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HINTS & TIPS


THE WIDE ANGLE
I have a Sky+ box and a Panasonic TX-W28R4DP widescreen TV. An RGB connection gives the best picture quality but the TV does not handle my preferred 4:3 mode, so the next best option is S-Video. However, the Sky+ box only outputs S-Video on a mini-DIN connector. I can use an S-Video mini-DIN to SCART cable for connecting the Sky+ box to the TV but I lose the convenience of automatic source selection and widescreen switching. Would it be possible to get a SCART cable with separate S-Video and stereo phono input connections, plus a lead for the widescreen control signal from the SCART output of the Sky+ box?

Ian Payton

 

A

Widescreen switching causes all sorts of problems, mainly because there are several ways of doing it and no industry-wide standard, which leaves manufacturers free to handle widescreen images as they see fit. Unfortunately Panasonic, like several other manufacturers, seemed to think (in the early days at least…) that RGB video signals could only come from DVD players, and therefore the picture must be in 16:9 format…

 

Your widescreen switching idea might just work though as far as we’re aware no such cable exists, and we’re unable to test it with your particular combination of products so you try it at your own risk, but it should be relatively easy for a tech at your local TV/video dealer to make up a lead for you. The simplest method would be to start with a fully wired SCART-to-SCART cable. At the TV end pins 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16 & 18, which carry RGB video and switching signals need to be disconnected and a S-Video lead wired in, using pin 15 for chrominance  (from pin 1 on the S-Video plug) and Pin 20 for luminance (from pin 4 on the S-Video plug).

 

QUICK TIP

There are two more or less standard wiring schemes for SCART sockets. ‘Arrangement 1’ is the original layout and carries composite video input and outputs, RGB input and stereo audio input and output. ‘Arrangement 2’ came later, following the development of Super VHS and Hi8 VCRs and camcorders in the mid 1980s, with provision for S-Video signals. Most recent TVs have one Arrangement 1 socket and one Arrangement 2 socket, with the facility to switch between composite and S-Video inputs. The second socket often carries video output as well, allowing a VCR to record whatever is being shown on TV, or connected to AV socket 1.

 

 

 

PICKY PLAYER
I bought a Panasonic SC-HT80 system (with all-region chip) two years ago based on your review. I am in desperate need of help as my SC-HT80 seems to have developed a fault and is refusing to play some DVDs. So far this has affected Spiderman and The Bourne Identity -- both played once -- and a rental copy of Sum of All Fears (all Region 2). However, a brand new Die Another Day disc works fine. The dealer that sold me the system may need a replacement optical pick up costing
  £130 but surely this would affect all discs? Any ideas?
Neil Stevenson

A

The dealer may be on the right track but his solution might be a bit drastic, not to say rather expensive. The fact that your DVD plays some discs but rejects them subsequently suggests that it’s not a software, processing or region coding problem. The other clue is your system’s age and since it is now over two years old there’s a very good chance that the laser pickup has become contaminated and is in need of a wash and brush up. It only take a few specks of dust or a fine coating of gunge, from cigarette smoke for example, for a player refuse to play a disc, especially if it is already borderline due to grubby finger marks or dirt on the surface. You should get hold of a good quality CD/DVD cleaning kit, give it a couple of run-through’s and try again and if that doesn’t solve the problems then it may well require expert attention.  

 

QUICK TIP

There are at least two types of CD/DVD cleaners on the market: ‘Dry’ cleaner kits have a small brush mounted on the surface of a disc, which dusts the surface of the laser pickup lens as the disc spins. ‘Wet’ cleaners also use a brush, in conjunction with few drops of leaning fluid, usually isopropyl alcohol. In general wet kits do the most thorough job but it’s important to follow the instructions to the letter, and allow plenty of time for any residual cleaning fluid to evaporate, before attempting to play a disc.

