HINTS & TIPS
emigrating to Canada in the summer. We have a large collection of video tapes,
which we would like to take with us and I am thinking of taking our Panasonic
TV and VCR plus appropriate transformers. Would there be any problems using
these as a 'stand alone' arrangement purely for viewing our videos? I would
also need a sub-£200 PAL-capable multi-regional DVD player to play our DVDs
that I currently watch on my PC, perhaps a Sony DVP-NS700V? I also have an Aiwa
AV-D58 tuner, would this work?
As you know
Canada, like the US has a 110/120 volt AC/60Hz mains supply and whilst you
probably could persuade your current TV and VCR to work over there using a
suitable ‘step-down’ transformer, it would be much easier, and I suspect
cheaper and more convenient to sell your equipment and buy a multi-standard VCR
like the Samsung SV5000, which can be found selling in the UK for less than
This machine can play back any VHS recording, made anywhere in the world, on
any PAL, NTSC or SECAM TV, moreover it has a universal mains power supply, so
you don’t have to mess around with transformers. As for the DVD player, you
should buy that locally to avoid problems with power supplies and NTSC
playback. You can get all-region or ‘codefree’ players, as they call them over
there, in Canada or from US on-line retailers like dvdoverseas.com and
codefreedvd.com. There are not quite as many models on offer but prices are
comparable with the UK. Inevitably your Aiwa tuner suffers from the same power
supply problem, if you have a strong emotional attachment to it by all means
take it with you but in the end it’s probably best to go native straight away
and start with a clean slate.
surprising number of DVD players do in fact have ‘universal’ or ‘dual voltage’
power supplies, switchable NTSC/PAL video outputs and region coding locks,
though these options are often buried in hidden ‘service’ menus. This reflects
the fact that DVD players have become an international commodity item and the
same players – with a few relatively minor tweaks to the machine operating
software or ‘firmware – can be sold anywhere in the world and this
internationalisation has helped bring down the cost of DVD further and faster
than almost any other consumer technology.
I am trying
to get hold of some Smartfile labels for a Sony VCR. No one seems to do them
anymore and if anyone could help me, it's probably your publication...
the vote of confidence. SmartFile was one of a small flurry of tape library
systems that appeared in the late 1990s (see Quick Tip). It was technically the
most elegant because data concerning what was on a tape was stored in a
microchip embedded in the tape label, and this could be read and displayed on
the TV screen by simply ‘swiping’ the cassette past a sensor on the front of
the machine. However, at the time we noted that the labels were expensive
(around £1.60 each), and since Sony was the only company using the system it
was totally dependent on its continuing support for its survival. Interest in
tape library gizmos turned out to be short lived and Sony stopped making the
labels a year or so ago. You might be lucky and find a Sony Centre somewhere
with a stash of labels gathering dust in a storeroom but the outlook is bleak.
Rather than spending more money on an obsolete system it might be better to cut
your losses now and invest your time and effort in a more reliable indexing
system, a PC database or even the ultimate archiving solution, guaranteed to
outlast all technical developments – pen and paper…
library systems were all the rage a few years ago and Sony’s SmartFile was one
of the most advanced but several other equally ingenious systems from the likes
of Hitachi and Panasonic briefly captured our attention. Ultimately however,
they were all doomed because of two simple flaws. None of them could catalogue
tapes retrospectively – by the late 1990s most of us had huge tape collections
just crying out to be indexed – and all of the systems were proprietary, so if
the VCR packed up, or you changed machines your indexing system collapsed.
like some advice on buying a projector, which is the best for a short distance
of around 4 meters away from the wall? I have a second question concerning
progressive scan. The size of the image seems to be reduced, giving the appearance
of a better picture. I personally do not believe in progressive scan, but if
the picture is of poor quality to begin with, will the softening effect of
progressive scan improve the image?
need to know a great deal more about your situation than how far the projector
is going to be from the wall before we would attempt to make any specific
recommendations. There are a great many other considerations including how
large you want the displayed image to be, the ambient lighting conditions of
your viewing room, how it’s going to be mounted, and how much you want to
spend. You should arm yourself with as much relevant information as possible
and visit to a couple of local specialist home cinema dealers, who should be
able to narrow the field down for you. If you’re really serious you might want
to have one of them work out a proper installation plan for you.
scan does two things; it eliminates flicker, and sharpens the picture. That’s
because PS is more like movie film and each frame of a recording is a single
picture. In a conventional video image each frame is made up of two interlaced
‘fields’ and the edges of moving objects can appear jagged, due to the slight
differences between the two fields. At the moment progressive scan only makes a
difference on Region 1 DVDs when played on suitable NTSC equipment. Progressive
scan for PAL is a possibility but right now there’s only a tiny handful of
expensive players and display devices.
the right video projector for your home cinema needn’t be difficult but you
will need to get out the tape measure. First work out the maximum size of the
screen area, and don’t forget to make allowances for the fact that a 4:3
display will require around 25% more depth than a 16:9 image. Then you need to
know how far the projector is going to be from the screen or ‘throw distance’.
