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HINTS & TIPS HE 108

 

Q

Several DVDs, purchased many moons ago, which used to play flawlessly, will play no more. Now all I ever get is the "insert disc" message. No amount of disc or machine cleaning helps, these particular DVD's resolutely refuse to play on my Philips 730 (no problems with friends players though, regardless of the their brand name). I have almost one hundred 100 DVD's and they are the only ones that will not play ball and yes, I have always handled my collection with great care.

Mr C. A. Caulfield, Wirral

 

A

The most obvious explanation is that these discs have been damaged or degraded sufficiently to stop them playing on your Philips player, but not enough to upset newer machines with more efficient error correction systems. DVDs are actually more tolerant of wear and tear than CDs but there are limits and no matter how much care you take handling your discs it’s still possible for them to become scratched and scuffed. In fact over-zealous and frequent cleaning can contribute to the damage. It could even be the player; several machines I’ve tested over the years have ejected discs too quickly and were still spinning in the loading tray as they emerged, which can’t do them any good. Another possibility is that these discs are suffering from manufacturing defects, which was not unknown on early pressings. You can replace the discs but it’s possible that others may also be affected as they age, or get a new player.

 

QUICK TIP

Back in the early days of DVD there was some concern that they could be prone to ‘laser rot’. This was a throwback to a short-lived problem with one particular audio CD manufacturing plant, where discs were not correctly bonded. This resulted in ‘delamination’; the seal around the edge of the disc was faulty and the layers separated, exposing the reflective coating to the air, which caused it to oxidise. Lessons were learned and apart from the occasional batch production problems, with both audio CDs and DVDs, manufacturing defects are comparatively rare these days, considering the numbers involved.

 

 

Q

After reading your review of the forthcoming LG DA-5620 home cinema system, I decided that this would be a better option than a large, overbearing dedicated amp/receiver and DVD player. My only concern, seeing as I have access to a number of region 1 discs, is will it be hackable like previous LG DVD players or will it require chipping? I don't want to rush out and waste time/money if my R1 discs become redundant!

Roger Williams, via email

 

A

The system we tested was a very early production sample, several months ahead of its launch so it would have been difficult if not impossible to speculate on the status of its region lock. Normally details of region hacks only come to light shortly after a system, or player has reached the shops. Sometimes hacks that worked on previous models are found to work, occasionally the information is released or ‘leaked’ by the manufacturer or importer, otherwise they’re discovered by determined individuals, or by plain dumb good luck when someone accidentally stumbles on combination of key presses that reveals a player’s hidden ‘service menu’. The bad news is that at present we have no definite details for the DA-5620 but based on past experience with LG players and systems there’s a good chance one exists, (see Quick Tip), nevertheless, since you consider this feature important you would be wise to wait a little longer, just in case…

 

QUICK TIP

To date almost all LG DVD players and systems have responded to one simple handset hack, we’re not saying this one will work with the DA-5620 (alas our sample had to be returned and we’ve yet to see a production model), but it’s definitely worth trying. With the disc tray empty switch on, and on the handset press Stop, Pause 314159. The word ‘CodE’ appears in the display. Enter the region code (1 to 6 or 0 for all regions) then press Pause again. Switch off, cont to ten and switch back on again.

 

 

Q

I am currently investigating the possible transferral of all of my VHS videos to DVD. These are mostly ‘blockbuster’ movies that I have collected over the years. I hardly ever use my VCR now and would like to move everything over to DVD. What is the cheapest way to do it or can you tell me how it's done as I have a CD burner and a PC TV system at my disposal.

Cameron McCulloch, via email

 

A

Firstly you should be aware that it is illegal to make copies of copyright material. Secondly, why bother? Most of your movies are available on DVD now, or soon will be, in which case picture and sound quality will be a great deal better, you’ll have the convenience of chapter selection, rapid picture search, a widescreen display and in many cases you’ll get extra material, outtakes, director’s commentaries, missing scenes and so on. Thirdly, when you copy VHS recordings to DVD you can end up with a worse looking picture (see Quick Tip). 

