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POWER LINK REMOTE EXTENDER, £50 ****

 

Why’s it here? If you’ve got a second TV in the bedroom, connected to an aerial feed from your living-room TV, VCR and satellite receiver, then you’ve got a problem. How do you change channel, or control the VCR? That’s where a remote control extender comes in handy. This one, from Aerial King, picks up the infra red control commands on a relay module, converts the information into a radio signal and sends it to a receiver module in the living room. This converts the signal back in into infra red commands, beamed to the device that’s being controlled.

 

Any unique features? The matching base and relay modules are surprisingly small, roughly the same size as a box of Swan matches, and about half the size of the plug-in mains adaptors supplied with each unit. They each have a short six-inch wire antenna, and an LED indicator, that blinks whenever a command is being sent. On the back of the receiver there’s a socket for an extra LED indicator, and a sensitivity control, which can compensate for the units being close together, or at the limits of the range. 

 

How does it perform? The operating range is quoted at 50 metres. We wouldn’t dispute that, our sample functioned perfectly over a distance of more than 30 metres, and that was through several thick walls. The high-output IR emitter in the base unit is effective over distances of up to five metres, the beam is also quite widely dispersed, so it doesn’t have to be precisely aligned with the equipment it’s controlling. Sensitivity of the relay unit is good, and again it’s quite forgiving, the controller handset doesn’t have to be pointed directly at the box. We tried it with a variety of TVs, VCRs, a satellite tuner and a mini Hi-Fi system. All commands were relayed correctly; it seems reasonable to suppose it’s transparent to most, if not all IR control systems. Unlike a lot of remote control extenders this one is actually street legal as it operates on a DTI approved band of frequencies.

 

Our Verdict

An effective solution to a common problem. It’s very efficient, discrete and realistically priced. Worth considering.

 

Power Link Remote Control Extender, £50

Features            Radio-controlled

Sockets            DC input, (both units) extension LED (minijack, on base unit only)

Dimensions            85 x 53 x 25mm (both modules)

 

Operation                   ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 *****

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

Multi-Link                  £50            not tested

 

Aerial King,  telephone 0171-483 2281

 

 

MITSUBISHI HS-651 NICAM VCR, £380, ****

Why’s it here? Buying a mid-market NICAM VCR can be a real headache, there’s so many features to choose from. Some of them are genuinely useful, others are just so much candy-floss, but how do you tell which ones are worth having? Mitsubishi have come up with an answer, a VCR that’s got just about everything. The HS-651 has to be one of the most lavishly featured machines to date, yet it costs no more than some manufacturers entry-level models.

 

Any unique features? There’s nothing on the 651 that you won’t find on half a dozen other VCRs in the same price bracket, though no other manufacturer has brought so many of them together on one machine. There’s the bread and butter features, like the Video Plus+ timer with PDC, multi-speed replay  and automatic set-up, with a daily clock check, twin SCART AV sockets, a super-fast deck mechanism and encore, which replays the last five seconds of a recording. The bonus features are satellite control --linked to the Video Plus timer -- a multi-brand TV remote covering a score of popular makes of TV and a tape optimiser, that adjusts recording and replay circuitry according to the grade of tape being used. It also has NTSC replay with stereo hi-fi sound. There is one thing missing though, and that’s front-mounted AV sockets, which seems a bit of an oversight.

 

How does it perform? Picture quality is good, a full 250-lines resolution on our sample, resulting in a crisp, richly detailed picture with better than average colour fidelity. Mitsubishi are one of the few companies not to be making a song and dance about digital noise reduction systems at the moment; it’s difficult to see what difference one would make to the 561, picture noise levels are already very low, especially on higher grade tapes, with the tape optimiser facility switched on. The multi-speed replay modes are mostly very stable,  but the four-button speed control on the remote is not very easy to use, we much prefer the proper jog/shuttle dials on previous models.

 

The stereo soundtracks have a clean, wide and largely flat response; background hiss on our test machine was a little higher than expected, though it was still well below nuisance level.

 

Our Verdict In spite of so many extras, and with the exception of the iffy ‘jog/shuttle’ function, the 651 is remarkably easy to use. AV performance is good enough for it to qualify as a home cinema machine. The satellite control feature is unusual on a VCR costing less than £400; put it on your list, if you do a lot of time-shifting. Recommended.

 

Mitsubishi HS-651, £380

Features            NICAM, Video Plus+ satellite control, auto installation and clock set, multi-speed replay, multi-band TV remote, parental lock, tape optimiser, rental tape playback, NTSC replay

Sockets            2 x SCART AV, stereo line audio out (phono), satellite control (minijack)

Dimensions            380 x 92 x 340mm

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ***

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

Aiwa HV-FX3500                       £350            HE38

Akai VS-G735               £380            HE35

Panasonic NV-HD605            £380            HE38

 

Mitsubishi Electric UK, telephone (01707) 276100

 

 

SSI CINEPLEX 1500 HOME THEATRE SYSTEM, £280, ****

Why’s it here? The cost of setting up a Dolby Pro Logic surround sound system has been one of the reasons home cinema has been slow to take off, but that’s changing, with affordable components and systems coming onto the market almost every week. One of the most recent arrivals is this ‘one-box’ package from the Canadian company SSI Products. It contains everything needed to add surround sound to an existing TV/VCR set-up, including five speakers for front, centre and rear channels, a sub-woofer and all the necessary connecting cables, all for the astonishingly low price of just £280

 