projector manufacturer websites have video projector ‘calculators’ to do the
sums and help you draw up a shortlist of suitable models, have a look at:
looking into buying a large (42 inch) plasma TV but I've heard that the screens
only have a life expectancy of about 5 years. Is this true, and if not, what is
the true story? I like the compact size of plasma displays, but if the price
versus life balance means that I need to replace the screen then I'd prefer a
that in the early days fears were expressed about the longevity of plasma
displays. This may have had something to do with the fact that a lot of panels
were used for information displays, which were often running for between 16 and
24 hours a day and therefore tended to grow dim or expire after just a few
years. The reliability of first generation panels may also have added to the
story but the fact is there’s no significant difference in the longevity of
plasma display panels (PDPs) and conventional cathode ray tubes (CRTs).
are naturally cagey about the numbers but if pressed usually quote a figure of
between 25,000 and 30,000 hours, at which point the maximum brightness will
have fallen slightly, by around 25 to 30%. More recently some manufacturers
have started quoting 35, 000 to 50,000 ‘half life’ hours, at which point
brightness has fallen by 50% but to put those numbers into context that means
with an average viewing time of 6 hours per day there should be no significant
change in picture quality in the first 8 to 12 years of use.
some more plasma myths. PDPs do not emit harmful ionising radiation, and the
electromagnetic emissions are considerably less than a normal CRT based TV or
monitor. There are no significant differences between commercial panels, used
for information displays and home plasma screens, the same panels and most of
the internal circuitry are identical. A few dud or ‘lit’ pixels are considered
acceptable provided they re not close to the centre of the screen. It is
possible more will fail during the lifetime of the screen, often within the
first three months of use.
considering buying a 32-inch widescreen TV. While all the sets I have seen have
a facility to alter the size and shape of the on-screen image only the
Panasonic ones have the very useful feature of being able to finely adjust the
vertical size and shape of the image to fit the screen exactly. All others seem
to have four or five fixed options with no room for further adjustment. Do you
know of any other brands that may have this facility?
It’s an age
old question, how much control should you have over your TV? Back in the 1970’s
several manufacturers experimented with TVs that automatically adjusted
brightness, contrast and colour settings to suit room lighting conditions.
Needless to say the idea was a complete flop, we all like to have a fiddle and
usually wind up the colour and contrast way past their correct settings... The
same goes for picture size, these days there are so many different aspect
ratios on broadcast TV video and DVD (see Getting Started), and very few of
them precisely fit the 16:9 screen format. Nor are they meant to fill the
screen exactly; a certain amount of ‘overscan’ is normal, to hide the fuzzy
edges and fringes of the picture and to compensate for variations in shape and
linearity errors. In theory there’s no need for manual intervention and the
factory presets are usually the best compromise. Most manufacturers take the
view that more controls mean higher prices and more to go wrong. The kind of
comprehensive manual controls you are seeking are very rare and as far as I’m
aware, confined to a handful of Panasonic models (reader updates welcome).
researching 32-inch widescreen TVs, however some I have seen on display in
shops had a surprisingly bad picture! One Panasonic model I looked at had very
bad ghosting, even when watching a DVD over RGB SCART using a good cable. Would
you expect the TV to perform better at home?
ceases to amaze us how many shops and dealers still manage to get something so
simple as displaying a TV set so badly wrong. Of course it should look better
in your home, but how are you to judge? Unfavourable positioning close to large
windows, strong overhead lighting and incorrect picture settings are bad enough
but we’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve seen large home cinema
widescreen TVs showing 4:3 pictures, or set to the wrong aspect ratio and then
there’s the truly depressing sight of a bank of TVs fed with a weak or noisy
signal. However, there’s absolutely no excuse for ghosting or indeed anything
less than a perfect picture when a TV is connected to a DVD player by a SCART
lead. It shouldn’t happen and there must be a fault somewhere, which suggests
that the dealer concerned is unusually careless and really doesn’t deserve your
lit showroom really is the worst place to try and judge the picture quality of
a TV. Dealers who care about the way their products are displayed and want to
show them to their best advantage will have a viewing room facility, that
closely replicates the sort of conditions you’re likely to find in a typical
living room. This will include low-level tungsten lighting, relatively few
reflective surfaces and somewhere comfortable for you to sit. Award extra points to any dealer who takes
the trouble to asks you about your own room, viewing distances, furnishing etc.
replaced my old speakers with a new set of Miller & Kreisel K Series
speakers (three K-7 front and centre, a pair of K-5s on the rear) and a REL
Q150 sub. I'm really pleased with the results so far! The issue I have is the
setting for the front/centre speakers on my Denon AVD-2000 preamp/processor.
The instructions suggest that if your speakers cannot reproduce frequencies
below 80Hz, then you should set them to small. The frequency response of the
K-7s is 80Hz - 20kHz. As you can imagine I am worried about damaging my costly
K-7s but at the same time want to get the most out of them.
frequency response of your speakers is not an absolute figure – it’s probably
within 5% of the specs – but the point is they will not suddenly stop
functioning at frequencies below 80Hz, nor will an incorrect setting on your AV
processor cause the M & Ks to self-destruct. Technical specifications
should be regarded as a useful guide to operation and performance but you
really shouldn’t take them too seriously. Obviously you should always take heed
of the warnings and cautions in instruction manuals, and always double-check connections
before you switch on, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Hi-fi and surround
sound are not exact sciences and the various adjustments and modes on the
various components are there to help you tailor the sound, to the equipment,
it’s surroundings and your own personal tastes.