 

It can be done, of course but you’ll need a means of overcoming the Macrovision copy protection on the tapes (see Getting Started) and a DVD Recorder, which will set you back between £500 and £1000 but there are at least three formats on the market at the moment (DVD-RAM, DVD-RW and DVD-RW) with a shed-load of compatibility issues with existing players and the distinct possibility that at least two of them will become obsolete in the near future. However, the clincher is that blank discs currently cost around as much as back catalogue movies on DVD! Finally, the CD-Writer in your PC can only make MPEG1 video recordings, which are often inferior to VHS and because they can’t hold as much information as a DVD most movies will require at least two discs. 

 

QUICK TIP

One reason why VHS to DVD transfers can be disappointing is because DVD recorders copy all of the imperfections in the original recording, and display them with pin-sharp clarity, so you become more aware of noise and the relatively low resolution of VHS. The analogue to digital conversion process used by DVD recorders also results in ‘artefacts’, especially when there’s a lot of movement or noise in the picture, which registers as fine detail. It shows up most clearly in static backgrounds and foreground objects, which can appear to become detached and ‘wobble’ slightly.

 

 

Q

I own a Marantz RC5000i and have made my own ‘CCF’ files. The problem is I can’t get rid of the scroll up and down arrows on either side of the remote I have tried everything but they’re still there, can you please shed some light on the situation?

Michael Jordan, via email

 

A

For those unfamiliar with this product a little background information is in order. The Marantz RC5000i is an advanced programmable remote control with a touch-screen display and the ability to use custom software -- for controlling a very wide range of devices -- called CCF files, which can be created on the device, on a PC or downloaded from various sites on the Internet (see Quick Tip).

 

Now we’ve got that out of the way, the bad news. The scroll arrows have been annoying RC5000i owners since day one and there’s no easy way of getting rid of them. There is some good news, possibly… The facility to hide the scroll arrows is included on later versions of the devices firmware, and older models can be upgraded, with certain provisos. The best thing to do is read through the FAQs and postings relating to the RC5000i at: http://www.remotecentral.com, check the version number of your software and check for the availability of an update at: http://www.marantz.com/hifi/america/test1

/downloads/rc5000i_downloads.html

 

QUICK TIP

The CCF file format has become something of an industry standard amongst programmable universal remote controls and PDAs (personal digital assistants) from many different manufacturers. It stands for ‘Cabernet Configuration File’; legend has it that Cabernet was the working name of the Philips Pronto universal remote control upon which the RC5000i is based. CCF files can contain a range of information, including screen layout and graphics, macros (sequenced commands) and infrared codes, files can be created using a small PC program called ProntoEdit, which can be downloaded from: http://www.pronto.philips.com/

 

 

Q

I am fairly new to home cinema and on the verge of buying the Panasonic TH-42PW4B together with a surround sound system my budget for the latter is around £400. I need to connect a digital set top box, DVD player, VCR, X-Box and Dreamcast. Panasonic say I need to buy the tuner box. My local retailer tells me I can connect my DVD via component or S-video to the monitor and then SCART daisy chain all the other equipment. Both tell me that connecting via the tuner box will increase the digital TV picture quality, is this true?

Pietro, via email

 

A

This is turning out to be quite a common problem with the TH-42PW4B, which is basically a monitor, and therefore cannot be expected to have all of the input and switching options of TV. That’s where the optional tuner comes in, and it would indeed solve most of your connection problems. The 42PW4B has only two ‘consumer’ video inputs – composite and S-Video – the rest are either proprietary and designed to interface with the tuner box or for specialised analogue and digital/PC video. You would almost certainly get better picture quality from your DVD player and satellite receiver if they were connected to the screen via the tuner box. This arrangement would allow them to use an RGB video connection, which does deliver a crisper, sharper image than either composite or S-Video. Daisy-chaining any device with a DVD player is not a good idea as this could run foul Macrovision spoiler signals (see Getting Started), which DVD players generate in order to prevent tape copying.

