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HINTS & TIPS HE 121

 

MONSTER WIDESCREEN TRILOGY
I have a Panasonic TX-28DT2 TV, Amstrad digibox and an LG DA-5620 home cinema system. I leave the TV on Auto and it switches between wide and 4:3 automatically and correctly on all sources. Or at least it did. I have recently added a Pace Twin Digital TV Recorder and a Trilogy 2 SCART switching box. The LG is connected with a Monster S-Video to SCART lead. The Trilogy 2 is connected with a Monster Video SCART lead but the Pace and Amstrad are connected to the Trilogy with their original leads. Now the TV spends most of its time in widescreen, even when it shouldn’t. Is this due to the quality of the original leads or is there some other problem?
Alan Grimes

A

Lead quality or performance is unlikely to have anything to do with it, though this problem, like most connection maladies could be due at least in part to the dreaded SCART but maybe we won’t have to suffer much longer – see Getting Started. However, there does seem to be at least one problem with your configuration and there may be some compatibility issues between two of the components in your system.

 

Most DVD players use pin 8 on the SCART connector for widescreen switching (WSS), and as far as we’re aware that’s the case with all LG models, so if you are now using an S-Video connection auto switching will no longer work.  The other problem is a potential conflict between the Pace digibox recorder and Trilogy 2 switcher, though we have also come across one report suggesting that WSS on the Pace box can be erratic. We’re not exactly sure why you need a SCART switcher since your TV has two sockets try daisy-chaining the Pace recorder and Amstrad digibox onto one of them and connect the LG system to the other one.

 

 

QUICK TIP

Widescreen switching involves four disparate technologies so it’s hardly surprising that things don’t always work as planned. TV broadcasters and DVDs ‘flag’ up widescreen material by inserting signals in picture line 23 or the digital datastream. Most digiboxes and DVD players translate the flags into a into switching signal that appears on Pin 8 of the SCART connector, though the line 23 flag may also be present on the video signal output from some devices. Meanwhile TVs can be designed to react to either or both Pin 8 and line 23 switching signals, as well making their own arbitrary decisions about picture size and shape. 

 

 

 

ORANGE AID
I've a Philips widescreen TV, and I am having problems with what I call ‘Dale Wintonitis’. I recently changed my DVD player from a Pioneer DV626 as I thought there was a problem with its video circuit as everyone looked unnaturally orange (hence the name). I've bought a Philips DVD728 and hooked it up to AV1 the same as the Pioneer, using the same Ixos SCART lead, but the flesh tones are still orange. However, if I connect the DVD player into AV2 (non RGB) the picture is perfect. Have you heard of this sort of problem before and is it easily fixable?
G. Jones

A

RGB video connections generally give the best picture quality because the signals go through fewer stages of processing, compared with composite or S-Video signals, so noise levels are lower and there’s less chance for the picture information to be degraded. Because of this RGB signals go more or less straight into the picture tube or display device’s driver circuitry. There will be some internal pre-set controls for adjusting colour balance during manufacture but these are kept hidden as they would be difficult for a consumer to use, without access to specialised test equipment. Most manufacturers take the view that it’s better to avoid tinkering and limit the customer controls for RGB inputs to an absolute minimum. The characteristics of display devices will vary over time as components age so the occasional tweak may be necessary bit it’s a reasonably straightforward job for an engineer and should only take a few minutes.

 

QUICK TIP

Some TVs and video displays do have simple colour controls for the RGB video but it is usually confined to adjusting picture tint or ‘hue’. This normally has a very limited range and alters the ratio between two of the primary colours, to make allowances for any imbalance on the source signal (comparatively rare on PAL material) or the performance of the display device. Hue and tint controls can also be useful to compensate for changes in colour level due to ambient lighting conditions and to accommodate the viewer’s preferences. 

