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? Iím seriously thinking about buying a Dolby Pro-Logic mini system, I have around £700 to spend, what do you think I should do with it?


A. Your budget of £700 puts you smack-bang in the middle of the busiest sector of the DPL mini system market. Theyíre undoubtedly the best option if youíre not about to replace your TV, you donít fancy putting together a system of separate components and you want an integrated AV system, thatís easy to set up and use.


Our current favourites are the Aiwa NSX-D858 at £650, and the Akai TX-700 which sells for £500. The Aiwa system comes with a set of five speakers, the audio components include a 3-disc CD autochanger, twin auto-reverse cassette deck and 3-band AM/FM tuner. In addition to the Dolby Pro-Logic decoder it has a 4-mode digital sound processor (DSP), karoke microphone mixer, graphic equaliser and lots of winking lights. The largish stereo and centre-front speakers deliver a full open sound. Itís equally capable with audio-only or home cinema material, though we recommend you add on an active sub-woofer at some stage, to beef up the slightly thin bass output.


The Akai TX-700 is another capable all-rounder, itís a good price too. It also comes with a 3-CD autochanger, twin motorised auto-reverse tape decks and AM/FM tuner, this time with an RDS (radio data system) decoder, for displaying programme details and traffic information. Speakers and cables are supplied. Dolby Pro-Logic performance is excellent, though again bass content is fairly modest.



? Youíve been talking about digital video for some time, and now at last something seems to be happening, but Iím not sure what to do as Iím planning to replace my ageing VHS video recorder in the next few months. Whatís the score on the digital video cassette, is it going to replace VHS, or should I wait for recordable video discs?


A. Go ahead and buy your VHS VCR. A good quality NICAM stereo machine should see you through to the start of the digital video revolution.  Youíre going to have to wait at least a couple of years for sensibly priced digital video recording systems, and enough pre-recorded software to make it worth your while changing. DVC (digital video cassette) video recorders could -- in theory at least -- be in the shops this year, but thereís been a hold-up over agreements on copy protection. The same broad issue is likely to delay the introduction of recordable digital video disc (DVD) machines for some time. The trouble is both systems are capable of making near-perfect copies of high quality digital software, itís a major concern for the movie companies, who are still looking at various ways to prevent piracy. At the moment DVC is only being used on high-end camcorders, they use a mini DVC cassette that runs for an hour, but the future of DVC as a home video system has been clouded by DVD. Thereís a chance that disc will leapfrog tape for both home video recording and playback, thereís even speculation that DVD camcorders could be in the pipeline.


Donít worry though, even if agreements are reached in the near future -- and thatís not very likely -- VHS will still be going strong well into the next century, thereís simply too much hardware and software in use around the world for it to disappear overnight.  





With all this talk of high-performance digital video discs is there any reason to consider buying a Laserdisc player anymore?


It depends if you want to watch your favourite movies now, or at some unspecified date in the future.


But I can watch any film I want right now on tape, why should I bother with  Laserdisc, or any other sort of disc for that matter?


Quality, pure and simple. Laserdisc gives the best picture and sound of any system currently available. Digital video disc should be even better but thereís unlikely to be any hardware and pre-recorded software in the shops for quite a while.


Just how good is Laserdisc?


Very good. Picture quality is at least on a par with, and sometimes even better than broadcast TV, which makes it twice as good as tape. To put that into perspective,  a properly set up TV is capable of resolving around 450-lines.  (By the way these are not the horizontal lines that go to make up a TV picture, but a measure of definition or the amount of fine detail in a picture). The best VHS VCRs can record and playback around 250-lines; S-VHS video recorders can manage 400-lines or so, on a TV equipped with an S-Video input. Laserdisc players operate at or close to the limits of the PAL system and under ideal conditions -- i.e. when connected to a high-performance monitor/TV -- can resolve a full 500-lines. To put it another way, most Laserdisc players outperform the TVs to which theyíre connected.


Are there any disadvantages?


Not many, but discs can be expensive -- typically £20 to £40. Movies on discs tend to come out some time after the tape release -- sometimes not at all -- and many movies are on two discs, due to the limitations on running time, so youíll have to change discs halfway though


What about sound quality?


Thatís very good too. The digital stereo audio system on Laserdisc is essentially the same as that used for audio-only compact discs. In fact all Laserdisc decks can play CDs as well, though the audio circuitry is not normally as sophisticated as top-end CD players.


So is it capable of reproducing Dolby Surround soundtracks on movies?


With room to spare! Itís simply the best medium for surround-sound but thereís more. Laserdiscs can also carry AC-3 surround-sound information.


AC-3, whatís that?


Itís a 6-channel digital surround-sound system developed by Dolby Laboratories, and it blows the socks off Pro-Logic, but itís only available on machines that use the NTSC colour TV system. We use the PAL system in the UK, though most Laserdisc players have NTSC replay facilities when used with a suitably equipped TV.


Sounds good, so where can I get a Laserdisc player with AC-3 sound ?


You canít in this country, at least not officially, but the majority of Laserdisc players sold in the UK can be modified to replay AC-3 discs (youíll also need a suitable decoder, amps and speakers). A company called Videotec will carry out the mod for you, it costs from  around £150 (depending on the machine). Videotec will tell you more, they can be reached on (01865) 245566.


Which machines can be modified?


Videotec tell us they can probably modify almost any PAL Laserdisc machine, though they concentrate on Pioneer, Sony and Yamaha models.


Will this modification affect the guarantee?


If the machine is still has one, yes but Videotech provide their own warranty for the modification, and they work closely in association with Pioneer, so thereís unlikely to be any problems. If the manufacturers guarantee has expired they can offer a new one, that will cover parts and servicing for the rest of the machine


How about discs with AC-3 soundtracks, are they available here?


Again not officially. Film classification, licensing and territorial agreements prevent NTSC coded discs from being marketed in the UK through the usual channels, though a number of specialist companies import them. At the time of writing about 35 titles are available, ranging from classic movies, to latest releases, like the Madness of King George, and sci-fi blockbusters, including the Star Wars trilogy.


Can Laserdisc machines play any other types of disc, apart from audio CDs?


A couple of them can handle Video CDs and now obsolete CD Videos (audio CDs with video Ďclipsí), but none of them can play the newly developed  DVD (digital video disc) discs, though itís possible that future DVD players will be backwards compatible with Laserdisc.



” R. Maybury 1996 3101





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