 

 

Q

My new Daewoo ST-862 VCR came with a SCART cable with four pins at one end and six at the other. I want to use it to link to another Daewoo VCR so that I can make tape-to-tape copies. My question is will it make any difference if I use an ordinary SCART cable with all its pins intact?

Al Gourdie, via email

 

A

That SCART cable sounds decidedly dodgy and almost certainly won’t work. The simplest type of SCART lead usually has 9 pins connected, for two-way stereo audio and composite video and switching signal connections. Universal (Type U) leads usually have all 21-pins wired, or occasionally 19 pins, and this can handle RGB and S-Video connections as well. The chances are your cable is a Type V but the missing pins have ‘pushed through’ because they were not properly fitted, or it has been forced into a tight socket, either way you’re going to be missing some signals, so chuck it in the bin. It’s not a good idea to skimp on SCART leads, and it’s better to get a fully wired or Type U cable, even if you’re not going to use all of the connections, you may need them if you change or upgrade your home cinema components. 

 

QUICK TIP

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time but the SCART connector system has spawned a bewildering array of wiring schemes. At the most basic level there is two so-called ‘arrangements’. Arrangement 1 was the original standard, intended for two-way stereo audio, switching signals and two-way composite and RGB video. Arrangement 2 was introduced to take into account S-Video connections by reassigning pins 13 and 15. Many TVs have two or more SCART sockets, usually wired for Arrangement 1 and 2 though increasingly they can be switched for RGB or S-Video from the setup menu

 

 

Q

I have a Philips Dolby Pro Logic TV and VCR, Denon AVC-2800 amp, Limit JDV388 DVD player and a Panasonic digibox. The main problem is the sound, when I play a DVD or watch a movie on Sky sometimes I cannot hear what is being said. I've played around with the levels for the centre and rear speakers, to no avail.  Is this where a digital amp will make all the difference, or is there something wrong with my speaker set-up?

Mark Wilson, via email

 

A

You don’t need a ‘digital’ amp to get great multi-channel surround sound; even whiskery old analogue Dolby Pro Logic is capable of producing a well-defined centre channel. There are several reasons why the centre channel could sound indistinct, start with the basics (it’s amazing how often we overlook the obvious…). Make sure that the amp’s centre-channel output is actually connected to the centre channel speaker then check the speaker is working properly by temporarily hooking it up to one of the stereo channels. Next, ensure the speaker wiring is not out of phase (i.e. red to red, black to black etc.) and finally verify that the amplifier and decoder are working properly. To do that you’ll need a test disc, or you can use the audio test signals in the THX Optimizer, (see Quick Tip), which you’ll find on several recent DVDs.

 

QUICK TIP

The THX Optimizer is a sequence of audio and video tests designed to help home cinema enthusiasts set up their systems for optimum performance. It’s included on a number of movies, including Star Wars Phantom Menace, Pearl Harbour, Terminator 2 etc., but it’s not that obvious and is usually tucked away on an Options or Language menu. Click on the THX Optimizer logo to start the test, it’s mostly straightforward but one of the video checks requires a pair of filter glasses, which you can obtain free (P&P to the UK £3.50) from the THX website at: www.thx.com.

  

 

Q

In your August review of the Nokia Mediamaster 221T you do not mention the type(s) of connection. Does it have S-Video, is there an aerial through socket, what is available on the SCART connection (assuming there is one), is there a digital audio output and so on? I am particularly concerned with free-to-air boxes at the moment because I have a plasma monitor and am looking for a good quality digital TV input.