Any unique features? It’s the only DPL system we’ve come across to have a BBE (Barkus Berry Electronics) processor, that adds controlled amounts of delay to low-frequency sounds. This is meant to create a clearer, more natural sound. It also has the thinnest instruction manual we’ve seen on a DPL system,  just two pages long... The AV amp is very basic, it doesn’t even have a remote control or any equaliser/tone adjustments, just a set of level controls for master volume, centre and rear channels. There are two surround modes, ‘music’ is unprocessed, with stereo sound distributed across the front and rear channels, and 5-channel Pro Logic. The amplifier is rated at 18 watts RMS per channel for the front stereo speakers and 18 watts for the magnetically shielded centre front speaker; 15 watts goes to the rear channel outputs, and 30 watts to the sub-woofer (also shielded). Sequenced pink noise is fed to each channel in turn; the instructions only refer to it as a means of establishing whether or not the speakers are connected.

 

How does it perform? It looks rather unpromising. The speakers are very simply made, the single line input is a limitation, and the lack of control facilities is a bit of a throwback, but the system actually sounds quite good. The DPL processor is unusually precise; centre-channel resolution and the lack of bleed-through, from and to the other channels, compares well with decoders costing twice as much. The speakers can be driven really hard, without them clipping or running into distortion; 18 watts might not sound like a lot but there’s enough power to fill an average sized living room, without swamping the centre-front and rear channels. The sub-woofer is effective, maybe not up to the gut-rumbling levels of a beefy active sub, but, not that far short.

 

We’re still not sure about the BBE mode. Its effectiveness varies with the type of material. It adds a little impact to loud blockbuster soundtracks, with a lot of noisy effects, but it emphasises bass on speech and music sound a little too much for our liking. It’s worth a try, but without a remote control to switching it on and off, the novelty soon wears off.

 

Our Verdict Cineplex 1500 was a pleasant surprise. The small speakers and sub-woofer work really hard; it’s a quick, simple and cheap way of upgrading a basic AV set-up. The downside is the lack of a remote control and the solitary line input. If you’re thinking of expanding your system at a later date it could prove somewhat inflexible.

 

SSI Cineplex 1500, £280

Features            Dolby Pro Logic processor and amplifier, supplied with five speakers, sub-woofer and connecting cables

Sockets            speakers (spring terminals), stereo line audio in/out (phono)

 

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     **

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

Canon Movie Sound Kit B             £500            HE36

Celestion HTiB               £750            HE36  

JVC Big Box 2                      £350            HE36

 

GB Consultancy, telephone (01869) 233200

 

SSI  525D PC SURROUND SOUND DECODER, £150 ****

Why’s it here? It may not be immediately obvious why you need a Dolby Pro Logic inside your PC, assuming of course you have one. After all sound -- apart from the odd bleep -- is a relatively recent innovation for most computers. That all changed with the development of multimedia technologies. They have enabled desktop PCs to handle high resolution graphics, moving video, and stereo sound. There’s now a vast range of games, information and educational software on disk, CD ROM, and latterly, the Internet, with high quality stereo soundtracks, increasingly, incorporating Dolby Surround effects. Microsoft recently announced they plan to feature Dolby Surround on many of their future releases.

 

Any unique features? The 525D lives inside the PC. It’s in two parts; there’s a standard ISA bus expansion card, and a decoder module, that fits into a spare 3.5 or 5.25 inch drive bay. They’re connected together by a ribbon cable. All of the audio inputs and outputs are handled by stereo minijack sockets on the back of the expansion card. It has two inputs, one for the PCs own sound card, the other for an external stereo source. There are three line-level outputs for the front-stereo, centre front and rear surround channels. These are used to drive a set of amplified PC speakers (not supplied). The operating software comes on a single 3.5-inch floppy, when installed it creates an on-screen control panel, with five output level sliders, various modes switches and user presets for rear channel delay, centre mode and decoder mode. The options are 5-channel Pro Logic, Dolby 3, bypass and music, the latter having a set of 8 spatial sound effects. It also has a BBE processing option for adding extra delay to bass frequencies.

 

How does it perform? PC cards are usually a real pain, especially on systems using Windows 3.1, but this one just slotted straight in and worked first time. Performance mainly depends on the active speakers its used with, there’s a lot of really nasty ones about! To give the decoder its best shot we used a CD player as the source, playing Dolby Surround reference material, and piped the outputs through a set of hi-fi amps and speakers. The results were very encouraging. Channel separation and steering are both good, the centre channel and rear channels were very clean and there was no increase in noise levels.

 

Our Verdict. If you’re really into shoot-em-up, sword ‘n sorcery type PC games, especially the more recent ones with Dolby Surround effects then you’ll need no further bidding. The 525D can only enhance your zapping and slashing, with sounds coming from every which way. On he other hand, it’s likely to be only of limited interest if you’re mainly using your PC for information-based multimedia software; installing the modules, setting up all the speakers and adjusting the levels, seems like a lot of hard work, just to listen to the odd surround-sound effect.

 

Make/model            SSI 525D PC surround sound decoder

Features            Dolby Pro Logic decoder module and card for PCs, on-screen user interface with adjustable levels, BBE mode, DPL, Dolby 3-Channel, and bypass modes, pink noise sequencer

Sockets            line audio in/out (minijack

Dimensions            standard ISA ‘half’ card fits into spare 8 or 16-bit expansion slot, decoder module fits into spare 3.5 or 5.25 inch drive bay (adaptor bracket supplied)

 

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

GB Consultancy, telephone (01869) 233200

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1996 0410

 

 

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