 

 

 

SILENT DIN
I am trying desperately to track down a 9-pin DIN connector lead for my Cambridge audio speaker system (DTT-3500). I've set them up to my PC, and no one seems to this lead! I'm sure I'm not the only one with this problem. None of the usual sources can help, can you?
Sye Austin

A

The 9-pin DIN cable is indeed a rare beast. Creative Labs introduced this connector format a few years ago and to date is mainly found on high-end PC audio cards in the SoundBlaster range, where it is known as the ‘Digital DIN’ connector. Cambridge Soundworks are owned by Creative Labs, hence the appearance of a Digital DIN on the DTT-3500. Digital DIN is mostly used for advanced applications in PC-based music making and recording and in this case it is intended to connect the DT-3500 to a PC fitted with a SoundBlaster audio card. The idea is it bypasses the sound card’s on-board digital-to-analogue (DAC) converter in favour of the one inside the 3500. The DAC in the 3500 is a more advanced design and doing the processing away from the electrically noisy environs of a PC should also help to improve audio quality. 

 

Clearly you will only require a 9-pin DIN lead if your PC has a suitable SoundBlaster card, in which case we can understand your frustration because they do appear to be quite hard to come by and none of the usual sources stock them. However, after a bit of digging around we managed to find one in the Creative Labs UK online store at: http://uk.europe.creative.com/estore/category.asp?cate=12

 

QUICK TIP

For those of a technical disposition here’s a run-down of the pin assignments of the SoundBlaster Digital DIN socket. Pins 1 and two are ground. Pins 3 and 7 are allocated to MIDI  (musical instrument digital interface) input and output respectively. Pin 6 is a S/PDIF (Sony/Philips digital interface) or ‘bitstream’ digital input and pins 4, 5, 8 and 9 carry four S/PDIF outputs. Each of these four pins is used for two audio channels, giving a total of 8 discrete channels, though as far as we’re aware they’re not used by any mainstream audio applications.

 

 

 

 

KANDY KRUNCH
I'm trying to integrate a Sony STR-DB930 AV amp with a Roksan Kandy stereo amp. I recall reading somewhere that you could link the pre-outs from one amp to another, setting the amp to 12 o'clock and get left and right sound from the Kandy and Centre/rear and sub from the Sony. Are you aware of this and exactly which way should it be connected?
Paul Baxter

A

This shouldn’t be a problem, at least not with the electrical side of things. The STR-DB930 was one of the first Sony AV amps to sport a full set of 5.1 channel line-level pre-amp outputs on the back panel so all you need is a stereo phono-to-phono cable, and it’s worth spending a few bob on a good quality one. This connects between the ‘Front’ R & L sockets on the 930 to the right and left channel inputs on your Roksan Kandy amp. Getting the levels and balance right could prove quite tricky though. It’s hard enough when all of the channels are coming from the same amp, (and the 930 is not noted for the user-friendliness of its secondary controls), but when you introduce a second amplifier into the equation you at least double your workload, trying to juggle the levels. The ‘12 o’clock’ method, which we assume means starting with levels set mid-way, sounds like as good a plan as any, but be prepared for a lot of fiddling around. Nevertheless, assuming that your Roksan Kandy is hooked up to some decent speakers it should be worth the effort.

 

QUICK TIP

Whilst there’s no denying the convenience of an AV amplifier as the core component in a home entertainment system it often means putting a lot of perfectly decent hi-fi kit into premature retirement. However, before you consign your old system to the loft or garage it may be worth trying your speakers on your new AV amplifier’s rear channels, especially if they’re reasonably compact bookshelf models (check the impedance before you wire them up). You may find they sound a lot better than the ones supplied with some budget and mid-range packages.

