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HINTS & TIPS HE 107

 

Q

This is my first venture into home cinema and I have a couple of questions to help me get through this! TV is Sony 28LS35B and sound system is Yamaha HTiB65. My main niggle is that to get audio to my AV receiver from the Sony I need to use the menu to turn the speakers off. This setting is not held in memory so I have to do this every time I want this feature. The VCR is playing the TV audio perfectly but when I select the input for the TV the sound volume is very low unless I set speakers to off. Also, what is the preferred arrangement for the 2 SCART sockets on the TV? SCART 1 can accept RGB input. Any advice would be most welcome!!
Ron Ballard

A

The problem with this setup is that the audio output from the TV varies according to the volume setting. The simplest solution is to bypass the TV tuner altogether and use the one in the VCR instead. That way you can just mute the TV volume and use the audio output from the VCR instead. In that way the only time you need to use the TV sound is when you use the VCR to record. It makes sense to use SCART 1 for connecting to the VCR since this is the first one to be selected when you enable AV input, since your VCR only has composite video output (unless it’s a Super VHS model) the RGB input is effectively redundant. If, at some time in the future you add a DVD player to your system, with RGB output you should connect it to SCART 1 and move the VCR to SCART 2, which it can share with a satellite tuner or digit box. It makes sense to ‘daisy-chain’ these devices, as it will allow you record digital channels.

 

QUICK TIP

Never try to daisy-chain a VCR with a DVD player using SCART leads. DVD players generate Macrovision spoiler signals, designed to stop you recording from DVDs and these will interfere with the picture on the VCR, even if a disc isn’t playing. It is possible to disable Macrovision on some players, using a ‘hack’ similar to the kind used to change region codes, and ‘chipping’ some players for all region playback also removes Macrovision but it’s a risky business, it may make some discs unplayable as well as invalidating the manufacturer’s warranty.

 

 

 

Q
I have read various articles in your magazine mentioning the quality of pictures from Sky. Sometimes it's called 'near DVD quality', however, with my set-up the quality of pictures from Sky falls far short of that of my DVDs. I am using component video from the DVD player to Fujitsu PDS4229E plasma screen, and for Sky a SCART to composite lead from the digibox to an Arcam AVR100 amp, and then S-Video into the plasma TV.

I also have a SCART to S-Video lead but when I use this from the digibox
to the AVR100 (or directly into the plasma) I only get black and white
pictures. I have seen RGB to S-Video gadgets advertised. Does this mean
there is more to changing RGB into S-Video than a simple lead can do? Would you recommend any of these gadgets?
Martin Tyler

A

You are right, the picture quality from a digital satellite tuner is not as good as DVD quality but there are important technical similarities, most importantly the low noise levels and freedom from ghosting and multi-path signals which affect analogue channels so in that respect they bear comparison. Also, a lot depends on the type of material, live transmissions and footage shot on video tape (which most TV programmes are) a have a quite different textural quality to movies shot on film.

 

Your satellite receiver only has composite and RGB outputs, which explains the black and white output you’re seeing when using an SCART to S-Video lead, you are in fact just seeing one colour output, which the AV amps converts to a luminance (Y) signal that your TV interprets as a monochrome signal. An RGB to S-Video converter will restore a full colour picture but it involves an extra layer of signal processing and is unlikely to improve picture quality to any significant degree. Your plasma screen does have an analogue RGB input and you should be able to use it to connect your satellite tuner but this will require a special lead, which your dealer should be able to supply.

 

QUICK TIP

Converting RGB to a S-Video (or Y/C) signal involves a fair amount of circuitry and it can’t simply be done with just a lead. The three colour signals (red, green and blue) have to be combined to in order produce to the chrominance (C) component and at the same time it has to derive the brightness or luminance (Y) component. This will involve some loss of colour fidelity and, depending on the quality of the converter, may also introduce additional noise and processing ‘artefacts’ into the picture signal.

 

 

 

Q

I have been looking at your web site and I would really appreciate some product advice. I want to buy a TV which allows a decent quality Picture-in-Picture. This is because my wife hates watching football and has the idea that I could watch the football on one side of the screen and she could watch her stuff on the other. 

