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FEATURE

 

HOME ENTERTAINMENT ON HOLIDAY

 

Surf, Sun and Surround Sound

 

INTRO

Going on holiday used to mean chucking a few essentials into a suitcase and getting away from it for a couple of weeks. These days weíre not so easily parted from our home comforts. Fortunately thereís no need to suffer in silence any more and weíve been looking at the growing number of AV products, designed for life on the move. Thereís everything from camcorders that work underwater, or double up as TVs, to portable satellite systems, but what if youíre travelling light, or hanker after something a little more substantial than a personal stereo? Weíve got that covered too, with some suggestions for installing  portable home cinema equipment in tents and caravans.

 

CAMCORDERS

Ironically camcorders and the great outdoors donít mix, in fact almost all of the vital ingredients of a good holiday are a camcorderís worst enemies. A single grain of sand, or one drop of seawater in the wrong place, is enough to ruin most machines, but thereís ways to avoid mishaps, and one or two models that actually donít mind getting wet.

 

The best bet for sporty outdoor types is the Hitachi H70 Weathercam. There have been waterproof and splashproof designs before, but theyíve been big jobbies, all bright yellow and orange, fine for the beach but a little conspicuous at weddings and birthday parties. Weathercam looks like a regular camcorder, but it can withstand total immersion for brief periods, (unofficially down to one metre), and the case is well protected against accidental knocks and bumps. Itís a Hi8 machine, with stereo sound, so picture and sound quality are pretty good. The ticket price is currently £1200 but itís about to be replaced by the H80 Weathercam, which has a few extra widgets, so keep an eye out for bargains.

 

If youíre fazed by knobs and buttons then any of the Sharp ViewCams are worth a look, theyíre the ones with 3 or 4-inch colour LCD monitor screens on the back; they can all be fitted with optional tuners, so you can watch TV programs on them as well. The JVC Infocam does that too and because it uses VHS-C tapes, you could tape some programmes or a movie on your home VCR, and watch them while youíre away.

 

Travelling light, but donít want to sacrifice performance or facilities? The Sony CCD-TR3 should definitely be on your short-list. Panasonicís Ďslimí palmcorders are also worth considering if space, and money, are in short supply. Incidentally, all camcorders come with universal AC adaptors that work off almost any mains supply, anywhere in the world, all you need is the right plug adaptor.

 

If you donít want to splash out on a camcorder just for the odd week in the sun, or you want to try before you buy, then why not hire one? Radio Rentals have Ferguson VHS-C machines to rent from around £55 a week. Donít make a habit of it though, itís cheaper in the long run to buy.

 

Once youíve got your camcorder the operative word is protection. Get a carry-all bag, they donít cost much, thirty quid for a really good one. Check thereís plenty of padding, and make sure it has enough room for the other bits and bobs youíll need, like the charger, spare tapes and batteries. Donít be too conspicuous, camcorder bags are favourite target for snatch thieves.

 

Fit a UV filter to the lens, to protect it against marks and scratches, itíll improve picture quality on sunny days too. If you take your camcorder onto the beach pop it into a ventilated polythene bag, and keep it out of the sun, hot camcorders are unhappy camcorders. Check to see if thereís a watertight housing for your model, some of the better ones can go down several metres, though the price increases exponentially with depth; £50 for a splashproof case, £500 or more if you want to play Jacques Cousteau.

 

Suggested models:

Hitachi VM-H70/H80 Weathercam, £1200

Waterproof Hi8 camcorder that doesnít look like a bath toy; good picture and sound quality. It has a limited range of creative facilities, but it is rugged, light and easy to use.

 

Sharp VL-E31 ViewCam £900 & JVC SV3 InfoCam £800

LCD camcorder with 3-inch screen, a bit of a handful but picture quality is good and fitted with an optional tuner it doubles up as a TV. Infocam is more basic and has a smaller screen, but itís a little cheaper, and uses home VCR compatible VHS-C tapes

 

Panasonic NV-R10 £600

Small, slim and easy to use, this machine travels well, and is capable of excellent results. Easy to use but with enough gadgets to keep enthusiasts happy

 

PORTABLE TVs

In consumer electronics-speak a portable TV can mean anything from a 2-inch pocket model, up to a 20-inch telly with a carry-handle. In the real world portable TVs have screens smaller than 14-inches, their own aerial, and can be powered from a battery;  in other words, the kind of TV you could take with you on a caravan, or camping holiday.

 

If youíre thinking of buying a portable for the hols, itís a good idea to get one that will earn its keep when you get home, in the bedroom, or kids room. Give those titchy pocket TVs a miss, unless you live and travel alone. Theyíre not very sociable, the picture can be coarse and the sound is usually quite tinny. Nine or ten-inches is about as small as you should go, 12 to 14 inch screens are better if youíve got the room, and more than a couple of people are going to want to watch it. Make sure it has a 12 volt DC power socket, and preferably a car cord included in the accessory pack. If you intend to take it abroad then a multi-band tuner is a must; throughout most of Europe youíll need PAL I/G system coverage on VHF and UHF, and itís a good idea to have multi-standard operation (PAL, SECAM and NTSC) as well.