 

 

 

 

LASER LASHUP
I am a fan of LaserDisc as well as DVD and I want dts surround sound. At the moment I have got a Yamaha DSP A3090 integrated Amplifier, but as you are aware this doesn't decode dts, only Dolby Digital. I was wondering instead of replacing the 3090 with another amp, would it be possible to piggyback the Yamaha DSP-E800 onto the 3090? If so, what is the best way to connect the two items? This will save me the hassle of selling the 3090, and getting something that is not as good sound quality; the price of the E800 I believe is under £400.
Steve Burling

A

What you are proposing is using the dts decoder in the DSP-E800 AV amp and connecting it to your DSP-A3090. It’s certainly do-able and if you shop around you can actually pick up an E800 for well under £300. In fact it looks like quite a cost-effective alternative to a mid-range stand-alone decoder though it’s clearly not a very efficient use of this AV amplifier’s other talents, or the A3090’s front end. The connections between the three units are reasonably straightforward. The Laserdisc player’s coaxial or optical bitstream output goes to the appropriate digital input on the E800. This in turn has a set of pre-amp outputs and they hook up to the A3090’s main amp channel inputs, via five good quality phono-to-phono cables, but before you can plug them in you’ll have to remove the ‘coupling’ links between the 3090’s pre-amp output and main amp inputs.

 

QUICK TIP

Speaker and interconnect cables can have a real impact on sound quality but the jury is still out when it comes to digital coaxial and TOSlink leads. These carry digital data in the form of streams of pulses, which are much less susceptible to degradation and interference, due to their electrical or optical characteristics and shielding. Nevertheless, it’s not a good idea to skimp on quality and if nothing else, paying a little more for a high grade digital interconnect usually means better fitting plugs and more robust cables.

 

 

 

 

PIONEERING WORK

I have a Pioneer VSX 305 home cinema system. It has worked in the past but we just purchased a Sanyo DVW-6000 DVD/VCR and cannot get the receiver system hooked up to the DVD/VCR player and get sound. Is this system capable of functioning with the DVD/VCR? We have the speakers hooked up correctly. Is there any hope for this setup?
Linda Hudson.

A

The only reference we can find to this model is as a relatively short-lived ‘special’ sold exclusively in Wal-Mart stores in the US for a very reasonable sounding $149. If that is the case, and you’ve bought one home from holiday or over the Internet and tried using it in the UK then the chances of you being able to use it are very small indeed.

 

This machine is designed to work on the US mains supply of 110 volts (ours is 240 volts) so if you managed to plug it into a power socket it was almost certainly fried the moment it was switched on. Even if you knew about the mains supply and had the foresight to use a ‘step-down’ transformer it still won’t be much use since it is designed for the NTSC TV system, which is incompatible with the PAL system, we use here in the UK. You might be able to get picture and sound from a Region 1 DVD or NTSC tape, provided you’ve got a reasonably up to date TV and can get hold of the right AV connection leads, but you won’t be able to watch or record TV programmes through the VCR.

 

 

 

 

MYSTERY MAKE

I recently bought an Alab DVD-519 DVD player. I've looked on many sites and can't find any information on this product anywhere. The closest I've got is the DVD-513 on your site. I'd just like to know whether my model has a built-in 5.1 Dolby Digital decoder or not. It does have plugs on the back for all the speakers and there is talk in the instructions of how to link it up to a 5.1 speaker system but I don't really understand it.
James

A

You had us going for a while, to the point of searching our DVD manufacturer database for the mysterious ‘Alab’ brand, then it dawned on us, well, it was a Friday afternoon… There is an Alba DVD-513 but we can find no record of a Alba DVD-519 or indeed any DVD player from any manufacturer with a ‘519’ model designation so we must presume that like the Alba name, you’ve misread it. However we can be crystal clear on the question of 5.1 surround sound decoders.

 

When a DVD player has a built-in Dolby Digital/dts decoder it has a set of analogue output sockets on the back panel, one for each of the six surround channels, (right and left front, right and left rear surround, centre front and sub-woofer). These will be phono/RCA sockets and are impossible to miss. If you can’t see them then your player doesn’t have a built-in decoder but it will have at least one and possibly two digital ‘bitstream’ outputs; either optical or coaxial or both. These use a single phono-to-phono or TOSlink fibre optic cable to carry a digital ‘S/PDIF’ data signal (see Getting Started) to a similar socket on the back of an external Dolby Digital/dts decoder, or an AV amplifier with a built in surround sound decoder. For the specifics refer to the connection diagrams in your AV amplifier or surround system instruction manual.  

