HINTS & TIPS HE103
Kit Philips 36PW9525/05R.
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?
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
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
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
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
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?
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
Name Anil Chugh
Kit Buying a widescreen TV
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
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.
Kit Philips DVD-955
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
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
Name Radi Grigorov
Kit buying an AV receiver
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?
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
Name Dave Lean
Kit buying a widescreen TV
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
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?
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
Name Fredrik R.
Kit buying speakers
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?
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
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!
Kit Panasonic TH42PW4B plasma screen,
Pioneer NSDV55 DVD
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.
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
12 data/RGB horizontal sync
13 RGB red ground
14 data ground
15 S-Video chrominance in/out/RGB red
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)
Kit buying a DVD player
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
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!
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.
GETTING STARTED 1
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…
GETTING STARTED 2
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
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,