the different optical characteristics of DVD and audio CD discs. As you move higher up the price range you will also come across players with separate audio and video processing circuitry, and separate heavy-duty power supplies. These machines also tend to be more sturdily built and have additional damping and isolation on and around the deck mechanisms, gold plated connections and provision for high-performance outboard decoders.


The alternative to uprated CD-A replay is the two new high quality multi-channel audio-only DVD systems, known as DVD-Audio and SACD, which are about to embark on a short, sharp format war. These systems are tipped to eventually replace audio CD but the jury is still out on which one provides the best sound quality – the scales are currently tipped slightly in favour of SACD but the differences are relatively small. However, in the end it will probably be decided by more mundane factors, such as the amount of effort the backers put into promoting their systems, the range and choice of software and not forgetting the price of hardware, and at the moment the DVD-Audio format has the edge with more players and more discs to choose from, but it’s still early days…




The ‘quality’ of a TV picture can be defined in purely technical terms but there is no universally agreed set of standards that can be applied to all display types. In some circumstances an inferior picture can look better than one that is technically correct. An example is a picture containing highish levels of video noise – something our eyes and brains are very sensitive to. By deliberately reducing the amount of detail in the picture – i.e. ‘softening’ the picture – the noise is masked and the picture looks a lot better.


In the end it is all highly subjective and scientific studies carried out at the University of Cork in 1996 showed that our perception of picture quality can be affected by other influences, such as sound. Subjects were shown a video sequence accompanied by four different soundtracks of varying quality. In most cases the audience’s impression of picture quality was affected by the quality of the soundtrack.


Our idea of what looks ‘right’ also varies considerably, which is why televisions have contrast, colour and brightness controls that operate over an unnecessarily wide range. In fact it is possible to design a TV without any picture controls at all that can automatically compensate for ambient lighting conditions but we all want to have a fiddle. Most people like to have the colour saturation turned up far too high, to the point of looking completely unnatural in a lot of cases. TV manufacturers used to blame it on the fact that colour TV licences are more expensive and turning up the colour had something to do with getting value for money but it just seems that we like looking at brightly coloured pictures. Go figure…




Ó R. Maybury 2002, 0803






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