 

 

 

PICTURE THIS
I would like convert photographs taken on my digital still camera into the best quality format that can be shown on a TV. I require a product, which will replace my video tape recorder -- because I don’t have space for two devices -- and play SVCD format slide shows produced on my computer using a CD writing package. I have looked a various manufacturer’s websites and specifications, but am not much wiser.
Peter Grundy

 

A

What you really want is a combination DVD Recorder and VCR. Unfortunately, as far as we are aware no one makes such a device so it’ll have to be a DVD Recorder, or possibly a combi DVD Recorder/HDD recorder, like the Panasonic DMR-HS2. However, in both cases you will have to give up tape, though you could always keep your old VCR handy for occasional hook-ups. Most DVD recorders can play Video CD/SVCDs, which means you can watch your slideshow discs, and you’ll have the facility to record TV programmes and watch DVDs. There’s one small proviso, compatibility with Video CD/SVCD is not part of the DVD spec and manufacturers are not obliged include it so you would be well advised to take a couple of your picture discs along with you when auditioning DVD recorders. It is technically possible to create still slideshows on DVD though you would have to upgrade your PC or fit a DVD recorder drive and obtain some suitable authoring software but compatibility issues aside, the end result – the pictures on the screen – are unlikely to look significantly better than your current Video CD slideshows (see Quick Tip).

 

 

QUICK TIP

The quality of still picture slideshows on Video CD can be surprisingly good, with plenty of fine detail and natural looking colours. The resolution of a ‘standard’ movie VCD is some way below that of DVD at 480 x 480 (or 480 x 576) pixels for PAL discs but most photo VCD authoring software packages have the facility to use a higher resolution specifically for still pictures of 704 x 576 pixels. This compares very favourably with DVD’s baseline resolution of 720 x 576 pixels.

 

 

 

LG SOUND BUY?
Following on from your review of the Hitachi C2886TN TV I bought one and have been pleased with it. So when I recently saw your review on the LG DA-5620 DVD Home Cinema System, I thought that might be for me as well. I bought one and spent a few hours setting it all up, but I can't get any sound from the LG system whilst watching the VCR or digibox? However, it is fine when playing DVDs and CDs. I have connected it via the SCART adaptor provided, as it seems the best and easiest way of looping them together, or is there something else I should have done? I am not as technically minded as you lot, so could you please help?
Keith G.

 

A

If we’re reading your query correctly the problem seems to be that you have ‘daisy chained’ the AV outputs from the VCR and digibox with the SCART output from the DA-5620. This means that the audio outputs from these components are channelled directly through to the TV. In order to use the DA-560’s surround sound features you will need to connect both devices to it using a pair of stereo phono-to-phono cables. These go between the VCR and digibox’s stereo audio output sockets and the appropriate audio inputs on the back of the DA-5620. Incidentally, you may experience poor picture quality with this configuration due to interference from the DA-5620’s Macrovision anti-piracy system, if so the VCR and digibox can be linked by a SCART cable and connected to one of the TV’s other SCART sockets.

 

 

 

THAT’S PROGRESS…
I’ve just purchased a Philips 36PW9525 television and I am thinking about getting a Harman Kardon DVD25, which uses PAL progressive scan
pictures but I am unsure if my TV can handle this?
L. Bond

A

Unfortunately not, the 36PW9525 first appeared three years ago, which in the fast moving world of home entertainment makes it almost prehistoric. You’ll need something a little more up to date to get any use out of this player’s PS output.

 

Back in 2000 – Millennium Domes and bugs all seem a very long time ago -- progressive scan was just starting to take off in the US as a high-end feature on a handful of NTSC DVD players and TVs but aside from a few well off home cinema enthusiasts, it was almost unheard of in Europe. Even today TVs and displays with progressive scan/component, non-interlaced video inputs are very much in the minority and the market for PAL progressive scan is still in its infancy, though whether or not PAL progressive Scan is worth having in the first place is open to question (see Getting Started).

 

The point is if you have aspirations to be an early adopter and keep up with the latest developments it requires a fair amount of research and needless to say it can be an expensive business. If you are interested in a new or innovative feature you should also be prepared to be act as an unpaid tester and guinea pig for the rest of us. As we’ve seen all too frequently in the past few years developments in home cinema, and DVD in particular are sometimes foisted upon us without being properly tested or researched.