Alan Painter, via email

 

A

Sorry about that, normally we make a point of mentioning important little details, like sockets but we were being a bit cautious with this product simply because we were looking at a very early sample and were warned that things were liable to change. The spec has still to be finalised but we’ve been assured that the makeup of the back panel socketry is now reasonably certain, so this is what you can expect. There will be two standard RF (IEC) connectors for the aerial input and loop through/modulator output. It will have two SCART sockets, labelled TV and Aux, these will provide a loop-through for daisy-chaining other devices, and will have both composite and RGB video outputs, as well as stereo audio (no details about wide-screen switching etc., at this stage). A pair of RCA/phono sockets handles stereo audio out, there’s another phono socket for a coaxial type (SP-DIF) digital audio output and one 9-pin RS232 serial data connector for as yet unspecified purposes, oh yes, and there’s also a mains connector.

 

 

GETTING STARTED 1 – Speaker Phase

Movie sound engineers and designers go to enormous lengths – often to the point of obsession -- to make sure that the sounds you’ll eventually hear on DVD soundtracks are precisely located within the overall soundfield. The effect, when heard on a correctly aligned system can be stunning, and we’re not just talking about fancy high-end systems, but the whole thing can and will collapse if your speakers are not wired correctly. But what is there to go wrong, each speaker only has two wires and the terminals on the back of the amplifier are usually clearly labelled? The problem is one of phase, speakers are ‘polarised’, and if they’re wired wrongly, instead of working together, to produce a sharply focused sound, they can work against each other, and their near neighbours, resulting in a muddy and dispersed soundfield.

 

It’s not always the user’s fault, the cables supplied with some systems can sometimes be hard to distinguish, or they’re the same colour, with only light printing or a stripe to tell them apart. This doesn’t just affect the right and left channel speakers, it’s important to ensure that all of the speakers in a system are in phase – even the centre channel -- otherwise the surround effect will be degraded. It doesn’t matter which way around the wires go, but you must be consistent, in other words the red or ‘+’ terminal on the back of your amplifier must go to the corresponding terminal or connection on the speaker. Be especially careful with cables that are bare at one end and terminated in a plug at the other, and even if the speakers cables and connections on your system are colour coded, it doesn’t hurt to check they’re been wired correctly! 

 

You should also listen carefully to your system, choose a sequence with plenty of effects, sit or stand between the main stereo speakers and listen to the sequence several times. Are the sounds that you hear sharply defined or indistinct? If in doubt try reversing the wires (make sure you switch off the amplifier or system first) and see if that makes any difference.

 

 

 

GETTING STARTED 2 – Macrovision

Macrovision cropped up a couple of times this month, but in slightly different contexts, however the intention is the same, to prevent casual analogue tape to tape or tape to disc copying. Macrovision is not effective against determined piracy, there are many ways to defeat the process but it will stop most people from running off copies of movie on their VCRs.

 

Macrovision works differently on VHS and DVD, in the case of tape a spoiler signal is recorded on the tape; on DVDs the signal is generated by the player. It’s basically a very simple idea, on a Macrovision protected VHS tape extra pulses are recorded in a part of the video signal called the vertical blanking interval, the pulses are ignored by TVs but they are picked up by VCRs, which interprets them as part of the video signal, and a circuit called the automatic gain control (AGC) attempts to compensate for them. This causes the recorded picture to vary in brightness or pulsate; it can also result in an increase in noise, unstable colour and even a complete loss of picture.

 

The picture signal on a DVD is untainted by any Macrovision signals but protected discs do have a so-called ‘activation bit’ in the datastream that tells toe player to insert copy protection signals into the composite video output, and also the S-Video and RGB outputs as well. On PAL players the Macrovision signal works in almost exactly the same way as the tape method with pulses in the vertical blanking interval designed to confuse a VCRs AGC circuit. Macrovision on NTSC players has an extra layer of protection, called Colourstripe; this involves making changes to another part of the video signal, called the colour ‘burst’, which results in coloured bands or stripes across the picture.

 

Both methods can be fairly easily defeated by those with some modest technical know-how, devices called ‘normalisers’ or ‘optimisers’ cancel the effect of the AGC pulses on the video signal and on some DVD players the Macrovision circuit can be switched off using a simple ‘hack’ code, similar to the ones used to change or switch off region locks.

---end---

 

Ó R. Maybury 2002, 1907

 

 

 

 

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