Rychard Matthews

A
Relationship counselling is not necessarily an area of expertise for Hints and Tips but we doubt that a picture in picture display will be a path to marital harmony! For starters, who gets to watch the big screen and what about the sound? Besides this kind of display is really only meant for briefly monitoring what’s happening on another channel, sustained viewing will probably be incredibly irritating for both of you. There is another possibility in the shape of TVs with dual channel split-screen displays. Sony calls this feature Picture and Picture or PAP and it’s available on several high-end widescreen models and also on some JVC tellies. This is where you get two reasonably sized pictures side by side but you are still going to have problems with who gets to hear the sound, and the inevitable distraction of watching two pictures at once.  

Why not consider some more less contentious alternatives, the most obvious one being having a second TV, this could be in another part of the room, if you can’t bear to be parted from one another (one of you will have to use headphones though). Better still put the second TV in another room, where you won’t disturb each other – absence makes the hear grow fonder… Another even cheaper solution would be for one of you to record the programme they want to see on a VCR, and watch it later, or simply wait for the inevitable repeat…

 

QUICK TIP

Picture in picture (PIP), picture and picture (PAP) and picture out of picture (POP) are all ways of displaying two or more pictures on the screen. It’s a neat idea but it’s worth checking the small print in the TV specs to make sure you can actually watch two TV channels at once. In a lot of cases the second sub-screen or split screen relies on an external video input, from a VCR or digibox and for a TV to show two channels at once it must also have twin tuners.

 

 

Q

I wonder if you could help me with a picture query on my TV? On very dark films - Alien for example, I notice a line darker than the actual picture maybe one a second scrolling left to right across the screen. Once you notice it, it becomes very annoying and difficult to not watch out for. I've checked the SCART lead for directionality and it is OK. Will I have to live with this or could it be as simple as buying a newer SCART cable?
Jason

A

One possibility is RF breakthrough, where the TV is picking up interference from a nearby radio transmitter, try removing the aerial lead and see if the problem disappears. It could be a TV broadcast and this can happen in strong signal areas, in which case you may need to fit an attenuator to your TV aerial. If it is interference it could be getting into the TV via a poorly screened SCART or AV lead, so disconnect everything except the SCART to the DVD. If the lead you are using is old, cheap or of dubious origin it might be worth replacing – do it in any case if you have any doubts about the quality. Other nearby components, even the DVD player could be the source so temporarily move the amplifier speakers and any other devices well away from the vicinity of the TV. Whilst looking for fault reports on this model on the Internet we came across one newsgroup user seeing what sounded like fairly distinct vertical white lines when replaying Region 1 discs on this TV. This seems to have been a one off and at the time of writing there were no other reports or suggested cures but it may be related so we’ll keep an eye on it and if anyone else has experienced similar problems we’d be interested in hearing from you. 

 

QUICK TIP

RF Breakthrough is a very common problem. It doesn’t take much to upset the picture on modern TVs which nowadays are often connected to a vast array of electronic devices, most of which generate radio frequency fields, or provide a conduit for interference. There is no easy solution but one way of minimising the risk is to use good quality AV connecting leads and regularly check the condition of cables from rooftop aerials and satellite dishes, which can deteriorate after being exposed to the elements for a few years. 

 

 
Q

I have had a Panasonic HS900 S-VHS deck since 1998. During the first year, there were intermittent screeching noises, but not enough to warrant repair under guarantee. The screech has become worse, appearing with virtually any tape. The deck has been back to the Panasonic dealer several times to try to fix the problem, with no success. The noise now appears almost all the time, especially once warmed-up, and after rewinding or search rewinding a short distance, and has some cyclic nature to it.
 
Earlier this year, the dealer replaced the capstan rotor unit, pinch wheel and tension band unit in the hope it would solve the problem.  The noise disappeared for 3 months after this, and then returned to its original bad level. I have attached an MP3 recording of the noise, made at about 10cm from the cassette slot.
Paul Coghlin

 

A

Thanks for the recording, it’s got a good rhythm, we’re thinking of re-mixing it… The noise is obviously mechanical in nature, it sounds like a shot bearing but whatever it is, we can’t understand why the engineer wasn’t been able to fix it properly first time? If the problem has been identified as a fault and repaired – as it clearly was in your case – if it goes wrong again within a reasonable period, the company that carried out the work has a clear obligation to take it back and have another go. The danger is that you resign yourself to living with it or leave it too long, which will weaken your case. If the repairer guaranteed their work -- and you shouldn’t deal with a company that doesn’t -- then take it back and ask them to have another look at it, and you might like to tell them to check to make sure that this time the replacement part is correctly fitted and lubricated!