 

 

 

DATED DENON?
I've seen the Denon AVF100 mini system advertised on various websites for around £700 and I know that this has had some good reviews but wanted to check how this compares with newer systems because this is over two years old now. I wondered what this might be lacking in terms of specifications and functionality compared to other systems.

Ashley Chandler

A

The AVF100 was notable for being the first mini system to be supplied with NXT flat panel speakers. Otherwise the specification is fairly straightforward, with Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 channel surround sound decoders, 5 x 25 watts amplification and an RDS tuner.

 

In contrast to the video side of home cinema, audio developments proceed at a more leisurely pace (see previous question) so there are not too many new features to worry about. The most significant newcomers include 6.1 channel surround sound (Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES), but these haven’t turned up on mini systems yet, at least not one in your price range. DVD-Audio and SACD have also appeared in the past couple of years though strictly speaking they are not home cinema features.

 

From a performance standpoint the AVF100 still stacks up reasonably well against the current crop of mini systems though it’s worth pointing out that by today’s standards the power output is on the low side and better suited to fairly small rooms and depending on your room size it might be better to go for something with a bit more muscle. If shopping for alternatives we would also add an RGB video output (for the best possible picture quality) and perhaps a powered sub-woofer output to our wish list.

 

 

QUICK TIP

Once trendy component AV mini systems have now become something of a backwater in home cinema design and marketing. This is in part due to the steady decline of the tape cassette, which has been a determining factor in the shape and layout of compact audio and AV systems for the past quarter of a century. For the last five years there has been a steady move towards one-box package systems, based around a single CD/DVD deck mechanism, reflecting the shift in audio and video recording technology away from analogue tape to digital disc.

 


SPEAKER TWEAKER?
I have a Pioneer DCS-505 all in one home cinema system but I am hoping to fully upgrade to an all separates system. However, due to finances this will be a slow process. I have seen a great deal on the net for a pair of KEF Cresta 30 floor standing speakers and was wondering would these be compatible with my system?
Ashley Sheil

A

Despite looks to the contrary under the skin the actual drive units inside the speakers included with most packaged surround sound systems are normally fairly conventional and the ones supplied with the Pioneer DSC-505 are no exception. The front satellites, which you are proposing to replace, have a nominal 6-ohm impedance and the amplifier that drives them has a power of around 75 watts. The Cresta 30s are rated at 8ohm/100 watts so no problems there. However, there are a couple of points to watch out for. Firstly, the DSC-505 front satellites are configured to work with the rest of the speakers in the package and because of their physical shape and design changing them for a pair with different dynamics will almost certainly unbalance the system and may expose or exaggerate weaknesses in the centre, rear and sub-woofer channels, so be prepared for a fair amount of level tweaking and box shifting. Second, the Cresta 30’s are not magnetically shielded so they cannot be placed close to the TV screen (assuming it’s a CRT model) otherwise the magnets inside may cause colour staining.

 

 

QUICK TIP

Few topics generate as much heated debate as loudspeaker design and placement. Newcomers and novices face a barrage of advice, much of it conflicting, but take heart, acoustics in the domestic environment is not and never will be an exact science. The most expensive speakers are not necessarily the best and the ‘sound’ of a system can be influenced just as much by the design of AV speakers as where they are placed room furnishings and even the thickness of the carpet and curtains.