 

 

 

POORLY PHILIPS
Based on your review I rushed out and bought a Philips 28PW9527, however to my amazement I cannot get anything like a decent picture! I have a PlayStation running through SCART 3, a VCR through SCART 2 and a DVD through SCART 1 all with good quality SCART leads, yet my picture seems to be incredibly 'blocky', almost like a pirate DVD film and nothing like the sharpness I expected. I have tried it on all three settings: 100Hz, Pixel Plus and Double Lines and they are all poor quality. The only things I can think for this problem is that I am using a normal TV aerial and also I only have an analogue connection for my cable channels. Is there any specific setting I should have this TV on to get the most out of it?
Chris Prior

A

There’s no way you should be seeing digital artefacts on all of the inputs. Whilst it is true that picture quality can be subjective it seems unlikely that you are being unduly picky since processing errors usually causes ‘block noise’.  If it were only happening on terrestrial or cable TV channels, for example, then it might conceivably be due to low signal strength or even poor quality connections but if, as you suggest it is happening on direct AV sources, like DVD, PlayStation and VCR, and you have fully explored all of the display options then it is inconceivable that they could all be at fault so there is clearly something wrong with the TV. We haven’t heard of any problems with this model that might indicate a generic design fault so your first course of action should be to get it checked by the dealer who sold it to you.

 

 

 

GETTING STARTED 1 – THE INS AND OUTS OF 5.1 SOUND

There’s a fair amount of confusion surrounding the audio outputs on DVD players so here’s a quick primer. All DVD players have two audio systems as standard. The basic analogue stereo output is derived from the 5.1 digital channels on the disc, an internal Dolby Digital decoder then ‘down mixes’ the 6 channels into a 2-channel stereo signal. This can be then decoded by an external Dolby Pro Logic processor, which extracts four surround channels (right and left front, rear surround and centre front dialogue),

 

The other audio output carries pure digital data, more or less straight from the disc. The idea is it allows the user to make their own surround sound decoder arrangements. The stream of digital data, otherwise known as a ‘bitstream’ is configured into a standard S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) signal format. This comes out of the player as ‘raw’ data on a phono/RCA type connector and this is called the ‘coaxial’ output, or it is demodulated into pulses of light on an optical or TOSlink connector. Many players have both types of output. 

 

Some players also have built-in Dolby Digital and dts processor that decode the digital bitstream, turning it into six line-level analogue outputs. These can then be connected to a six-channel amplifier via a set of six phono-to-phono leads. Whilst this sounds like a good idea it can be wasteful of resources since most recent AV amplifiers have built-in Dolby Digital/dts decoders, moreover connections are a lot more complicated. The quality of the decoders built into DVD players can also be a bit variable so in general, if you are serious about performance it is better to have the decoder in the amplifier or as a separate stand-alone decoder, where you have more control over it.

 

 

GETTING STARTED 2 – BUYING ABROAD

 

There is one simple rule about buying AV equipment abroad, either when on holiday or over the Internet and that’s don’t do it! Differences in mains voltages are only one of a whole series of potential problems that will conspire to make your purchase either useless, of much less of a bargain than they first appeared.

 

The mains problem is not insurmountable and step-down transformers that convert our 240 volt mains to the 110 volt supply used in the US and some Far Eastern countries are readily available but when it comes to video standards there’s very little that can be done. Here in the UK we use the PAL I system, which is pretty well incompatible with the video systems used in most of the rest of the world (at least where TVs and VCRs are concerned). 

 

Then we come to the question of guarantees and repairs. A manufacturer’s warranty may be worthless on a product bought outside the UK and service agents may refuse to touch it moreover parts, spares or accessories may be difficult to obtain.

 

It’s unlikely you’ll save any money either. Anything bought outside the EU is liable to import duty and VAT and if Customs catch you trying to smuggle something in it will probably be confiscated. Duty and VAT applies to anything over the value of £145 whether you bring it into the country yourself or buy it over the Internet, so if you add to that the cost of your time and trouble or any delivery charges you can easily end up spending a lot more than buying the item locally!

 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2003, 0306

 

 

 

 

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