 

 

Q

I am an ex-pat working in the Middle East and have just bought a Sony DAV-S800, which I am extremely pleased with. I bought the system out here, consequently it is multi-region from new. My wife and I have been ordering DVD's through the Play247 web site, which we are very impressed with.
 
My question is, there are about 10 or so Superbit DVDs on sale through the web site, and having read a review about these discs, I am keen to buy a couple. But upon reading the info on the Play247 site, they have said that these special discs will not play on some players. To avoid spending money and time, buying these can you tell me if Superbit discs will play on my Sony machine?

Darren Young

A

It may help to know -- and indirectly answer your question -- that the originator of Superbit is Columbia Tristar, which is part of the Sony Corporation, so it seems highly unlikely that there would be any compatibility problems. In fact Superbit DVDs should work with all DVD players because they remain within the format specification. It works like this: Superbit DVDs have all of the extra features stripped out, which leaves more room on the disc for the movie picture and sound data. That basically means using higher bitrates, or to put it another way, lower compression, so more picture and sound detail can be packed in. To put some numbers on that the movie component on a normal DVD with half an hour’s worth, say, of extra features has a bitrate of around 4 or 5 megabit/sec. Superbit DVDs have an average bitrate of between 6 and 7Mbps, this is still well within the DVD spec, which allows for bitrates of up to 10Mbps.

 

QUICK TIP

What does Superbit recording mean in the real world? Thus far opinions appear to be divided with some reviewers claiming to see a real improvement in picture quality – sharper colours, more detail and so on, and crisper, sharper sound. Incidentally, it benefits dts more than Dolby Digital, which can make better use of faster bitrates. Then there are those who maintain that the performance gains are marginal and only noticeable on high-end home cinema systems and there’s little to be gained when played on budget or mid-range equipment. Several Region 2 titles have just been released so check them out for yourself and let us know what you think.

 


Q

I have an ‘active’ 5.1 channel loudspeaker system, which only has a volume control at the subwoofer. This means that I'm looking for a DVD player with a volume control on the analogue output. This detail is never mentioned so it's hard to guess if they have it or not. I really don't want to buy an amplifier, as it would defeat the object of having active speakers. As you seem to have tested lots of good players you might help me out in this matter.

Also, when a DVD players has a ‘3D surround mode’ does that mean that I can play CDs through the 5.1 speakers? With the player I have now music only plays through a 2-channel" output, which means my subwoofer isn't helping the small speakers at all. As I want to play CD's (also MP3) through the same system as the DVD output.
Micke Bergman
 
A

In fact in our Group Tests and First Looks we always note whether or not a DVD player has a volume control for the analogue outputs but since it concerns only a relatively small number of models and, we suspect, is of little interest to the vast majority of users it only appears in the extra features listings. Your setup appears to be most unusual and we would guess that you are using a PC sound system as most if not all of the active speaker packages we’re aware of have a remote control facility. It would have been helpful to know how your system is configured; are you using Dolby Pro Logic surround derived from the stereo output or are you after a player with an on-board 5.1 channel decoder? If it’s the former then some recently players we’ve tested that have volume controls include: Bush DVD-2008, Goodmans GDVD131, Truvox DVD-600. Level controls tend to be a little more commonplace on models with 5.1 decoders and players worth investigating are the Haus H-615L, Lecson DVD-1000 and LG DVD-5095

 

Generally speaking the 3D surround modes on DVD players only operate during DVD replay, the CD and MP3 outputs are normally unprocessed. There are bound to be exceptions but for the moment we can’t think of any.

 

 

QUICK TIP

Active or cordless speakers may sound like a great idea, especially when your spouse, partner or parents has made it clear that wires all over the place are not welcome but there really is no substitute for proper speakers and an amplifier. Active speaker systems are inflexible, you can’t easily change of upgrade the speakers for example, and there may be problems with interference, this can be a real nuisance on wireless systems, especially if a next-door neighbour or someone nearby also has any cordless/wireless devices in their home. 