 

AV input sockets are essential on small-screen TVs, they make good colour monitors for video games and computers, and an AV socket on the front will come in handy if youíre taking a camcorder on holiday with you. Talking of sockets, make sure it has a headphone outlet, tents and caravans are not very well soundproofed.

 

Suggested models:

Grundig P27 649/12 £329.99

Smart, go-anywhere 9-inch portable, multi-voltage (90-264 volts AC, 10-30 volt DC), multi-system, sleep timer, front AV input, electronic lock, on-screen display, and any colour, so long as its black. An optional solar panel to power this set is available in Germany.

 

Sony KVM 1120 £500

Sony call it a universal TV, and theyíre not far wrong, itís has an AC/DC power supply (12/24 volts & mains), multi-standard video (PAL/SECAM), 100-channel Euro-standard tuner and a sizzling picture on an 11-inch Trinitron picture tube, shame about the price...

 

Ferguson A10R £229.99

This 10-inch mains/battery portable could have been designed for caravanners, thereís even a purpose-designed caravan/kitchen mount as an option. 40-channel tuner, sleep timer, remote control, on-screen display and a tidy picture.

 

SATELLITE SYSTEMS

Strange but true; until a few months ago you couldnít get a battery-powered satellite receiver with a SKY TV decoder for love nor money. Itís clearly not due to a lack of demand -- campers, caravanners, travellers, truckers and gypsies all watch TV -- but BSKYB, who control the licensing of Videocrypt decoders, have let it be known that theyíre not keen on subscribers having two receivers, wandering about the country with their viewing cards, or watching encrypted programmes abroad. Portable satellite systems are still very thin on the ground but at least you can now get one. The alternative is to take your home sat receiver and a portable dish with you (assuming thereís also a mains supply, and a TV to watch it on...).

 

Setting up a portable satellite dish is not as difficult as it sounds, all you need is a spot with a clear view of the Southern sky, and a compass. Once everything is hooked up, the satellite receiver is set to a known channel, the TV is tuned in and placed within sight of the dish. Find the signal by pointing the dish to the correct bearing (the Astra satellites are at 19 degrees East of South from the UK, and around 25 degrees above the horizon) and watch the TV screen, whilst gently moving the dish from side to side, and up and down. Nine times out of ten youíll get a picture in just a few seconds, check itís the right channel, (not one from an adjacent satellite), and lock-off the dish adjusting screws or nuts.

 

Portable satellite antennae come in all shapes and sizes, the further South you are the smaller they can be, down to 30-40 cm along the South coast or south-eastern Europe. The easiest to set up are those with ground-mounts; small dishes with sucker-mounts are ideal for sticking to the side of a caravan, or car windscreen, some portable dishes fold flat. Itís going to get easier too, a new range of compact flat-plate antennas will be coming on to the market shortly, that are not much larger than an A4 sheet of paper. The ultimate status symbol, though, has to be a gyro-stabilised satellite antenna platform for a cabin-cruiser, so you can catch your favourite STV channels when youíre bobbing about at sea, all you need is £8000, plus the cost of the boat...

 

Contacts/products:

 

Alba Travel-Sat

Sadly not available in the UK, this is a complete mains/battery powered STV receiver and dish, housed in a purpose-designed carry case. It doesnít have a Videocrypt decoder, so you canít watch scrambled SKY channels, and Alba reckon the 35cm dish will only work in the South of the Country. Itís selling in France for around £250.

 

Arcon Sweety

43cm portable dish with sucker mount, widely available from STV dealers  for around £120

 

Clearview Satellites 0181-974 9098

12volt Videocrypt receivers (£264) and modification service for some Pace receivers (circa £100), plus complete portable systems and fitting service

 

Eureka (01625) 502100

Travel-Sat (not to be confused with Alba system of same name) motorised satellite system for caravans and motor homes and motorised systems for river cruisers and houseboats

 

Sea Tel Ltd (01624) 825909

Manufacturers of sea-going, actively stabilised antenna platforms

 

Teldis (01892) 511411

Importers of Fuba Profiline 75cm folding dish and LNB, £314 plus mounting bracket.

 

 

PROJECTION TVs

If you donít fancy lugging a portable TV around with you on holiday then how about a video projector? Three models -- Citizen 30PC, Marantz VP-500 and Sony CP-J100 -- qualify as portable, because theyíre reasonably small, though only one of them (Marantz VP500), can be powered by a battery. They can all throw up images up to 50-inches across, but youíll need a special screen and complete darkness to see anything. Smaller pictures, 20-30 inches across are better and can be viewed on white surfaces (walls etc.) in dimly-lit conditions. Unfortunately none of them have on-board TV tuners, one is available for the Citizen projector as an optional extra for £70, but neither the Sony or Marantz models have them, though of course they can be used in conjunction with a VCR.