 

 

 

MIX N’ MATCH
I wonder if you could help me match a receiver with my speakers. I have a pair of B&W DM601S3 front, DM302 rear (no centre) and a Dolby Pro Logic amplifier. I want to upgrade to 6.1 channel surround sound without getting rid of my B&Ws. I plan to add a pair of DM601S3 and LCR 3 (is this okay?) or LCR 60 if it sounds better. But due to a limited budget, I have to choose only from these three receivers: Denon AVR1803, Marantz SR5300 and Onkyo TX-SR600. Which of the three receivers do you think would sound best with my speaker system?
Laureano Rodriguez, Jr

 

A

By happy coincidence the three products you’ve mentioned were all included in an AV Receiver Mega Test featured in HE 114 (March 2003) and the results were fairly conclusive. All three gave a good account of themselves but two of them stood out, for different reasons. The Marantz SR5300 emerged as a Best Buy with excellent all round performance but geared more towards music than home cinema. However, the Onkyo TX-SR600 is the one you should be looking at and to quote from the final paragraph in the review: ‘…couple it with quality speakers, such as any B&W products costing more than £1000, and it will work wonders’. You needn’t take that figure too literally, though by the time you’ve added another pair of 601S3s and an LCR60 (which we would opt for in preference to the less well balanced LCR3) you won’t have much change left from £1000.

 

 

GETTING STARTED 1 – PAL PROGRESSIVE SCAN

There’s been a fair mount of interest recently in the appearance of PAL progressive scan on DVD players and display devices but before you get too excited it’s unlikely to result in any major improvements in picture quality, at least not just yet. 

 

Progressive Scan was developed to overcome the inherent problems involved in converting movies to NTSC video. The process, known as 3:2 Pulldown, results in a significant reduction in picture quality, the best known effects being ‘combing’ where moving objects in the picture have blurry or jagged edges and a slight jerkiness or ‘staggering’ as movie film, shot at 24 frames per second is reprocessed in a bewilderingly complicated manner to match the 30 fps of NTSC video.

 

PAL video operates at 25 frames per second and the 3:2 pulldown conversion process isn’t needed (movie film is simply speeded up slightly during the transfer process) consequently there’s no need for progressive scan to counteract the effects of combing and picture staggers. The main problem with PAL video is interline flicker, and whilst progressive scan does eliminate that, other strategies have been developed, such as 100Hz display. The most recent systems, which use buffer memories to recombine interlaced fields into full frames, produce a similar cinema-like quality of NTSC progressive scan.

 

PAL progressive scan does have its uses though and it has the potential to improve the quality of material shot on video (as opposed to film) and since this is the way the movie industry is moving it is definitely something to keep a close eye on.

 

 

GETTING STARTED 2

Around half of the home cinema problems we deal with are connected (no pun intended) in way or another to SCART cables. This much despised means of conveying analogue AV signals breaks all of the rules by mixing high and low frequency signals in the same wire bundle. Mechanically it’s a disaster and unlike just about every other type of multi-pin connector it lacks any sort of positive locking mechanism so plugs fall out or work their way loose from sockets with monotonous regularity. They’re unreliable, fragile, electrically noisy, the various wiring schemes are a mess and the rest of the world outside Europe has rightly given it a wide berth.

 

Salvation could soon be at hand, though, with the introduction of HDMI or the High Definition Multimedia Interface. HDMI is in the final stages of becoming an international industry standard connection system for moving uncompressed digital audio and video information between set-top boxes, DVD players and recorders, digital televisions, AV receivers, PCs and any other digital devices that want to get in on the act. 

 

HDMI has the backing of all of the leading consumer electronics manufacturers, including Hitachi, Matsushita (Panasonic), Philips, Sony, Thomson (RCA) and Toshiba, not to mention a fair sprinkling of big names in the movie business like Fox and Universal, plus various PC hardware and cable TV companies, so it’s off to a good start. 

 

From the user’s standpoint (i.e. us consumers) it promises to be a dream come true, connectors are small and secure – similar in size and shape to USB connectors – and one cable can carry the equivalent of ten coaxial leads worth of analogue audio and video. HDMI has been designed to be future-proof (we’ll wait and see on that one…), with a bandwidth of up to 5 gigabytes/sec, which is more than enough to accommodate all foreseeable high definition video and multi-channel sound and control systems. If everything goes according to plan the first HDMI equipped products should be in the shops later this year.

 

---end---

 

Ó R. Maybury 2003, 2508

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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