BLUFFER’S GUIDE TO DVD
About six months, if you count back to when the major
consumer electronics companies announced they had agreed on a common technical
But what does it stand for?
We were afraid you’d ask that. Rarely has a consumer product
gone through so many name-changes. Generically it’s always been known as the
digital video disc, but it began life as two rival technologies: Toshiba’s SD-CD
(super density CD) and Sony/Philips MMCD (multi-media CD). At one time,
following the initial truce, it was going to be called just SD, then everyone
sort of agreed on DVD, but decided that it would stand for digital versatile
What’s the ‘versatile’ bit mean?
That’s a concession to the PC industry, who have got a big
stake in the format as a carrier for computer software, multimedia and
interactive games. DVD will almost certainly take over from CD-ROM in a couple
of years, and their support is seen as crucial for the format’s survival.
What will DVD do for me?
You can get a two-hour movie on a single disc, with five CD
quality soundtracks, (plus one lo-fi track for sound effects). Picture quality
is excellent, and discs should be cheap to produce.
So when can I go out and buy one?
Tricky one that. A couple of companies have sort of promised
to launch home players before Christmas, but it’s all looking a bit iffy.
Spring/Summer 97 is looking far more likely for an industry-wide roll-out.
Well, assuming some players did make it into the shops this
year there’s the small problem of not having anything to play on them, though
to be fair we should point out that DVD decks will be backwards compatible with
audio CD. But as far as actual DVD software is concerned, there’s still some sorting
out to be done over things like regional coding.
It is, and it will prevent you buying the latest blockbuster
movie on your next US holiday, and playing it on your DVD machine at home. It’s
Hollywood getting heavy, combating piracy, protecting territories, enforcing
movie release dates, that sort of thing.
How much is all this going to cost?
Target prices of £500 have been bandied about for the
players, and several companies have hinted that discs shouldn’t cost any more
than current releases on tape; our best guess it that early releases will be
priced between £15 to £40, depending on the title.
Is this the end of VHS and LaserDisc?
It’s certainly won’t help LaserDisc sales, and it’s probably
going to see off CD-i and Video CD as well. VHS is safe for a good while yet, recordable
DVD is on the cards but still several
GETTING STARTED -- SURROUND SOUND TVs
Large screen home cinema TVs have been around a lot longer
than many people suppose. Americans have had them for years and on this side of
the pond Philips launched their Matchline series of stereo TVs back in the
early 1980s, that was ten years before the start of NICAM broadcasting! Sony’s Profeel
component system goes way back as well, to the late seventies, so Toshiba’s claims
to have invented home cinema are open to debate. Nevertheless they were the
first television manufacturer to launch TVs with built-in Dolby Surround
decoders, with the 2505DB and 2805DB, that reached the UK in late 1990.
Toshiba were well ahead of the game even then; the home
cinema concept and surround sound televisions didn’t really start to catch on
in this country until 1993. By that time simpler 3-channel Dolby Surround
decoders were being superseded by more advanced 4-channel Pro Logic (DPL) processors.
Hitachi were the first onto the market
with a DPL TV; Toshiba quickly responded, and then the floodgates opened. At the
beginning of 1994 there were just the two models on the market, by the end of
that year there were twenty DPL sets from eight manufacturers! Now there are almost
fifty Dolby Pro Logic TVs from a dozen manufacturers to choose from, with
prices starting at less than £700, rising to more than £3000, and screen sizes ranging
from 25-inches to 33-inches, including widescreen models.
Until recently they all had one thing in common, wired
outboard speakers for the rear effects channel. That’s not a problem for home
cinema enthusiasts, early adopters and first kids on the block, but it has
proved to be a stumbling block for a lot of other television buyers. The
British public tends to be somewhat conservative in their attitude towards this
kind of technology; hell, it’s us taken 20 years to wean ourselves away from
wood-effect TV cabinets. The point is, extra speaker boxes and trailing wires around
the living room are regarded with suspicion and alarm.
The first company to recognise that fact, and do something
about it, were JVC. They developed the 3D Phonic range of TVs, purporting to
create a surround sound effect, but without any extra speakers . There’s now three
4:3 models, (AV-21SX1, 25SX1 and 29SX1), with 21, 25 and 29-inch screens,
costing £550, £700 and £900 respectively; two widescreen sets (AV-28WX1EK,
£1000 and AV-32WX1EK, £TBA), are due out in the next few months
They all have on-board DPL decoders, but no rear channel
speaker outputs. Instead the effects information is incorporated into the front
and centre channels, using a variety of psychoacoustical tricks. This produces
a remarkably wide soundstage, that appears to come from some distance either
side of the TVs speakers. It’s not true surround-sound, at least not in the
accepted sense, but it is quite effective and a good compromise, for those
unwilling or unable to install extra speakers. In case they change their mind
the option does exist, and these sets have a line-level rear output, that can
be fed to a pair of active speakers, or a separate stereo amplifier and
Hitachi have taken a slightly different tack with its
CT2548TN and CT2848TN home cinema TVs, selling for £750 and £850. Like the JVC
models they have built in DPL decoders, but they’re not supplied with rear
channel speakers (there is a speaker output). However, for an extra £120 you
can buy a pair of infra-red cordless speakers, that do not have to be physically
connected to the TV. Rear channel information is beamed from the set, to the
speakers, which have their own on-board amplifiers. They’re not completely ‘wireless’
though, and they do have to be within reach of a mains socket.
Sharp, who recently announced a new range of 21, 25 and
29-inch DPL TVs, is hedging its bets with a new ‘surround sound’ technology
called SRS or sound retrieval system. This also uses the TV’s own speakers to
create a wide dynamic soundfield. This time there’s no actual Dolby Processing involved,
though the SRS decoder works in a similar way to the old 3-channel Dolby
Surround system. They’re launching three SRS TVs in the coming months, the
21-inch 51-CS05H will cost £430, there’s a 25-inch model (59-CS05H) for £530,
and a 28-inch set (66-CS05H) selling for £630.
This new generation of ‘surround sound’ TVs, without rear
channel speakers, has been selling well. We can lok forward to more of the same,
but no matter how good they sound there is no substitute for a properly
configured back channel, coming from speakers located behind the listening position.
Unfortunately, quite a few DPL TVs that come with rear channel speakers, are
underpowered, or the speakers themselves are so small that they have limited
impact. It’s important to try before you buy, preferably in a listening room or
environment that’s similar to the one it will be used in. Before you do, also
acquaint yourself with Dolby Pro Logic surround sound from a mini system, or
hi-fi separates, you might be surprised by the differences, and reflect on the
true cost of one-box convenience...
R. Maybury 1996 0808