 

Picture quality on these projectors is passable, and the Marantz and Sony units have swivel lenses, so they can project directly onto the ceiling. Sound quality is not so hot, well what do you expect from a 2-inch speaker? In short you would have to be quite determined to want to take any of them on holiday with you, unless youíve got a solution to the tuner and power supply problems.

 

Suggested models

Citizen 30PC £800

Marantz VP-500 £700

Sony CP-J100 £1,000

 

HOME CINEMA ON THE MOVE

Some of you may be wondering if itís possible to install a home cinema system in a tent or caravan. Are you sad or mad or what? Oh well, anything is possible, though frankly theyíre not the best environments for that sort of thing, either acoustically, or from the point of view of security. However, supposing you just cannot be bear to be deprived, or maybe youíre going away for more than couple of weeks, and fancy taking your system with you, then the first thing youíll need to make sure of is a mains supply. There are no battery powered surround sound amps on the market, or ever likely to be. You can get a gadget called an inverter from camping specialists, that converts 12-volts DC to 240 volts AC, but youíd need one helluva battery to run the TV and VCR or video disc player as well.

 

Speakers can be a problem. One solution might be to use active speakers, with built-in amplifiers,  designed for multi-media computers. Theyíre small and can be easily mounted on wall, or hung from the tent frame or poles. Some of them are battery powered, so they could be used with a basic Pro-Logic decoder, rather than a full-blown AV amp, which would save on power consumption. The better ones sound surprisingly good, though donít expect too much in the way of bass response. The biggest drawback, though is space. Tents and caravans are usually too small to create a convincing soundfield. You could always set your system up in the open -- provided itís not raining --  though, this may not please neighbouring campers, and thereís no way of blocking out extraneous noises.

 

BOX COPY 1

Travellers Top Tips

 

* Buying video and audio equipment abroad is a bad idea. Apart from having to pay import duties -- which could wipe out any savings -- power supplies and video standards in other countries are often different to our own, guarantees may be void, and it will be difficult to get it replaced or repaired if anything goes wrong

 

* Donít even think about buying pre-recorded video discs and tapes, unless you have multi-standard video equipment

 

* You can safely buy blank video and camcorder tapes abroad -- provided theyíre the right format. Camcorder batteries are usually okay too, though check they fit properly

 

* Donít put valuable or fragile items like camcorders in airline hold baggage

 

* Camcorders and tapes will pass safely through airport x-ray machines, but watch out for older high-dosage types, still used in some out of the way countries

 

* If youíre taking a relatively new camcorder out of the country carry the receipt with you, to avoid hassle with Her Majesties Customs when you return

 

* Make sure your travel insurance specifically covers any video and audio equipment youíre taking with you

 

* Be sensitive to local conditions, traditions, customs and laws, not everyone appreciates being filmed, or listening to loud Western rock music

 

* Hang on tightly to your gear, not only when youíre abroad...

 

* Obvious but worth repeating: donít leave valuables in tents or caravans

 

BOX COPY 2

Plugs and Electricity

Plans are afoot to harmonise mains plugs and power supplies throughout the EU, but donít hold your breath. Travel plugs are available at all good duty-free stores and travel shops for around a fiver, they cover most eventualities in Europe, the US and Far East but check to make sure your equipment will work on the local mains supply. Camcorder battery chargers generally work anywhere but adaptors for personal stereos, hand-held games, laptop computers etc. may only be rated for UK mains supplies. If youíre going to a 110V country (US and Japan etc.) take enough batteries with you to last the trip, or invest in a plug-in step-up transformer, you can get them from branches of Tandy for around £15.

 

 

LCD TVs

Pocket TVs, once the stuff of science fiction, have been a reality for the past ten years, but theyíve remained pretty much a novelty item even though some of them have been selling for less than £100. All of the current models, mostly made by Casio and Citizen have LCD screens measuring between two and three inches across. In strong signal areas the pictures on these tiny sets can look quite good, though they are tiring to watch for more than a few minutes at a stretch. 

 

In the early days it was hoped that LCD screens would one day be large enough for the long-awaited flat hang-on-the-wall TV, but it has proved extremely difficult to manufacture screens bigger than five or six inches, at an economic price. The problem is one of consistency,  just one or two faulty picture elements (pixels) out of thousands needed to make up the picture, is enough to render a screen useless. Sharp who have been at the forefront of this technology, and currently hold the record for the largest LCD screen (21-inches), have marketed a very good-looking 5.5-inch LCD TV, though it costs a whopping £1000. Several other manufacturers, notably Sony, Hitachi, Philips and Panasonic have also produced high-quality pocketable LCD TVs at one time or another, with screens up to 4-inches, though in general theyíve cost between two and three times as much as conventional 14-inch colour portables.

 

---end---

” R. Maybury 1995 0905

 

 

 

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