 

 

Q

My current system includes a Rotel RA-840BX4 amplifier, Yamaha DSP E-492 AV Processor/Amplifier, Sony KV-28FQ75 TV, Sony SLV-SE720 VCR and Pioneer DV-626D DVD. As you can see, parts of my system are over 10 years old!  I am very happy with the sound it produces for both music and films but I can't help thinking that it could sound much better, especially for films.  My plan is to upgrade the speakers and replace my tuner, amp and AV processor/amp with a single AV receiver. The room is not very large but it is very minimalist so there is ample room for a full surround setup. Are today's AV amps able to do as good a job with music as my 10-year old Rotel and should I go for a 6 or 7 channel amplifier? 

Chi Wong

 

A

There’s no denying the fact that most budget and mid-range AV amplifiers are something of a compromise but in most cases they manage to strike a very good balance between the quite different requirements and dynamics of CD audio and DVD movie soundtracks. You have obviously become very attached to your present setup and are clearly loath to part with it so any new system will have a lot to live up to and may well fall short of your expectations. However, you will find that the leap from stereo to multi-channel surround, and the difference it make to watching movies, and the convenience of having everything in one box will help you to get over any nostalgia for your old components. In any case, there’s nothing to stop you keeping the Rotel amp on standby just for CD replay; there should be plenty of spare room after all of the other boxes have gone.

 

If you budget allows it’s worth buying a 7-channel AV receiver with Dolby Digital EX, dts ES and so on as it provides a degree of future proofing so even if you don’t got for a full blown set-up straight away, you have the option.

 

BOX COPY 1 – SPATIAL SOUND

 

3D spatial and surround systems do a pretty good job of fooling us into thinking we’re hearing natural sounds from two or more loudspeakers but they’ve still got a long way to go. In the real world psychoacoustical research has shown that there are at least eight ways our ears and brain figure out where sounds are coming from.

 

Interaural Time Difference is a measure of the delay between a sound reaching the right and left ear. If the sound arrives at both ears the same time we judge the source to be directly in front or behind; a delay of just 63 milliseconds tells us that a sound is coming from the right or left. Early Echo Response is the reverberation of a sound – reflections from solid surfaces etc. -- that reach our ears between 50 and 100 milliseconds after the original sound and this tells our brains a lot about the distance and direction of the sound.

 

Head Shadow is the reduction in amplitude that occurs when a sound has to go through or around our head to reach an ear and again it contains information that our brains use to gauge direction. Pinna Response is the effect the outer ear – the flappy bit – has on higher frequencies, it acts like a filter and helps our brain work out if a sound is coming from above or below. Shoulder Echo affects low to medium frequency sounds (1 to 3kHz), these sounds are reflected by the upper body and shoulders, which our brains register as a time delay and this helps it to work out how high or low the source is. Head Motion -- the way we move our heads when trying to localise a sound – works best on higher frequency sounds, which tend to be very directional. Finally, our hearing is closely bound to vision and we use our eyes to locate the source of a sound, and confirm our perception of its direction.

 

 

BOX COPY 2 – NOISY DECKS

VCRs are usually amazingly quiet, considering the complexity of deck mechanisms.  In the early days of VHS it was widely believed that deck mechanisms would wear out after a couple of years and need replacing. They do go wrong of course but most VCRs are retired long before it ever becomes a problem. There are plenty of other things that can go wrong though and with so many moving parts, lots of opportunity for noisy operation. A constant high-pitched whine could be due to a lack of lubrication on the spacers beneath the supply or take-up reel hubs. These ensure the tape reels are at precisely the right height when the cassette is loaded. This can be due to a manufacturing fault, and it has also been known to happen when a VCR has been in for repair and the spacers have not been replaced or fitted incorrectly.

 

Bearings on the head drum and drive motors can become noisy though these are normally designed to last the life of the VCR -- plus a bit extra for good measure -- and it is fairly unusual for them to wear out prematurely. A continuous noise – as opposed to odd noises when lacing and unlacing tape or ejecting the cassette etc – is often due to a worn or ‘dry’ (i.e. unlubricated) bearing along the tape path. In addition to the supply and take-up reels, other potentially noisy parts on most decks include the Impedance Roller, which helps smooth tape flow, and the rubber-covered Pinch Roller and Capstan Shaft. The tape passes between the two rotating surfaces, which are pressed tightly together. This is what actually moves the tape during replay; a servo motor driving the capstan shaft draws the tape around the spinning video head drum and then past the Audio, Control and Erase (ACE) head assembly at a constant and carefully controlled speed.

 

---end---

 

Ó R. Maybury 2002, 2806

 

 

 

 

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