I have a
digital TV box and NICAM video both with SCART connections. I am looking to
replace my old Sony mono TV with a new widescreen model, add on a DVD player
and get surround sound. What I want sound-wise is Dolby Digital 5.1 for DVDs
and Dolby Pro-Logic II to decode surround sound from the FreeView channels
(also to enhance the NICAM signals from my video). DTS would be a bonus, but
not essential. Can I connect the digibox, VCR and TV to an all-in-one home
cinema box, to cover all these requirements? Also, I watch a lot of football,
and reviews often suggest that 100Hz TVs do not cope very well with fast
action, producing a 'smearing' effect. Would you suggest sticking to a 50Hz
If you want
absolutely everything in one box then a couple of systems spring to mind. A
particular favourite of ours (see HE November 2002) is the JVC TH-V70R, which
does everything you want, and quite a bit more besides. The slightly cheaper
Pioneer DCS303 is also worth considering; this also combines a well specced DVD
player with an amplifier, 5.1 and Pro Logic II decoders, spatial processor and
speakers. Connecting your system together won’t be a problem. The VCR and
digibox can share one daisy-chained SCART input on the TV, with their stereo
audio outputs going to the AV box, and this connect to the TV using a separate
SCART or S-Video cable.
A lot of
processing is involved in generating a 100Hz picture and some TV do indeed have
problems coping with rapid movement. It’s getting better all the time though,
and on some recent models – the new Philips Pixel Plus range is a case in point
-- you would be hard pressed to spot any serious motion artefacts or smearing,
but see for yourself and spend some time – preferably when there’s some footy
on – in your local AV dealer’s showrooms and compare a few models.
Most of us
are familiar with idea that TV screens come in two distinct styles or aspect
ratios: older models are based on the
old cinematic ‘Academy’ or 4:3 format (i.e. 4 units wide by 3 units deep) and
widescreen TVs are a 16:9 shape, but over the years the movie industry, and to
a lesser extent television has used a mind-boggling array of picture sizes,
here’s a few to be getting on with:
screen format to ever make it into movie theatres was the short-lived Cinerama
system, which tops the list as 3.0:1 and 2.7:1. This relied on three
synchronised cameras and the movies were shown using three projectors on a wide
and deeply curved screen.
comes in several sizes, progressing from 2.66:1 to 2.55:1 and eventually ending
up at 2.35:1. Although other styles have largely taken over many famous movies,
including the original Star Wars series were shot in this format.
Super Panavision have an aspect ratio of 2.76:1 and 2.20:1 respectively and
were used on many major films, including Ben Hur, Mutiny on the Bounty, It’s a
Mad Mad World and 2001 A Space Odyssey, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Since the 1970s
Panavision has become the most popular format for shooting widescreen movies
and television programmes, replacing the ageing Cinemascope format with aspect
ratios of 2.35:1 and 1.85:1 (the latter usually expressed as 16:9).
Super 35 is
a hybrid system that creates a widescreen image by cropping or ‘matting’ a
frame of 35mm film to produce the characteristic widescreen shape. Sometimes,
when older movies shot in this format are transferred to video you often see
extra detail in the top of the picture like microphone booms, which you
wouldn’t normally see on a cinema screen. Super 35 classics include Aliens,
Terminator 2, True Lies and Titanic.
AFTER YOUR PLASMA SCREEN
plasma display panels (PDPs) should last as long as conventional CRT picture
tubes but the eye-wateringly high prices means that it’s not something you want
to replace any sooner than you have to. Fortunately there a lot you can do to
slow down the ageing process and maintain a brighter, sharper picture for
images can cause ‘burn-in’ and in an extreme case this can result in permanent
damage. The graphic elements in video games are particularly bad in this
respect, so avoid keeping the same image on the screen for more than a few
minutes at a time.
screens have a special screensaver mode that shifts the whole image by a few
pixels every few minutes; make sure this facility is enabled. This helps avoid
burn-in from the ‘Dogs’ (digital on-screen graphics) or channel idents
broadcast by many satellite TV channels and Ch 5.
As far as
possible use the display in widescreen mode, to even up phosphor burn over the
whole screen; displaying a 4:3 image for prolonged periods can result in the
outer edges of the screen aging more slowly and over time the borders may end
up slightly brighter.
brightness and contrast settings as low as possible for the prevailing lighting
conditions. High brightness levels accelerate phosphor ageing and can
significantly reduce the panel’s life.
panels can get quite hot and overheating will reduce the life of some
electronic components. Early PDPs had noisy cooling fans but many recent models
rely instead on natural airflow through ventilation slots on the back so make
sure these are unobstructed and finally, switch it off when not in use.
Ó R. Maybury 2002, 0101