HOME ENTERTAINMENT ON HOLIDAY
Surf, Sun and Surround Sound
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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...
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.
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
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
Teldis (01892) 511411
Importers of Fuba Profiline 75cm folding dish and LNB, £314
plus mounting bracket.
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
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
* 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
* 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
* 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
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.
R. Maybury 1995 0905